Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

All Wrapped Up: U.S.-Russia Set to Sign START Treaty Replacement

Posted by K.E. White on March 24, 2010

Apparently a new U.S.-Russia arms control treaty has been finally hammered out.  While many outlets chronicle the slow pace of negotiations and focus on the signing location of the treaty (Prague), MSNBC.com sheds some light on 1) the details of the agreement and 2) what may have been behind the delay.

The START treaty expired last December, but the United States and Russia have been voluntarily conforming to the parameters of the agreement.

Two quick notes.  First, the treaty is of considerable size–especially compared to other recent nuclear agreements.  At 20 pages, this new arms control  treaty definitely offers more detail the SORT/Moscow Treaty (3 pages) concluded under the George W. Bush administration or the legislatively-authorized US-India nuclear deal.  Related to the length, the treaty includes a verification protocol.  This, again, represents a large departure from Bush-era arms control policy.

Why is the second point important?  The key to reducing nuclear arms or restricting their use is in the verification of such efforts.  The Bush administration treaty, while obtaining a large cut in nuclear arsenals, mainly trimmed bloated stock-piles, and pegged to its verification standards to START.  Getting countries to promise to cut arsenals is one thing; forcing countries to verify they actually eliminated them is another–more complicated–endeavor.  And with the SORT treaty expiring in 2012, the expiration of the START treaty risked making SORT irrelevant.

Granted, it seems that this treaty will not represent a bold step in reining in the countries’ nuclear arsenals.  But it represents forward progress, and presumably lays the foundation for future agreements.

From the MSNBC.com article:

The Kremlin source, speaking by telephone to The Associated Press, said the documents included the treaty and protocol. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that the treaty was 20 pages long, with an extensive protocol attached.

Russian negotiators have balked at including some intrusive weapons verification measures in the new treaty. The Obama administration has warned that without these, Senate ratification could prove difficult.

Any agreement would need to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries and would still leave each with a large number of nuclear weapons, both deployed and stockpiled.

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