Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The U.S.-Russia Reset Finally Paying Off?

Posted in European-Russian Relations, Nuclear Proliferation by Dan on March 26, 2010

It looks like President Barack Obama finally has something to put on his foreign-policy resume.  This past Wednesday, U.S. officials in the White House and Russian officials in Moscow have both confirmed that a new strategic nuclear reduction treaty is within days of being completed.  The details of the accord are still sketchy (God forbid information be released to the general public), but there are a few things that we do know.

First off, the treaty explicitly states that both parties (the United States and Russia) are required to decrease their nuclear arsenals to approximately 1,500 warheads.  I know this sounds like an exceedingly high number, but it’s still a pretty noteworthy improvement from the last agreement Washington and Moscow signed in 2002, which tolerated up to 2,200 operational warheads.

The 2010 treaty also has a legal provision that makes sure both sides are actually complying with the law.  This too, is a great step forward.  An agreement is only effective if teeth and enforcement are included.  Otherwise, a party could renege on the deal whenever it wants to, rendering the whole concept of negotiation a huge waste of time and effort.  This is why the 2002 Bush-era provision with Russia was questionable at best…there was no incentive for the United States and Russia to follow through on the basic tenants.

So that is about it at this point in time.  Again, officials in the State Department are making this story rather difficult for reporters, perhaps because the treaty still has to be ratified in the U.S. Senate (which is always a tough battle, because as everyone knows, Senators always have to make a name for themselves on the national scene).  But yet again, if this prospective accord does slide through the Senate, this would represent the first true achievement for the Obama administration on the foreign-policy front.  Politically, the nuclear deal would give President Obama a solid diplomatic win for his portfolio, perhaps on par with his health-care reform victory a week earlier.  And symbolically, the ratification would demonstrate to the rest of the world that the United States is commitment to disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.  If there is anything that Washington could use to convince its partners to sign off on new sanctions against the Iranian Government, it is this sort of sincerity and credibility.

Stay tuned for more.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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