by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
April 10, 2010
15 YEARS IN 15 MINUTES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It looks like President Barack Obama is going to follow up his biggest domestic policy achievement - health care reform - with his biggest foreign policy achievement - a new strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty and new U.S. policies regarding the use of nuclear weapons.
The treaty that Mr. Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8 is not just the first significant arms control treaty between the United States and Russia since the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, was signed by President George H.W. Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev. It also marks a fresh beginning in relations between the two countries.
When the first START treaty was signed, the Cold War had ended, the Soviet Union was in the process of disbanding and the balance of power between the United States and the Soviets was rapidly shifting. The United States enjoyed the status of being the lone superpower while Russia went into a steep military and economic decline. But after eight years of George W. Bush's presidency and his Administration's go-it-alone approach to foreign policy, relations became badly frayed.
Now, nearly 20 years after START I, a second START treaty offers some hope that the two nations can put aside past differences and work toward the goal that both President Obama and Medvedev support - the abolition of nuclear weapons.
START II calls for both nations to reduce their stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons by about 30 percent, from 2,200 to 1,550, over the next seven years. Along with reductions in the permissible number of long-range missiles and bombers, it contains a legally binding system to prevent cheating. Also, there will be no constraints on missile defense in the START II treaty. This was the main source of disagreement during negotiations, as Russia insisted upon limitations on missile defense while the United States insisted that it be allowed to continue deployment of such a system. It represents significant change.
Also representing significant change is the Obama Administration's announcement this week that narrows the circumstances in which the United States might launch a nuclear strike. While President Obama stopped short of saying that the United States will never be the first to launch a nuclear attack, he did say our nation would forgo the development of new nuclear warheads and he would seek even deeper reductions in American and Russian arsenals. Presently, they possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons and both will still have more than enough left in their arsenals to destroy the world many times over.
This is only the third major revision of U.S. nuclear policy since the end of the Cold War and was the first since 2001. It recognizes that, as Mr. Obama said this week, "the greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by violent extremists and nuclear proliferation to an increasing number of states."
It will be up to the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma to ratify the START II treaty. Despite the hatred of all things Obama in the Senate, it looks as if there will be enough Republican votes to reach the 67 votes needed for ratification. A vote will likely happen by year's end.
Since the START I treaty expired in December, Russia and the United States do not have an agreement for inspecting each other's nuclear stockpiles. That fact alone makes ratification a good idea. Also, this treaty opens the possibility for more cooperation between the United States and Russia in other important areas. It also puts pressure on countries that either have nuclear weapons, or are thinking about having them, to do their part in moving towards a world without nuclear weapons.
For these reasons, START II and the revision in U.S. nuclear policy are much needed in the drive toward reshaping a world where the terror of nuclear war can finally be laid to rest.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.