The US-Russia nuclear arms deal that Obama is slated to sign
April 8 signals a modest, but significant, step forward.
The financial crisis and global warming have had the world's
attention in recent years. Thanks to President Obama's initiative,
perhaps the season for nuclear disarmament has finally arrived.
On April 8, Mr. Obama will meet Russian President Medvedev in
Prague, Czech Republic, to sign a nuclear arms control agreement
between the United States and Russia that will reduce their arsenals
by 30 percent.
The new US-Russian treaty will be received positively. There will
be praise for the Obama administration's attitude toward arms
control and disarmament and for Russia's readiness to join hands
with the US. However, as welcome as it is as a significant signal of
future cooperation, the new treaty is a relatively modest
IN PICTURES: Nuclear power around the world
Though not achieving the drastic cuts in nuclear arsenals and
delivery vehicles that the world is longing for, the US-Russian
treaty is important and encouraging.
After Bush administration policies that nearly sent the two
states into a new cold war, the new treaty constitutes the resetting
of an important button. It preserves arrangements for confidence
building and mutual inspections, and sets the stage for negotiating
more far-reaching cuts.
We should be aware, however, that a next step of deeper
reductions will hardly be attainable unless there is agreement on
extensive cooperation on missile defense. Russia is deeply
suspicious that the missile shield could enable the US to launch an
attack on any target in Russia while itself remaining immune to such
attacks. Further bilateral disarmament will also be impeded if
Russia feels that the NATO alliance seeks to encircle it by
expanding its military cooperation through membership or otherwise
with more states neighboring Russia.
The April 8 signing will take place one year after Obama's
presentation in Prague of a detailed program for the revival of
global nuclear arms control and disarmament. Later in April he will
be the host in Washington of a large summit meeting that will focus
on nuclear security. In May, the operation of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) will be the subject of review at a conference in New
York in which nearly all governments in the world will take part.
The review that took place in 2005 ended in acrimony and some
predicted the end of the treaty. How will it turn out in May?
Through adherence to the NPT that was concluded in 1970, states
have committed themselves to staying away from nuclear weapons or to
moving away from these weapons. If all states had joined and
fulfilled their commitments the treaty would have led by now to a
world free of nuclear weapons. They have evidently not done so. The
number of nuclear weapons peaked at more than 50,000 during the cold
war and it is still over 20,000 - most of them in the US and Russia.
The number of states with nuclear weapons has gone from five to nine
There is also frustration at the lack of progress on many
important items relevant to the treaty. For instance, the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force because the
US, China, and a number of other states have not ratified it. The
negotiation of a convention prohibiting the production of enriched
uranium and plutonium for weapons remains blocked at the Geneva
Disarmament Conference. The additional protocol of the International
Atomic Energy Agency for strengthened safeguards inspections remains
unratified by a large number of states, including Iran.
Some items are bound to attract much attention in May. One is
that, 20 years after the end of the cold war, the obligation of five
nuclear weapon states that are parties under Article VI of the NPT
to negotiate toward nuclear disarmament has not led us anywhere near