Monday :: Jul 6, 2009

Obama, Medvedev Announce Arms Reduction Agreement


by Turkana

President Obama may not have looked into Russian President Medvedev's soul, but he did, today, take a more significant diplomatic step with Russia than was made in Bush's entire eight disastrous years in office! As reported by the New York Times:

The United States and Russia, seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the cold war, announced Monday that they had reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country’s stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons by as much as one-third.

The so-called framework agreement, which is intended to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, was put together by negotiators as President Obama arrived here for his first Russian-American summit meeting. It was approved by Mr. Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

Since taking office in January, Mr. Obama has vowed to improve relations with Russia, which had steadily worsened in the final years of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Less than a year ago, Russia’s war with Georgia had caused the deepest strains between Moscow and the West since the fall of the Soviet Union.

This is preliminary, but it represents a huge step forward in US-Russian relations. For background, check this terrific post by Plutonium Page, the key part of which may be this:

Andrew Grotto is a national security expert with the Center for American Progress, as well as a frequent contributor at the invaluable national security blog, Arms Control Wonk. He said:

So what would a successful summit look like? You know the two sides we’re dancing around are arms control and a whole suite of proposed areas for bilateral cooperation now since [the Bush-Putin meeting last spring]. So from my perspective, the summit is a success if they finally get to first base and announce a concrete action plan for replacing START.

Another point I want to leave you with is you know so the United States, arms control has become something like a Rorschach test for the broader U.S.-Russian relationship... the U.S.-Russian relationship is characterized by both cooperation and competition, always has been, probably always will be. The fact is the two sides have a common interest in some areas but conflicting interests in other areas.

[snip]

Negotiations will take time, particularly when you consider you know the complexity of the issues. But I actually think this learning curve is healthy because it will force the two sides to be creative and hopefully even serve as a firewall to Cold War-like thinking.

He and the other experts went on to answer questions from various reporters; inevitably, the question of the planned US installation of a ballistic missile defense shield in Europe came up.

First base? A concrete action plan? I haven't found any new posts by Grotto, and there's nothing up at the Arms Control Wonk site, but this is how the Washington Post describes the agreement:

In a "joint understanding" they signed before taking questions at a news conference, the two presidents instructed negotiators to draft a new accord that would commit both the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 for each country, down from the previous ceiling of 2,200.

The two leaders also called for cutting the number of missile launchers and bombers each nation can keep to between 500 and 1,100, from the previous limit of 1,600. The wide range reflected the need for further negotiations over Russian demands for sharper reductions.

Obama, who arrived in Moscow Monday for a three-day summit, said a new arms reduction treaty "will be completed this year." He said after talks with Medvedev that the understanding they signed would help increase nuclear security and slow the spread of nuclear weapons.

Sounds like first base, at least. There is one possible major hitch, although it shouldn't be. The Los Angeles Times:

Gary Samore, the White House point man on weapons of mass destruction, has acknowledged that a major point of contention is the U.S. push for a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russian officials consider that a direct challenge to their nuclear program.

The United States views the missile shield and reductions of the arsenals as separate issues, Obama said at the news conference, while the Russians want them to be linked.

Given that "missile defense" doesn't work, despite being the most expensive "weapons" system in human history, this one shouldn't be hard to resolve. For more on "missile defense," check this definitive article by Jack Hitt, in Rolling Stone.

Meanwhile, we have a new president taking a huge first step towards legitimate arms reductions. And a huge first step towards repairing diplomatic relations with Russia. Not a bad day's work.

Turkana :: 12:48 PM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!