пятница, 24 апреля 2009 г.

Moscow and Washington going to Rome to count warheads

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) -

On April 24, Russian and American experts will start talks in Rome, which may lead to the first breakthrough in bilateral relations and new reductions in nuclear arms, notably, a new treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1).

It entered into force in 1994 and expires on December 5, 2009. In fact, it has already become obsolete.

Neither Moscow, nor Washington can afford to wait till December. They should draft a treaty or agreement by July, in time for President Barrack Obama's planned visit to Moscow. He is expected to sign something important with President Dmitry Medvedev, but for the time being there is nothing else to sign except for the new treaty.

Both sides are in a hurry. Two months is too little time for the proposed treaty, but not unrealistic. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his American counterpart Hillary Clinton are planning to meet in Washington on May 7 to check on the experts' progress. While addressing congressmen on April 22, Clinton said: "We have committed ourselves to working with Russia on finding a successor agreement to the START arms control agreement." The question is how to find it.

Everyone understands that we should move forward to tougher arms restrictions than those imposed by START-1. Why? First, both sides announced in December 2001 that the provisions of this treaty have been fulfilled. In a nutshell, the treaty commits each side to reduce the number of deployed carriers to 1,600, and the number of warheads to 6,000. In December 2001, Russia had 1,136 carriers and 5,518 warheads, while the United States had 1,237 carriers and 5,948 warheads.

In the recent estimate of the State Department, by January 1, 2009, Moscow had 814 carriers and 3,909 nuclear warheads, while the relevant numbers for the United States were 1,198 and 5,576, respectively. This gap is not alarming - in loaded weight we surpass the United States by almost 600 metric tons.

Second, it is hard for the United States to maintain such a nuclear arsenal during the economic crisis, and it is an even bigger burden for Russia.

However, figures are not the main point. If the treaty is not upgraded and improved properly, on which Russia insists, both sides could say "goodbye" to a later bilateral agreement on nuclear arms, which was signed by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002. This treaty provides for the reduction of strategic offensive armaments to 1,700-2,200 warheads by 2012. Its system of verification fully relies on that of START-1. By and large, the groundwork on both treaties will make it easy for the sides to agree to toughen START-1.

When it came to talks on nuclear arms cuts, the opinions of the Soviet Union and the United States always seriously diverged. For the time being, Obama's administration has not come up with anything new in this field. Perhaps it has a surprise in store for May?

Both Russia and the United States agree that they should reduce nuclear warheads and revise START-1. In this case, Obama's position is not very different from that of Bush in his later years. Eventually, Bush agreed that START-1 could be toughened. In effect, neither Washington, nor Moscow has ever opposed continued reductions in nuclear arsenals.

But the devil is in the details. The smaller the details, the bigger the devils, and the more enthusiastic the sides are in fighting for them. Well, this is only natural, if any nation, as Bernard Shaw once put it, has a tacit sympathy for its devils.

It will be hard to toughen the treaty because Washington has not yet completed the revision of its nuclear strategy. It should be finished by the fall. For the new treaty to be approved by Congress by December 5, the sides should have signed it by August.

American experts tend to believe that the work on the new treaty will have two stages. At the first stage, the sides will agree to conduct verifications and inspections, and reduce nuclear warheads to 1,500 each. This agreement could be signed by Obama and Medvedev in July. At the second stage, next year, the sides will decide to reduce warheads to 1,000 and to cut their carriers by half - to about 600-700 on each side. In this case, the United States will have to reduce more carriers than Russia.

In principle, both sides agree on the ceiling, but their opinions diverge on other issues.

As always, the United States is trying to leave part of its strategic missiles outside nuclear restrictions in accordance with Bush's new doctrine of a timely global strike. In line with this doctrine, a number of strategic nuclear missiles are equipped with conventional warheads for a crushing blow against terrorism. But it is quite easy to turn it into a nuclear carrier again, and it is absolutely unclear how to register strategic missiles with conventional warheads in the new treaty.

Moreover, the tougher the strategic restrictions for the United States and Russia, the more attention should be paid to the nuclear forces of France, Britain, China, Pakistan, and India, to name but a few. The importance of their nuclear forces in the world's nuclear balance will increase considerably.

However, for all the problems, Russia will stand to gain much more from the new treaty. We have fallen so far behind the United States in upgrading our nuclear carriers (neither Topols, nor submarine-launched Bulavas can redress the situation) that any restrictions will only benefit Russia. So, it seems that Russia will have to accept a host of American proposals if it does not want to deepen the nuclear gap. It will be no disaster if the new treaty is not signed but the gap in missile quality will increase.

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

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