World hails U.S.-Russia nuclear disarmament deal

 By Shen Dingli
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, April 10, 2010
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In a nuclear disarmament treaty signed in Prague on April 4, the U.S. and Russia agreed to cut their deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, and missiles to less than 700 each. President Obama hailed it as "the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades."

Comparison with previous treaties

The treaty cuts warheads by 30 percent from the level set by the last strategic arms deal signed in Moscow in 2002, and missiles by 50 percent from levels agreed in the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). It represents one of the most significant improvements in relations between Russia and the U.S. since the end of the cold war.

The new treaty preserves some aspects of the START I verification regime and adds new inspection methods such as on-site verification and display, exchange of data on strategic weapons and facilities, and assisting each other with inspections by making local technology available.

The new treaty also stipulates the two countries should make available real-time experimental flight data up to five times a year, which will make the development of new strategic weapons more transparent. But it is noticeable that the new treaty did not place any restrictions on the development of missile defense systems and remote conventional offensive abilities, both of which Russia would ideally like to see.

The treaty will be ratified

The international community is uncertain as to whether the US Congress and Russian Parliament will approve the new treaty. This seems an unnecessary worry. The treaty will be passed in both countries simply because it is in best interests of the two sides.

The U.S. and Russia have respectively 2,200, and 2,800 strategic offensive weapons deployed. This is more than ten times the number required to annihilate each other, and is in addition to tactical nuclear weapons. If they reduce their nuclear armaments in accordance with the new treaty, their remaining weapons will still exceed the combined arsenals of all other nuclear countries. Therefore, even after the arms reduction, the U.S. and Russia will still be over-supplied with nuclear weapons by comparison with their defense needs.

In fact, the major threat to both countries is precisely the excessive size of their nuclear arsenals. This not only imposes an economic burden but also causes problems of weapon management. On the American side, there have been several instances of jets patrolling with nuclear missiles without authorization from the government. As for Russia, its economy had barely recovered when it was hit by the global financial crisis. The huge sums it is forced to spend maintaining its gigantic nuclear arsenal, which is in any case of limited use in national defense, can only blunt the competitive edge of its economy.

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