Russian and U.S. diplomats yesterday launched their latest negotiation session aimed at establishing a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Sept. 21).
"The negotiations have restarted just after 11:00 [a.m.] local time in the Russian mission [in Geneva, Switzerland]. This time, it would last longer than expected with the large delegations from each side," said one Russian diplomat (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Sept. 21).
The discussions appear likely to continue until Oct. 2, U.S. sources told the Associated Press (Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press/Google News, Sept. 21).
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut their nations' respective deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads under the new pact. The two countries are now required under a 2002 deal to hold no more than 2,200 operationally fielded warheads by 2012.
The U.S. and Russian leaders are expected to meet this week at a session of the U.N. General Assembly, but the encounter is unlikely to yield significant new agreements on arms control matters, said Sergei Prikhodko, Medvedev's foreign policy adviser.
"Contradictions remain," he said.
Progress in the talks was hampered by a Bush administration proposal to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic. U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week that he would drop the plan, which Russia deemed a threat to its strategic security (see GSN, Sept. 17; Agence France-Presse).
Obama's decision to scrap the previous initiative eliminated a major obstacle to a new nuclear agreement, but the sides remain divided on various issues, AP quoted retired Russian Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin as saying.
"Negotiations aren't going easily," former Russian nuclear missile chief Viktor Yesin said, noting that the United States has resisted a Russian push to halt U.S. monitoring at the Votkinsk missile plant. "There are still many obstacles negotiators ... to deal with," he said.
The sides might agree to adhere to a finished agreement before ratifying the new pact, Dvorkin suggested.
"Nothing horrible will happen if the deal isn't ratified by Dec. 5," he said (Isachenkov, Associated Press).
In Washington, Obama has pressed the Defense Department to consider significant alterations to the nation's nuclear strategy in a congressionally mandated report due out near the end of this year, the London Guardian reported yesterday.
"Obama is now driving this process. He is saying these are the president's weapons, and he wants to look again at the doctrine and their role," one European official told the newspaper.
Options under consideration include scaling back the nation's deployed strategic nuclear arsenal from roughly 2,100 warheads to fewer than 1,000; ruling out the use of nuclear weapons under some circumstances; and exploring means of ensuring that U.S. nuclear weapons would perform as expected without detonating or manufacturing new warheads (see GSN, Sept. 18).
"The [Nuclear Posture Review] has up to now been in the hands of midlevel bureaucrats with a lot of knowledge, but it's knowledge drawn from the Cold War. What they are prepared to do is tweak the existing doctrine," said Rebecca Johnson, head of the Acronym Institute, an anti-nuclear weapons organization. "Obama has sent them it back saying: 'Give me more options for what we can do in line with my goals. I'm not saying it's easy, but all you're giving me is business as usual.'"
The conclusions of the Nuclear Posture Review could help inform efforts to negotiate a second, deeper round of arsenal cuts following ratification of the initial START successor treaty.
Obama's push for eventual worldwide disarmament could set him against much of the Washington establishment, said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund (see GSN, Aug. 18).
"There is $54 billion spent (annually in the U.S.) on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs. That's a lot of contracts and a lot of jobs, and right now it's a battle for budgets," he said.
The U.S. president will also face major challenges to his agenda at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, Cirincione added.
"If Obama can't rescue the NPT at this conference you might be looking at the end of the treaty," he said. "It's already on shaky ground. If you can't shore it up in 2010, you face the real possibility that it won't be there in 2015" (Julian Borger, London Guardian II, Sept. 20).