Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 06:28 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 06:28 | SYDNEY

Clean START for arms control in 2011


Fiona Cunningham

23 December 2010 14:39

The New START arms control treaty was ratified overnight after months of wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill over a lot more than just the substance of the treaty. The ratification will chalk up a foreign policy victory for President Obama, all the more remarkable given that Congress is in its lame duck session and will cede to Republican control in 2011 after the Democratic Party's thumping in the Congressional elections earlier this year.

The ratification of New START, considered by most arms control experts to be a common sense and uncontroversial treaty which requires neither Russia nor the US to cut their arsenals in a strategically compromising way and re-establishes bilateral verification measures, gives rise to both optimism and pessimism for Obama's two major arms control challenges in 2011. It shows that while politicking may hold up a treaty, it did not prevent enough Republican senators from voting in favour of the treaty and against their party leadership.

Presidents Obama and Medvedev at the signing of New START in April 2010. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Obama faces a much more difficult challenge in achieving ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by a Republican-controlled Senate, which he vowed to pursue 'aggressively' in his 2009 Prague speech calling for a nuclear weapon-free world. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected the treaty in 1999, for reasons of both partisan politics and genuine concerns about the security implications. Both of these obstacles must again be surmounted before the Senate will ratify the CTBT.

Obama's second major nuclear arms control challenge will be to negotiate a follow-on treaty to New START, but this time dealing with far more strategically sensitive topics such as further cuts to warhead numbers and delivery systems, reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, and (at Russian insistence) missile defence.

Pursuing this tricky agenda in 2011 would not have been possible without the ratification of New START, so let's take a break over Christmas and let President Obama and arms control advocates the world over enjoy this last minute gift for 2010.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.