The Obama-Medvedev security summit
— Robert Gard (right), a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former president of both National Defense University and the Monterey Institute of International Studies, is chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, where Kingston Reif (left) is deputy director of nuclear non-proliferation. The views expressed are their own. —
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev are meeting this week in Moscow for their first full summit. High on their agenda is the landmark 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which will expire on December 5. The expiration of START will mean the loss of the ability to legally limit and verify the two countries’ still enormous numbers of deployed nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
START greatly reduced the dangers posed by U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Under the Treaty, the United States and Russia drastically reduced their deployed nuclear weapons. The agreement also contained a comprehensive set of verification and monitoring provisions that ensured that each side complied with its obligations.
Faced with the impending expiration of START, the Bush administration claimed that the United States and Russia no longer needed formal arms control agreements to manage their strategic relationship. Fortunately, Obama and Medvedev share a different view.
On April 1, Obama and Medvedev issued a joint statement in London in which they agreed to pursue “new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process.” During their summit this week, the two presidents could begin to solidify the actual framework of a START follow-on agreement.
The renewal of the U.S.-Russian arms control process is important for two reasons. First, deeper nuclear reductions can help to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons. Responsible U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions – a legal obligation under the NPT – is essential to non-nuclear weapons states’ willingness to continue to uphold their own NPT commitments not to pursue nuclear arsenals in the first place.
Second, as President Ronald Reagan repeatedly said, the United States must “trust but verify.” START’s monitoring and verification provisions have brought predictability and stability to U.S.-Russian relations and prevented a renewed nuclear arms race. Without START’s verification tools, neither country would be able to know for sure that the other side was not attempting to achieve an advantage in nuclear forces.
There is broad and wide support, even among conservative Republicans, for reducing the size and role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy. The recently released final report of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States concluded that “the moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal.” The Commission included conservative Republican thinkers James Schlesinger, Keith Payne, and James Woolsey.
A second bipartisan report also urged the United States to negotiate mutual, verifiable, and legally binding nuclear reductions. The Council on Foreign Relations report stressed the importance of “efforts to renew legally binding arms control pacts with Russia by seeking follow-on agreements to START.” The report included such Republicans as Brent Scowcroft, Linton Brooks, and Frank Miller.
The appropriate mission for U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence. Reducing the current U.S. nuclear stockpile will not undermine or endanger this mission. Present U.S. nuclear forces are more than sufficient to deter Russian and any other nuclear power’s forces, and further reductions will be undertaken in a bilateral, step-by-step process with Russia in close consultation with U.S. allies.
The United States and Russia have long-established treaties designed to control and limit nuclear weapons. Presidents Obama and Medvedev should use this week’s summit to build on those prior agreements, improve U.S.-Russian relations, and fashion a fundamentally safer world.
(Top photo: Russian Matryoshka dolls decorated with images of President Barack Obama, his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are seen on display at a market in Moscow July 3, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov)