START Talks to Ignore Nonstrategic Nukes, Official Says

(Apr. 16) -U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has backed moves toward excluding tactical nuclear weapons from upcoming arsenal reduction talks with Russia (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).
(Apr. 16) -U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has backed moves toward excluding tactical nuclear weapons from upcoming arsenal reduction talks with Russia (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

The United States and Russia do not plan to address tactical nuclear weapons negotiations on further reductions to the two nations' atomic arsenals, the Washington Times reported (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2008).

The countries agreed this month to begin negotiations on a follow-up agreement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Treaty, which expires in December (see GSN, April 9; Nicholas Kralev, Washington Times, April 16).

The talks are scheduled to begin April 24 in Rome and to continue on a regular basis afterward, Agence France-Presse reported (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, April 16).

Tactical nuclear weapons could be deployed on the battlefield without the use of missiles or other long-range delivery systems, the Times reported. The United States is believed to have hundreds of the weapons and Russia thousands.

"My own view is that the immediate START follow-on negotiations will not be the area where that issue is immediately pursued," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, who will lead the U.S. side in the negotiations, said during a conference last week.

"I certainly believe we should begin exploring the issues with the Russian Federation and decide how to fit that into the agenda," Gottemoeller said, noting that President Barack Obama considers battlefield nuclear weapons "an area that should be" addressed in the future.

Negotiators "have enough work to do now to focus on things that are doable, because when you go to substrategic (arms), there will be a lot of other things that need to be entered into the play," added Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States.

It would be impractical to address tactical weapons in the START successor talks given current time constraints, the officials agreed. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), known for his support for arms control, concurred, a spokesman said.

Still, one observer warned that putting off discussion of the tactical arsenals could play to Russia's advantage.

"There is real danger in rushing to reduce U.S. nuclear strategic weapons, while at the same time thousands of Russian tactical nuclear weapons remain available for use against us and our allies that exceed the total remaining strategic U.S. arsenal," said Peter Huessy, head of the consulting firm GeoStrategic Analysis.

"Russia's substrategic stockpile is sizable and should be eliminated to reduce the risk of terrorist acquisition," but it "doesn't give Russia strategic nuclear superiority by any means," said Arms Control Association head Daryl Kimball (Kralev, Washington Times).

Moscow supports "making the future agreement legally binding," Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said yesterday.

In addition, the future pact should limit "not only warheads, but also their delivery means -- intercontinental ballistic missiles, ballistic missiles of submarines and heavy bombers, as well as exclude a possibility of deploying strategic offensive weapons outside the national territory," ITAR-Tass quoted Churkin as saying.

"Long and painstaking work awaits us. No one should have any doubt that a comprehensive agreement on strategic offensive weapons will require much time and serious effort," he said (ITAR-Tass, April 15).

April 16, 2009
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The United States and Russia do not plan to address tactical nuclear weapons negotiations on further reductions to the two nations' atomic arsenals, the Washington Times reported (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2008).