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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian-American START treaty hinges on simultaneous ratification

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Russia and the United States have agreed to resume talks on a new strategic arms reduction treaty. A U.S. delegation led by National Security Advisor General James Jones and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expected in Moscow soon.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, agreed last year to reduce the nuclear warhead stockpile to between 1,500 and 1,675 for each country.

A higher level of the negotiators shows that the sides have made progress toward signing a new START treaty, which was at the top of their agenda last year. The new treaty is to replace the 1991 agreement, which expired on December 5, 2009.

Russia and the U.S. failed to finalize a new treaty late last year, but hope to sign it soon.

President Medvedev said commenting on the work to draft a new fundamental treaty on nuclear disarmament: "The way it was done in Soviet times is unacceptable - when the Soviet Union ratified the documents and the U.S. did not."

"We must prepare a document that has been well thought out, that reflects our understanding about strategic armaments, and ratify it together. Or this process is impossible," Medvedev said.

The issue of simultaneous ratification of a new treaty is key to the ongoing talks. There have been many cases in Russian-American relations when the ratification of such agreements was put off for far-fetched reasons. For example, the U.S. Senate has not ratified the SALT-2 strategic arms limitation treaty signed in 1979.

Russia cannot accept this in the current situation because in conditions of a sharp quantitative reduction of strategic nuclear forces any change in the balance of forces in favor of either side or failure by one of the sides to implement an agreement slashing strategic nuclear arms could disrupt the Russian-American nuclear parity. Therefore, "simultaneous ratification of the relevant documents must be our guiding principle," President Medvedev said.

By now, Russia and the United States have coordinated a number of disputed issues, such as the limitation of delivery vehicles to 700-750 systems, no limits on the deployment sites for silo-based missiles and for the patrolling areas of mobile systems, as well as a method of calculating delivery vehicles that will preclude the creation of the so-called return potential (stockpiled warheads).

The main disputed issue is the planned worldwide deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. Russia insists that a new treaty must limit a potential deployment of such ABM systems, while the United States has so far refused to make the commitment.

The U.S. has made concessions to Russia with regard to the return potential and control of mobile missile systems, which means that Russia should agree to concessions on the ABM deployment sites, the limitation of which could render it almost useless.

In future, intercontinental ballistic missiles could be intercepted, with a minor degree of probability, in the absence of effective ABM systems based on new physical principles only if the defending side knows the tentative location of the launching sites. But the probability of intercepting ICBMs plummets dramatically if the area of potential launching sites is large.

When speaking about the reasons for Washington's readiness to make concessions to Russia on a new START treaty, we should bear in mind a dissenting view that says Moscow should reciprocate by changing its stance on the Afghan war and the potential Iranian conflict.

The American politicians and public should thoroughly consider which is more important for the U.S., a new treaty or Russia's assistance.

As for Russia, it has already decided that even a signed and ratified START treaty is not worth its involvement in a war. Therefore, the best achievement for Russian diplomats will be the signing of the treaty against the promise of "moral support" to the United States in armed conflicts and more practical assistance in the form of transit corridors.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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