What Has Happened to Arms Control?

By Dempsey, Judy | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

What Has Happened to Arms Control?


Dempsey, Judy, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Anyone remember the atmosphere two years ago at the Munich Security Conference? It was not dominated by the global financial crisis or Afghanistan. Instead, arms control was the buzzword. U.S. Senator John Kerry, and Richard Burt, a leading member of the Global Zero Commission whose goal is to rid the world of nuclear weapons within two decades, delivered riveting speeches. Just a few weeks earlier, U.S. president Barack Obama had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to reducing nuclear arms. The administration's decision to "reset" the button with Russia added even more hope, especially when talks for a new START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty talks, gathered momentum. That treaty, signed in Prague in April 2010, stipulated that by February 2018, each side must cap its strategic nuclear arsenal at 1,550 warheads. It also limits both sides' deployed nuclear systems to 700 ICBMS, or inter- continental ballistic missiles, as well as sea-based ballistic missiles are allowed in reserve. When it came into force last year, there was guarded optimism that arms control would move to the top of the security agenda of other countries too. But that has not happened. If anything, arms control is on the back burner, both in the U.S. and Russia. For the Europeans, it is hardly an issue, despite the developments in Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. What is the reason? The Obama administration worked hard to get START ratified in Congress in December 2010. It was a bruising experience. Domestic considerations now take precedent, especially during an election year. Neither is Russia prepared to do much more for arms control. "Russia's large nuclear arsenal, along with its seat on the U.N. Security Council, is the last vestige of its great power status," said James Acton, security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There is concern in Moscow about further arms control." Take tactical nuclear weapons. When President Obama signed START in 2010, he said the United States wanted reductions across all categories, including tactical and non-deployed warheads. Even when the Senate voted for START, it called for talks with Russia to reduce the huge disparity in U.S. and Russia tactical nuclear weapons. Nothing has happened. NATO, for one, ran scared. When German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle announced in 2009 that Germany would unilaterally try and get rid of the tactical nuclear weapons deployed by the U.S. on German territory, some NATO allies, particularly Poland, balked. Warsaw insisted that any withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons could only happen if Russia reduced its huge arsenal at the same time. According to the bipartisan U.S. Strategic Posture Commission, Russia has 3,800 operational tactical nuclear warheads and numerous reserves. Russia will not confirm that figure. …

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What Has Happened to Arms Control?
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