For comments on some of the most burning issues related to the talks on the new START treaty, RT turned to a group of leading Russian experts:
Aleksey Arbatov – Head of the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations; and head of the project on nuclear non-proliferation in the Moscow Carnegie Center;
Evgeny Minchenko – Director of the International Institute for Political Expertise;
Aleksey Fenenko – Leading research fellow at the Institute of International Security Studies of the Russian Academy of Science
RT asked them three questions on the matter, and here are their responses:
1. Do you share the optimism, steadily expressed by the two negotiating sides concerning the process and the perspectives of signing the new START treaty by December 5 this year?
Aleksey Arbatov: Well, I hope the agreement will be signed, although I can imagine how truly complicated this process is and how many rounds of talks we have yet to conduct. There are huge complexities in the process as I know, but still – unless some unexpected political events take place – the agreement should be signed by December, or by spring at the very latest...
Evgeny Minchenko: Call me a pessimist or a very cautious optimist here, but I see a few fundamental problems... One of them is that Obama already declared that America would try to achieve a complete refusal from nuclear weapons. For Russia, as many experts say, that would be a serious problem, because in that case, or even if the reduction of nuclear weapons reaches a certain level, America’s advantage in conventional arms becomes totally overwhelming. I would call that a basic conceptual problem.
Aleksey Fenenko: Yes, I am generally optimistic about signing the new START treaty – it can be signed in December, or next January, or next February – it is not significant anymore since we agreed with the US on the most fundamental issue: Russia and the US will have about 1,500 nuclear warheads – it is close to the raw limits set by the 2002 Moscow SORT treaty. The difference is that the new agreement should involve an inspection mechanism. At the same time it is possible it will not be an obligation treaty, but a declaration similar to SORT, an idea mentioned by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Helsinki on April 20 this year.
2. What are the major stumbling blocks in the negotiation process?
AA: The main problem is that the US is simply not interested in any reduction or limitation of Russian strategic weapons – they are being reduced on their own, because the old systems are being laid off and the new ones are put in operation in very small quantities. Americans are rather interested in keeping a regime of transparency, whereas Russia is primarily interested in the actual reduction of American strategic weapons – not only the warheads, but rather the rocket delivery systems. This very asymmetry in targets makes signing the treaty very complicated. As for transparency, Russia thinks only those checks are needed in the new treaty – and no others!
Of course there are also political reasons for signing the treaty, such as Obama’s commitments during the election campaign, his appeal for a nuclear-free world, the coming meeting on non-proliferation next year, when the US will need to present something to convince other nations to impose various limitations to encourage non-proliferation regime... However, these are mostly tactical reasons, not strategic... Meanwhile, unlike the US, Russia vitally needs the agreement to keep parity with the States – it is a matter of prestige, world status, geographical position and so on...
EM: First of all, it is the AMD problem. Yes, Americans have abandoned their plans for the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, but they will be recreating it in a different form. Another complicated issue is the issue of calculation – shall we take into account sea-based facilities, warheads in the depots, only those on the carriers, or all of them? We have different views on almost every one of these issues.
So it is obvious that in terms of image for both Obama and Medvedev that it is important to reach some consensus, but there are objective obstacles and national interests of both countries – all that makes these talks very complicated... Of course, certain compromises can be found – perhaps, it will not be a new global version of the previous treaty, but some less fundamental, local document...
AF: Well, it is not a technical, but rather a political problem. We remember that the US withdrew from the ABM treaty, undermining the very basic principle of strategic stability, which we were building together with the US since the 1960s... In 2002, the two countries signed the Moscow declaration on a new strategic relationship. It said both countries should consult each other on all the issues of missile defense deployment. However, further conflict around AMD is actually a sign of the devaluation of the Moscow declaration and its principles...
3. How has America’s refusal to build radars in Poland and the Czech Republic affected the negotiation process? Is America’s AMD system still an issue at all?
AA: No, it is obviously not an issue anymore – Americans have abandoned the previous plans and will definitely never come back to them. As for the other systems that they are planning to create – it is exclusively the missile defense facilities destined for the seat of war. And they completely fall under the borderline, officially agreed by the two states in the documents, signed in 1997. It clearly separated these missile defense systems, which can be created, from strategic missile defense, which was prohibited by AMD agreements. So the new systems, which the US is planning to develop in the near future – they completely fall under those agreed allowed limits.
EM: America’s refusal from building the radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic has not solved the problem at all – it is rather a matter of our image than something practical. They will now develop a new system and continue building the global AMD system – it is their strategic target and they will never abandon that general trend. That means there is a question of correlation of nuclear arsenals, means of delivery and general capabilities of their AMD system. Let us assume we now reduce the quantity of warheads and carrier rockets – but what happens next when Americans continue developing their AMD system – and they definitely will – will they soon go into space with it?
AF: I believe the issue is still there! On September 10, Obama said the US rejected their recent plans. However, they have two agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic – they are not ratified, but they do exist and the US has not denounced them. So the next US president can get back to them and push the idea of constructing the bases again. So to me it does not look like they have been dropped, rather they are a means of controlling Russia. They can obviously say: “Either you agree with our vision of the next START treaty, or we go back to building the radars.”