Obama and Medvedev sign new START

As the upcoming mid-term elections loom, President Barak Obama is trying to convince the Senate to ratify the New START agreement. His Administration alleges that New START is not only critical in itself, but that it is a stepping stone for a global nuclear disarmament regime known as “getting to zero.”

The expected Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in November has the Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma worried about the future of New START.

High-ranking U.S. foreign policy officials have suggested that this treaty could provide the basis for future, more substantial agreements to stop nuclear proliferation altogether. Marcie Ries, Deputy Assistant for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance made a statement to the U.N. using New START as the basis both of further U.S.-Russian cooperation and an end to the deadlock over the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would stop all production of fissile materials. This idea of New START as the key effort for a nuclear-free world seems to have the support of some think tanks as well.

For example, a discussion at the Brookings Institution last week, with Brookings president Strobe Talbott, Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, and Brookings’ Senior Fellow and Director of the Arms Control Initiative Steven Pifer focused on the new paper “Next Steps on U.S.-Russian Nuclear Negotiations and Nuclear Non-Proliferation.”

Ambassador Pifer explained that one of the advantages to New START was that success could lead to discussions about reducing the total number of nuclear weapons. He did discuss some of the challenges the paper brought up – the tight-lipped Russian bureaucracy that doesn’t disclose the overall number of nuclear weapons, difficulties with verification negotiations, ans the difficulties of potential U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation an idea backed by President Medvedev earlier this year.

Cirincione brushed away Russian bureaucratic resistance to declaring the number of tactical weapons while praising Russia’s problematic cooperation with United States in dealing with the Iranian rogue regime.

Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration and architect of that Administration’s Russia policy, who co-authored the paper, explained that the progression of New START was critical to a world-wide non-proliferation agenda, and explained that as time goes on, the world’s nuclear picture becomes more complex—immediate action was needed to make sure that all proliferating and nuclear-capability aspiring countries are stopped in their tracks.

The problem with this discussion was participants’ flawed assumptions. The Obama Administration’s decision to use the deeply flawed New START agreement as the cornerstone of its “reset” policy with Russia is not likely to lead to the resolution of global nuclear issues.

Instead, major concessions to Moscow by the Obama Administration in exchange for the New START may hand Russia the upper hand in what the Kremlin perceives as a zero-sum game with Washington. The Russian foreign policy expert Sergey Karaganov, quoted by Russian Information Agency Novosty stated that the United States has de facto recognized Russia’s exclusive interests in the former Soviet region.

The Obama Administration’s lack of response to several developments, including the expansion of Russian influence in Ukraine and the Caucasus, the deployment of S-300 missile systems in the occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and continuous opposition to U.S.-European-based missile defense illustrate the unilateral character of Washington’s concessions to Moscow.

True, the United States is not the only nation surrendering foreign policy interests of favor of the fickle U.S.-Russian relationship: the Kremlin did support the U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, blocking the sale of the S-300 long range missiles and other systems to Tehran. Russia is also cooperating on the Northern Distribution Network to supply U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. However, Moscow did refuel its nuclear reactor at Bushehr and last week the Russian leaders were busy signing a nuclear contract with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s anti-American leader. Much like his friend, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez promises that he wants only a peaceful nuclear program, with no atomic bomb arsenal planned.

The questions remains: Should the United States see Chavez’s nuclear suppliers as diplomatic partners with good intentions for the New START Treaty?

Nicholas Naroditski is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm