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A Strong START

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Report 7 April 2010

Non-Proliferation Bush Legacy NPT russia START


Tomorrow in Prague, President Obama and Russian President Medvedev will sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which will be the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades.  This will take place almost one year to the day from when President Obama unveiled his historic vision for reducing the threat of nuclear weapons in the 21st Century. This historic agreement stands on its own as a significant arms control achievement, the result of many months of effective diplomacy carried out both by the President and his team to advance our country's security.  Following the tradition of leaders on arms control, such as Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, President Obama has demonstrated that his Administration will protect the United States by reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons.  The signing of tomorrow's treaty represents a major step in that direction. 

In addition, the treaty is an integral part of the Administration's broader push for actions that will reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons.  For instance, just yesterday the Administration released its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), establishing U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the coming years, and next week, the President will host an international Nuclear Security Summit of 47 world leaders, who will be coming to Washington to discuss how to curb the threat of nuclear terrorism and vulnerable nuclear materials.  National security experts and leaders agree that the New START, combined with the multiple actions being taken by the administration to chorale the world's most dangerous weapons, will improve American security against  21st Century nuclear threats. The New START accord will also reinstate American leadership on this crucial issue of global importance, after years of neglect by the Bush administration. This is an historic moment to advance U.S. national security interest and protect America and its allies.

The New START reduces U.S. and Russian arsenals and stockpiles, in turn reducing the 21st Century threats posed by nuclear weapons.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen said of the security challenges we face: "The new START deals directly with some of the most lethal of those common challenges -- our stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons. By dramatically reducing these stockpiles, this treaty achieves a proper balance more in keeping with today's security environment, reducing tensions even as it bolsters nonproliferation efforts."  Ambassadors Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution explain the importance of reducing these dangerous weapons, writing in Politico: "It limits each side to no more than 1550 strategic warheads. The treaty has separate limits of 800 deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments. No more than 700 may be deployed at any one time. These compare to START limits of 6,000 nuclear warheads on 1,600 launchers. The new treaty will cut the current number of Russian strategic weapons that could target the United States by 30-40 percent. That's a good thing. Russia does not pose the kind of nuclear threat that the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, but the safety and security of Americans will be improved when the nuclear potential of our nearest peer competitor is reduced."

The reduction of nuclear arsenals and stockpiles is also vital for addressing the new nuclear challenges of the 21st Century.  For instance, a bipartisan panel for the Council on Foreign Relations, chaired by Brent Scowcroft and William Cohen, wrote in their report on the topic:  "Terrorists now and for the foreseeable future do not have the wherewithal to enrich their own uranium or produce their own plutonium. Instead, they would have to target state stockpiles of these materials. To acquire nuclear weapons, a terrorist group could try to buy or steal existing weapons or weapons-usable fissile material, or convince or coerce a government custodian to hand over these assets."  The United States and Russia together hold over 90% of the world's nuclear weapons and a reduction of stockpiles between the two countries reduces the possibility of theft or illicit sales. This makes the new START agreement all the more important." [Michael Mullen, 3/29/10. Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer, Politico, 3/29/10. Council on Foreign Relations, 4/09]

New START locks in a stable, transparent nuclear relationship with Russia. The verification and transparency measures dictated by the New START accord allow for a more stable, predictable nuclear relationship with Russia. Former U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer explains, "The treaty will provide transparency and predictability regarding Russian strategic forces. With New START, the United States will know far more about Russian strategic force deployments than would be the case without the agreement. For example, NTM [National Technical Means] cannot peer inside a Russian missile and reveal the number of warheads it carries. The treaty's on-site inspection provisions will allow U.S. inspectors to check precisely that. The treaty will give Washington a good sense of what Russian strategic forces will look like over the coming decade. That kind of predictability will lead to better-informed decisions about the investment that the United States should make in its strategic nuclear forces as opposed to other kinds of military capabilities." As the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation details: "New START contains an updated and streamlined system of verification procedures that are tailored to the new limits, reflect the realities of the current U.S. and Russian arsenals, and most importantly, will allow the U.S. to effectively verify Russia's compliance with the treaty. As [Secretary of Defense] Gates put it: ‘I think that when the testimony of the Intelligence Community comes on the Hill, that the DNI and the experts will say that they are comfortable that the provisions of this treaty for verification are adequate for them to monitor Russian compliance, and vice versa.'" [Steven Pifer via ACA, 4/2/10. Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 4/10]

New START Treaty reinstates U.S. global leadership on nonproliferation, which is essential for 21st Century security challenges. By signing the new START treaty, the Obama administration has taken a strong step toward returning the U.S. to its tradition of leadership on nonproliferation.  An editorial in the New York Times lauded the Administration for its moves to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, including START.  "[I]n a very dangerous time, he is taking important steps to make the world safer and bolster this country's credibility as it tries to constrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others," said the Times.  The Arms Control Association laid out the START treaty's implications for the upcoming Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference: "the new treaty will bolster the basic bargain of the NPT. Under the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states agreed to disarm while the non-nuclear-weapon states gained access to civil nuclear technology but agreed not to acquire nuclear arms. The new agreement demonstrates that the United States and Russia are living up to their part of the deal. That will strengthen Washington's hand in pressing for a tighter nuclear nonproliferation regime, particularly at the May NPT review conference." 

Another reason that the new START Treaty and the Obama administration's other efforts on nonproliferation help to solidify U.S. leadership is because of the dismal record of its predecessors.  As its history demonstrates, the Bush administration's policies severely eroded the nonproliferation regime, despite the bi-partisan legacy of U.S. presidents acting to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  In 2001 the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to build a missile defense system, a move that "has already provoked Russia to increase its nuclear capabilities and may well provoke China to do the same." [Center for American Progress, 8/9/04]

Failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty sent a dangerous signal to the rest of the world.  The Bush administration made clear that it had "no intention of seeking ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," a move that helped to "paralyze one of the most hopeful products of the post-World War II era: the global arms control and disarmament movement."  [San Francisco Chronicle, 4/06/03]

President Bush's support for tactical nuclear weapons encouraged other countries to pursue nuclear weapons. The Bush administration continually sought funds to develop tactical nuclear weapons or "bunker busters," a plan that then-Rep. Ellen Tauscher called "a waste of money on a weapon commanders in the field have not asked for," which "may trigger a new global nuclear arms race." [Washington Post, 2/09/05]

Collapse of efforts to end the production of nuclear weapons materials.  In 2004, the Bush administration reversed itself and announced that it no longer thought a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty could be verifiably enforced, contradicting the negotiating mandate and leading to the talks' collapse.  [Conference on Disarmament, 7/29/04]

Stonewalling the 2005 review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty discouraged  global cooperation. "Though President Bush repeatedly declared that nuclear proliferation, including the risk of terrorists' obtaining a nuclear weapon, is the biggest single threat to the United States, the Administration decided against sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the conference, leaving arguments to midlevel diplomats," a move that helped doom the talks to failure. [NY Times, 5/28/05]

[NY Times, 4/7/10. ACA, 4/2/10]

What We're Reading

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will hold talks in Beijing against a background of fresh signals from Chinese policymakers that they might be paving the way to let the yuan resume its rise.

At least seven deadly blasts shook Baghdad for the second time in three days on Tuesday, killing 35 people, wounding more than 140 and deepening fears of a new outbreak of insurgent and sectarian violence.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, handing the army broad powers to restore order after anti-government protesters broke into Parliament, forcing some lawmakers to flee by helicopter.

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them.

Still operating under Bush-era policies, the Pentagon will resume military commission hearings for accused terrorists in a top secret compound originally designed for the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Recent anti-American statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai have left Western leaders wondering how much of those quips is political theater to bolster domestic support and how much is genuine.

The credibility of Sudan's first general elections in two decades has been thrown into further doubt after a main opposition party extended its boycott of the vote and jittery EU monitors warned they may pull out of war-torn Darfur.

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan declared a national state of emergency after large-scale anti-government protests broke out and riot police officers fired on crowds, killing at least 12 people.

The Eurozone's economy failed to grow at all in the last three months of 2009.

The United States and Brazil have reached an agreement aimed at settling a long-standing trade dispute over American subsidies to cotton growers.

Commentary of the Day

David Ignatius writes that the Obama administration is considering proposing a Middle East peace plan of its own, which would reverse the Administration's earlier strategy.

Bing West argues that regardless of the coalition's success at the district level in Afghanistan, an obdurate and erratic President Karzai is an obstacle to progress.

Mia Farrow says the U.S. is supporting a sham election in Sudan.


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