Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Arms Control, Another Kick At The Cat

I've got issues with the new administration but one thing I can get behind is any serious attempt to reduce nuclear weapons.President Obama meets President Medvedev tomorrow with the possibility of starting to limit world destroying weapons, here are a couple of perspectives, first Pavel Podvig of the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Blog:

"Presidents Medvedev and Obama will meet for the first time on April 1st, on the margins of the G-20 conference in London. One issue that will definitely be on the agenda is a new "legally binding" arms control agreement that is supposed to bring a new round of nuclear weapons reductions. It is too early, of course, for anything that would resemble an actual agreement, but we could probably expect a join statement with some an outline of the new arrangement.

As far as I can tell from various conversations with people in Moscow and elsewhere, we shouldn't expect a breakthrough of any kind. To begin with, the number that we will probably see in the new agreement is 1500 warheads - hardly a radical reduction from the "1700-2200 warheads" level of the Moscow treaty.

Then, to get to the level of 1500 warheads, the United States and Russia will have to come up with some creative accounting. One way to do that would be to accept the "operationally deployed nuclear warheads" count, which is referred to in the Moscow treaty and which the United States used unilaterally since then, but which Russia has never officially accepted. So far, that is - I was told that Russia will be ready to use the U.S. definition in the new treaty.

What about the "upload potential" then? One of the reasons Russia objected to accepting the "operationally deployed nuclear warheads" count was that it allows the United States to implement reductions by simply removing some warheads from missiles and bombers. As far as I understand, no final decision has been made yet in Russia on how to deal with that issue, but one possibility would be to have a separate ceiling on delivery systems - this would probably not limit the "upload potential" in any substantial way, but would allow Russian negotiators to claim that they got the limit on launchers that they wanted. Another possibility that was mentioned is an agreement that would limit the "upload potential" by a certain percentage of "operationally deployed nuclear warheads".

Whatever choice is made, it is hard to see how a limit on "upload potential" would be meaningful without significant changes in the U.S. strategic posture - right now the United States has about 6000 START-accountable warheads and about 2200 "operationally deployed nuclear" warheads. Even with some serious flexibility in counting rules it would be difficult for the United States to bring its forces to the 1500-warheads level (isn't this the good time for the United States to get rid of its ICBMs?).

As far as Russia is concerned, 1500 warheads would be a relatively easy number to achieve (although getting lower would take some tough decisions). Russia might even have an upload potential of its own - there will be a theoretical possibility to MIRV single-warhead Topol-M missiles and to increase the number of warheads on R-29RM Sineva missile to ten. Not that this would make any sense, but at least Russia could claim some parity with the United States.

I was told in no uncertain terms that Russia has made a firm decision not to extend the START treaty. This is very unfortunate - keeping START in force would be the best way of keeping that "upload potential" under control. As far as I can tell, many in Russia believe that they could get a better deal in a new treaty, but I'm sure this is not the case - once the provisions of START treaty are abandoned it would be very difficult to get them back. The issue of "offensive strategic arms" deployed outside of national territories that received a special place in a recent address from the president is an example of how this would work - I was told that the reason it was mentioned was precisely to ensure that this ban, which is part of START, will remain in place after the treaty expires. But I'm not sure that Russia will be able to get that formal commitment again.

Overall, although the "party line" is that the new treaty is expected to be ready by the end of the year, there is quite a bit of skepticism about that. I think this skepticism is justified - I don't see how the two countries could negotiate a meaningful new agreement in the time that's left. Of course, the United States and Russia could always sign a meaningless agreement, which I'm afraid they will most likely end up doing.

I still believe that the idea of having a new agreement is misguided - keeping START treaty in force would be a much better strategy."

The Global Security Newswire has a different perspective:

"The U.S. and Russian presidents plan to sign a statement Wednesday pledging to finish a new nuclear arms control agreement before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires in December, Reuters reported (see GSN, March 27).
"We will seek to agree on the terms and time frame for working on an agreement to replace the START treaty so that at our next meeting we can reach our first concrete agreements and conclude all of our work by year's end," said Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders are scheduled to meet for the first time this week on the sidelines of a global economic summit in London.

The existing pact restricts the numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles each nation may deploy, but its limits and detailed verification provisions are set to lapse on Dec. 5. Another agreement, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, has spurred much deeper warhead cuts, but lacks any tools for the two sides to confirm those reductions.

Prikhodko said the Kremlin welcomed new U.S. overtures by President Barack Obama, but recognized that negotiations would not be easy.

"A shared understanding is now taking shape that bilateral relations are getting a second chance that must not be missed. We are confident that London will be an important milestone along that path," he said. However, "we fully understand the differences that divide us and harbor no illusions that they will be easily overcome" (Shuster/Shchedrov, Reuters, March 28).

One potentially large area of disagreement is whether Obama plans to continue a Bush administration initiative to deploy U.S. missile defenses in Europe. The plan has riled Russian officials, and Obama has not yet offered his opinion. He has, however, written to Medvedev suggesting that Russian help in curbing Iran's nuclear activities could reduce the rationale for the missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Medvedev, however, appeared to rule out such a deal.

"I don't think you can just trade one thing for another; this is not serious talk," he said in a BBC interview aired yesterday.

He said a cooperative defense would be a better solution to protect against emerging missile threats.

"This should be done through common efforts rather than by deploying any missiles or radars along our borders which give rise to real doubt arises as to what lies behind all this? Is it done to make us nervous or in order to really prevent some threats?" Medvedev said (BBC News, March 29)."

At this point any dialogue is better than none. Given the American/World economic situation world wide reduction in military budgets would be a welcome relief to a world that needs health care,food,and education. Americans in particular need to ask themselves how much military spending is necessary to make them secure especially when the combined military spending of Russia and China is perhaps 20-30%(and I think I'm being generous with these numbers) of American spending.

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