In pressing the reset button, the US and Russia have perhaps opened the door to a world free from nuclear weapons.
Last July, after months of talks, the US and Russian Presidents met in Moscow to sign a preliminary accord to reduce the planet’s two biggest stockpiles of atomic weapons.
The goal was to find a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START. That was signed by US President George Bush senior and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, but expired last December. Nevertheless, it made a huge dent in both countries’ arsenals.
At its peak, the Cold War arms race saw both superpowers with more than 10,000 warheads. Today, that figure is believed to be about 2,000 for the US and slightly more for Russia. The aim now is to chop that further to around 1,600 each.
But obstacles remain. The US plan to place a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe is a major problem. Moscow has called for offensive and defensive weapons to be included in the new treaty, something Washington rejects. Since then, talks have been sticky.
For Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the reason is simple.
‘‘We know that our American partners are developing a missile defence system and we are not,” he said.
In July, US President Obama abandoned the original Star Wars project, replacing it with an arguably less ambitious one based in Romania and Bulgaria. That did not wash with the Kremlin, which saw it as clear interference in its sphere of influence. The argument threatens to drag on, putting at risk President Obama’s ambitious plans to cut the world’s nuclear weapons. The goal was presented and supported last September in the UN Security Council.
Both powers say they hope to strike a deal ahead of the upcoming summit in Washington, not only to convince members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to reduce their stockpiles but also to put pressure on those countries not in the NPT treaty.
Even if Washington and Moscow are able to forge a new deal, further obstacles lie ahead. Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has vowed to block any ratification unless the US abandons its missile defence shield.