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Progress on Nukes Is Good, but 'Not Enough'

Martha Dodge

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev made commendable progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons at last week's Moscow summit, but much more needs to be done, say arms control groups, one of which has launched new efforts to ramp up pressure on the U.S. leader.

"During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama promised 'dramatic' cuts in nuclear arsenals in a new agreement with the Russians. The announcement that a new U.S.-Russia treaty will seek to limit each side's nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 represents some progress, but it is far too modest," said the California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF).

The advocacy group is encouraging people to send Obama a message urging more drastic cuts in both nations' nuclear stockpiles.

Referring to Presidents Obama and Medvedev's announcement last week about a follow-on agreement to the U.S.-Russia arms reduction accord, John Isaacs, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said: "today's events represent progress, but there is still a long way to go. It took George W. Bush eight years to unravel U.S.-Russian relations, and it will take Barack Obama more than eight months to stitch things back together."

The new agreement will replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the only active non-proliferation pact between Russia and the United States, which expires in December. Under START both countries must reduce their nuclear stockpiles by at least 50 percent -- from approximately 10,000 to 5,000 warheads.

"We now have a commitment from the two leaders to re-establish a system of legally binding agreements, applied both to numbers of deployed warheads as well as to delivery systems, and to back that up with an effective verification process and effective counting rules," applauded the Open Society Institute's Morton Halperin, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank. Nonetheless, he added, "this is a very modest step, with numbers just slightly below those that the Bush administration was contemplating."

Russia today controls roughly 2,790 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and has an unknown number in reserve, while the United States has 2,200 deployed strategic warheads, with a similar number held in storage, according to estimates by the Federation of American Scientists.

In order to ensure a nuclear-free world, "far more dramatic steps are needed," maintains NAPF. "Steps that the U.S. and Russia must take together include making further reductions in nuclear weapons, taking thousands of nuclear weapons off of high-alert status, and committing to a binding No First Use policy."

In addition, says the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), countries must come to strong conclusions at the upcoming United Nations Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Indeed, the international coalition of workers' rights groups has launched a campaign to this end and is also working to see all UN member states sign the NPT, which seeks to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, at the May 2010 meeting.

"Peace and disarmament are founding principles of the ITUC, and while there are positive signs from Russia and the U.S.A. on reducing nuclear stockpiles, the international trade union movement is extremely concerned about the prospect of further nuclear proliferation, particularly in North Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. The only way to deal with this is through multilateral negotiations, and the 2010 NPT Review is tremendously important in that regard," said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

There are nearly 24,000 nuclear warheads in existence worldwide, most of which are controlled by the United States and Russia.

"We are seeing a pace of potential proliferation that we have not seen in quite some time," said Obama while speaking in Moscow, citing serious concerns about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and North Korea's defiant testing of nuclear weapons, notes Agence France-Presse (AFP).


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