Sunday, November 08, 2009

The End is Near?.. Still?

Within a month the last version of the START Treaty will expire. There is not much hope of a START III being ratified and in place before then. This is not too shocking. It is not even extremely necessary for one to be in place before the 5th. Nevertheless, this negotiation is an interesting element in the developing US-Russian relationship. Given the former President’s decision to withdraw from the START talks several years ago, replacing it with SORT, the Obama administration, in their attempts at engagement, are coming closer and closer to finalizing a deal. Overall these negotiations can function as a great foil to judge the current US-Russian dynamics.

First, the irony of the situation is somewhat comical. Here we have hawkish Russia going up against a current Nobel Laureate… but instead of the hawks looking for more arms it’s the Laureate who wants to keep the nukes. Russia, with limited leverage in the negotiations, is asking for a greater reduction in some arms than the US. Granted, this decision is not Obama’s alone, but the irony still remains. Of course, this deal going through could end up being a great platform for Obama to accept his award on December 10th. Either way, the main point is the limited room Russia has to really negotiate. Bilateral talks? Yes. Equal? No.

The second point builds on first. The reopening of the START talks, given the limited ability of Russia to negotiate, shows the shift in US foreign policy. One of the main problems with the START negotiations - since Clinton - has been the definition and use of missile defense systems. Sounds familiar right? On paper START is only concerned with offensive weapons, but what is defensive to one is offensive to another. There are still several other issues at stake here. Questions of transparency, subs, bombers… But the question remains, why should the US be looking at giving up any of these strategic deterrents given the decaying and asymmetrical advantage it has over Russia? It would seem that one reason is because Obama values his relationship with Russia and because he is taking seriously his goals of nonproliferation. Maybe that Nobel Peace Prize will get ratified too.

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