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US-Russia Nuclear Deal a Positive Step

Amitabh Pal

 by The Progressive

All of us disarmament advocates should be happy about the just-agreed
reductions in the arsenals of the world's two biggest nuclear powers.
But it's not reason enough to break out the champagne.

The U.S.-Russia agreement is certainly a big deal.
Within seven years, both sides will slash their stockpiles of strategic
warheads to roughly 1,500, an almost 50 percent reduction. The number of
launchers would be cut by half. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control
Association (a person I truly respect) terms it "the first truly
post-Cold-War nuclear arms reduction treaty."

But there are still a few glitches. A large one is a recurring
nightmare from the 1980s: Star Wars, a.k.a. the missile defense program.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl (two people I have no respect
for) have threatened to block ratification in the Senate if the
agreement contains any binding language at all on missile defense, as
the preamble reportedly has some wording dealing with the subject. Since
sixty-seven votes are needed in the Senate (just like for any other
treaty), this could be a roadblock.

The Russians, on the other hand, are not too happy, even with
President Obama's downscaled version of the Reagan/Bush missile defense
fantasy. And Obama took the unhelpful stance of refusing to offer any
concrete assurances, annoying them and almost derailing the
negotiations, as had happened in the past.

"Russia had wanted to cut the nuclear bomb arsenals further under
Putin, which would have enabled us to call all the parties to the table
to negotiate for their abolition, but no agreement was reached-with the
U.S. insisting on having its so-called missile defense systems and plans
to dominate space," says Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation.

The Obama Administration's recent discussion with
Romania and Bulgaria about the possibility of these two countries
hosting elements of the system has further unnerved the Russians.

"If the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile
defense, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement
because the spirit of the preamble has been violated," threatens Vladimir Dvorkin, a retired general and
arms control honcho.

Obama will need considerable skills at navigating these shoals.

And then there are other issues.

The United States and Russia still have 1,000 nuclear weapons each on hair-trigger
alert
, ready to be fired at a moment's notice. An accident or a
miscalculation on either side could result in an unimaginable cataclysm.
I have seen no indication that the new agreement addresses this
problem.

And then there's the larger question for those of us committed to a
nuclear-free world: Does this treaty move us along that path? Richard Burt of Global Zero (as in zero nuclear
weapons) thinks so. The United States and Russia "took a major step
toward achieving their goal of global zero," he says.

I wish I could be that optimistic. Matthew Rojansky of the Partnership for a Secure
America calculates that there'll still be more than 10,000 U.S. and
Russian nuclear weapons left after the agreement takes effect. In spite
of the symbolism of the treaty being signed next month in Prague, where
Obama made his pledge of ridding the world of nuclear arms, I will
believe in a nuclear-free world when I see it.

Still, the agreement is a major step forward. If not the time for a
toast, it is at least an occasion to let out a cheer.


© 2021 The Progressive
Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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