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START Talks: Russian Demands Undermine Nuclear Balance

Posted By Ariel Cohen On November 16, 2009 @ 12:13 pm In Security | Comments Disabled

On November 12, General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said that Russia was seeking to overcome “a range of problems” [1] in the negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) follow-on treaty. The Treaty will replace the current 1991 START Treaty that expires on December 5. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to “obstacles” in the talks.

The completion of the START follow on treaty is a major part of the administration’s effort to “reset” relations with Russia and is seen as a stepping stone in achieving Barak Obama’s goal of a “world without nuclear weapons”. Russians openly deride this lofty undertaking as naïve. President Obama would like to sign the new treaty before START’s expiration on December 5, but it is far from certain that he can meet even this more reasonable deadline.

The Russians are demanding the removal of US monitors from a ballistic missile plant in Votkinsk, Russia. This is where the Topol M intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are produced. Under START, Topol is supposed to be a single warhead ICBM, while the U.S. suspects that the Russians are putting multiple warheads (MIRVs) on it in violation of the Treaty.

Speaking in the Kremlin, Gen. Makarov remarked, “we don’t have such observer missions in the U.S., so it’s natural that we tell them that this mission needs to be removed. On December 5 it will depart.”

US negotiators are rushing against this tough deadline, leading many experts to believe that the U.S. may grant more unilateral concessions, such as the recent cancellation of the Bush-era Europe-based missile defense.

The verification measures are the most pressing issue on the arms control agenda with Russia. Most probably the Administration would use an Executive Order to extend the current Treaty and might come up with some other mechanism than seeking immediate ratification to keep things intact following signature. And there is absolutely no rationale for rushing to sign, even according to the Administration, if the verification mechanisms fall by the wayside.

The Russians appear to want to lock the U.S. into major new disarmament obligations, all the while increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons and dangerously lowering their own first use threshold. In START talks, the Russians have formulated a comprehensive set of demands. Russians reportedly not only linking progress on the talks to severely curtailing US missile defenses, but also are attempting to undermine advanced conventional weapons, particularly Prompt Global Strike (PGS), which Moscow considers highly destabilizing. They are also demanding the halt to any US nuclear modernization, which the bipartisan Perry-Schlesinger Commission recommended to the US Congress..

Still, despite investing vast sums of money in its nuclear program, Russia is encountering problems with some of their missiles such as submarine-launched Bulava. And Gen. Markarov’s appears confident that the Obama Administration would accept Moscow’s demand to kick out US inspectors, further destabilizing the nuclear balance.

Whether these and other US concessions to Russia should be blessed in a ratified treaty is a question only the US Senate can answer.

Co-authored by Owen Graham.


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[1] “a range of problems”: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=aDyNSk8CI_ZE

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