|You are here: HOME > Publications > Stories > Story|
CNS Feature Stories
Special articles and reports on timely nonproliferation issues by CNS staff.
Updated: Mar 25, 2010
START Follow-On Talks Successfully Concluded: What's Next?
Conclusion of the Treaty of Prague is, without doubt, a success. Now Obama and Medvedev need to outline the contours of the next treaty — perhaps as early as at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.
Author: Nikolai Sokov
Posted: March 25, 2010
In agreeing to sign a START replacement treaty, President Barack Obama and Dmitri Mededev not only made an important contribution to bilateral relations, but provided a tangible demonstration of their commitment to work toward the sweeping vision of a nuclear-free world that President Obama offered in Prague a year ago.
The Treaty of Prague is but a bridge toward a new treaty that will provide for deeper cuts in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
The significance of the new treaty, which is to be signed in Prague in first week of April, is not diminished by the fact that it provides for very modest reduction of the two countries' strategic nuclear arsenals compared to the 2002 Moscow Treaty (also known as SORT, or Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty). Its purpose has been limited from the very beginning: the Treaty of Prague is meant to preserve the essential elements of transparency that were embodied in the expired START I. Essentially, it is a bridge that will provide predictability about the strategic arsenals of the United States and Russia as they engage in more complex and lengthy negotiations on a new treaty that will provide for deeper reductions.
Nor was it a sign of failure that the new treaty was not completed before the expiration of START I on December 5, 2009. The delay can only partially be blamed on negotiators: of greater importance was the delay in beginning the talks themselves.
Russia formally proposed to start talks on a START I replacement as early as 2006, but the Bush Administration took a long time to consider its options. It was only a year later, in July 2007, that U.S. Secretary of State Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov announced an agreement to pursue a new treaty. In October of that year, the parties announced that the new treaty would incorporate elements of START I. Unfortunately, this is where substantive work stopped — throughout 2008 the parties leisurely exchanged public statements, but did not engage in negotiations.
At issue was the format of the future treaty. Washington apparently favored taking the 2002 Moscow Treaty as the model and adding verification and data exchange provisions; Moscow wanted to conclude a "START I Light" — modeling the new treaty after its predecessor, but making it simpler and cheaper. The increasingly acrimonious arguments over the Bush administration's plan to deploy missile defense assets in Eastern Europe made constructive work even more difficult.
Talks on the Treaty of Prague began only after the advent of the Obama Administration — the delay should be blamed on his predecessor.
Talks began in earnest only after the advent of the Obama administration, less than a year before the expiration of START I. The talks proved to be more challenging than some had anticipated—if someone thought that negotiators would simply have to review START I and decide which provisions will have to be kept, they were mistaken. Strategic arsenals of the two parties look very different from what they were in the early 1990s. Their nuclear postures and the missions assigned to nuclear weapons are very different as well. New issues had emerged that were not on the agenda then. As a result, even a very modest treaty required significant effort.
If American and Russian negotiators can be blamed for something, it is for starting full-scale negotiations too late — in September instead of perhaps June.
Negotiators probably made only one mistake: they should have started full-scale negotiations several months earlier, perhaps in the early summer of 2009. For several months talks were limited to relatively infrequent meetings of chief negotiators while full-scale meetings of delegations began only in September. This was probably one of the main reasons for the delay. In the grand scheme of things, these three or four months do not matter and negotiators on both sides should be complemented for the job well done.
The main stumbling blocs became apparent very early on:
Judging by publicly available information, negotiators succeeded in finding compromises on these and many other issues, but these solutions are of temporary nature. These temporary measures will work for several years, but more permanent, long-term decisions must be developed at the next stage of talks.
Some issues were not tackled at all. Two among them stand out:
Washington and Moscow should outline, as early as possible, an agenda for the next stage of nuclear arms reduction talks without waiting for the ratification of the Treaty of Prague.
U.S. and Russian negotiators have successfully concluded difficult negotiations. The next stage, which promises to be equally, if not more, challenging is ratification. Yet, both capitals should probably start thinking about the next stage of nuclear arms reduction as early as possible. It seems that negotiators will have very little time for vacation after months of overtime in Geneva and national capitals.
Given the unavoidable problems with ratification in both capitals, it might be to the advantage of both parties to announce next talks as early as possible and perhaps to include a list of some areas they plan to address. This might be worthwhile recalling that in the spring of 1990, more than a year before the signing of START I, the parties adopted a joint statement to outline the contours of a follow-on treaty.
A forward-looking agenda of this sort can help Washington and Moscow in two ways. First, it could demonstrate to the international community that the United States and Russia do not intend to stop at the Treaty of Prague and plan to pursue deeper and more comprehensive reductions. Second, it could help deflect some likely objections to the new treaty by promising to address them at the next stage of talks. Perhaps such an agenda could be adopted in a visible and politically tangible way at the upcoming 2010 NPT Review Conference.
Obama and Medvedev.
Obama, Medvedev, and Putin matrioshka.
Obama and Medvedev.
|Return to Top|