Is the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed Thursday by US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, a milestone in Obama’s stated goal of a nuclear-free world or just a baby step in a long voyage?
On April 5, 2009, in a now famous address before a crowd of 20,000-odd cheering people at Hradcany Square in the Czech capital of Prague, visiting US President Barack Obama proclaimed his vision for a nuclear-free world with the words, “Today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
A year later, Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a historic nuclear arms treaty, popularly known by its acronym START, in the medieval Czech city Thursday that aims to reduce the nuclear stockpiles of the former Cold War foes.
The new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which replaced a 1991 treaty, is expected to push the much-touted “reset” button on US-Russian relations toward greater cooperation on nuclear disarmament.
In his remarks shortly after the signing ceremony, Obama noted that the agreement - which reduces the number of deployed strategic warheads of each country to 1,550 - sent “a clear signal” that the US and Russia “intend to lead” in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.
For a president battered by a tough domestic sell on healthcare, Thursday’s agreement marked a major foreign policy achievement. Within the Obama administration, the new treaty is viewed as a central pillar of the US president’s vision for a nuclear-free world.
Sweeping rhetoric, modest measures
But critics have noted that while Obama’s nuclear disarmament rhetoric is sweeping and visionary, the agreement falls far short of a non-proliferation ideal.
“This is very far from the vision of a nuclear-free world that Barack Obama painted with such broad strokes at the Prague Castle last year,” said FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Robert Parsons. “But nevertheless, it is a step forward.”
Under the newly signed START, the US and Russia will still deploy 1,550 warheads each in a post-Cold War world. But the agreement does not deal with thousands of other warheads not covered by the pact. Nor does it contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned US missile defence programmes or current or planned US long-range conventional strike capabilities.
“What’s not said [in the treaty] is left untouched,” said Parsons. “There are masses of nuclear warheads there that can still be reduced.”
Realism rules as Obama seeks Senate vote
To go into effect, the new treaty must be ratified by the Russian Duma and the US Senate. The Duma is widely expected to approve a treaty that has the Kremlin’s support. But in the US, a Senate ratification would require 67 votes, which means it must include Republican votes.
According to Parsons, the new treaty, which was agreed earlier this month following a year of tough talks, “is a symbol of the realism that Barack Obama is bringing to his administration.”
Referring to the upcoming Senate vote, Parsons noted that Obama “knows what is feasible. He knows that if he were to try to push something more ambitious than this through Congress, the chances that it would get through would be close to zero”.
Conservatives in the US believe that US nuclear policy should be based not so much on a changed present environment, but on averting potential threats in the future. Critics of Obama’s nuclear disarmament policies note that the nuclear deterrent worked during and after the Cold War and was instrumental in averting a global scale conflict such as World War One and Two.
All eyes on Iran ahead of nuclear security summit in Washington
The signing of the new START came days ahead of a nuclear security summit in Washington on April 12-13, which will discuss the prevention of acts of nuclear terrorism and steps that can be taken to secure vulnerable atomic materials.
The new US agreement with Russia is expected to give Washington added credibility as it pushes for tougher sanctions against Iran.
“There is a hope that the new warmth that has been breathed into US-Russia relations will pay dividends for the US vis-a-vis Iran,” said Parsons. “But it is not at all clear from anything Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, or Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, or Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have said, that Russia is indeed prepared to get tough on Iran in the way the US would like it to.”
Date created : 2010-04-08