The new START: difficult terms of success

Despite scant information available about these talks, it seems fairly clear the negotiators won't manage to draft a new START Treaty in time for the Medvedev-Obama summit in Moscow on July 6-8.

Sticking points remain on the path to a new fundamental reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals. Far fewer, of course, than there were under Bush. But they are there.

This is not a huge problem, since both sides would apparently like to sign a sort of framework agreement or protocol at their June meeting, on the basis of which work on the new treaty could continue in 2010.

The current START-1 is set to expire on December 5, 2009. It was signed in 1991 and came into force in 1999. The treaty limited its signatories to 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles.

If an interim protocol is not signed before December, Russia and the United States will find themselves in the strange position of having no legal basis for control over the numbers of their nuclear warheads. Still, this protocol (or framework agreement) is not the sort of success one might have hoped for.
Certain statements made in Geneva suggest time is running short. On the second day of consultations, President Medvedev's press secretary Tatiana Timakova told journalists: "I would not say categorically that we won't have time to reach a more specific agreement. The complicated negotiating process (concerning the parameters of the new START) is continuing. It's still too early to draw conclusions about whether they'll be in time for Obama's arrival or not. Work is proceeding." This sort of thing is usually said in an effort to lower expectations and, in translation from diplomatic into ordinary language, it might sound like this: "Work is proceeding, but I wouldn't count on any particular success".

If Medvedev and Obama don't sign a new agreement in Moscow, that will be all right too. An interim protocol would be a very worthy forerunner to a new START: if one is going to sign a binding contract, then it's better to discuss all in it seriously. If one can believe what Russian and American experts are saying, then the principal sticking point concerns the "return potential" of nuclear weapons. This was the basis of the START agreement signed by Bush in
Moscow in 2002. It has to do with those warheads that have been taken off missiles, ones that are not to be used but only placed in storage. Since the United States has more of these, it asked Moscow to believe that it would not use its advantage on military duty. Now the problem has again come up.
Another snag has to do with Washington's intention to arm strategic missiles with high-precision ordinary charges. Even with modern technology, it is impossible to determine which missiles are nuclear and which are not. Moscow is suggesting that "ordinary" strategic missiles also be counted as part of the overall number.

According to experts, Washington's strategic nuclear command intends to arm 100 or more ICBMs with "simple dynamite".

So to say that a new START is in the bag would be a somewhat flippant. At best. But no matter how you look at it, this agreement is more important for Russia than the United States. According to the latest statistics, Russia has 3,909 strategic warheads and 814 delivery vehicles; the United States has 5,576 and 1,198 respectively. Washington will have to cut many more warheads than Moscow. Plus Russia won't have to spend colossal sums to produce new charges.
So we have more to gain from the new START.

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