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A New START 2010-Sep-09 at 03:09 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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President Obama and President Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague, on April 8, 2010.  The treaty remains stuck, waiting for the U.S. Senate’s "advice and consent" to ratify it.  In the meantime, the previous START expired in 2009, and so, for the last nine months, we’ve had no visibility into Russia’s nuclear forces.

This remains important because, even though the U.S. and Russia are now allies, we’re still, by far, the two nations with the largest nuclear force, and keeping up an inspection regime between us remains the best way for both nations to stay up-to-date and accurate about our nuclear weapons.

From New START: Security Through 21st Century Verification, by Rose Gottemoeller:

In the 22 years since these first inspections occurred under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, on-site inspections have been a vital means of verifying compliance with arms control treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet successor states, and now the Russian Federation.

With the December 2009 expiration of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the United States is unable, for the first time in more than 20 years, to conduct nuclear arms inspections inside Russia.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was signed April 8 and is before the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification, provides for a resumption of vital on-site inspections of Russian strategic nuclear facilities. There is no substitute for on-site inspections. They provide not only the “boots on the ground” presence to confirm Russian data declarations, thus helping to verify compliance with treaty obligations, but also insights into Russian strategic forces located at those facilities. Simply put, the United States is more secure and safer when our country is able to gain a better understanding of the Russian strategic arsenal.

Interestingly, what started as a contentious relationship warmed over the years into a healthy professional respect.

These baseline inspections began at the close of a very cold winter in Russia. U.S. inspectors often stood knee deep in snow while conducting three- to four-hour-long discussions with their Russian escorts on the nuances of inspection procedures. For many Russian and U.S. personnel, this was their first encounter with their counterparts from the other country, so initially the relationship was impersonal, formal, and sometimes adversarial. During the succeeding years of conducting START inspections, the demeanor on both sides developed into one of mutual respect as each side recognized that the other’s inspection team members or in-country escorts were doing their jobs with competence, professionalism, and fairness while ensuring the exercise of their full and reciprocal rights under the treaty.

Over the life of START, the atmosphere during inspections continued to improve. “It’s not personal, it’s about the treaty” became the mantra of the inspectors on both sides. Each side learned a great deal about the other’s strategic forces during those on-site inspections. Thus, both sides gained a strong body of knowledge and experience about conducting on-site inspections efficiently and effectively under START and the INF Treaty; they also learned how to improve on them.

We’re not nearly done with the threat of nuclear attack, particularly in terms of nuclear non-proliferation.  Keeping our two nations aligned in this regard remains a crucial piece of United States foreign policy, and a wonderful demonstration of the kind of International cooperation that eventually gets people to trust that it’s OK to give up a little bit of national sovereignty for a larger peace.

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