With the news this morning that the United States and Russia had finally reached agreement on a follow-on pact to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired in December, the jockeying has begun to get the treaty ratified by the respective countries' parliaments.
Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had this to say about the pact in a statement released this afternoon:
This treaty makes significant reductions to the numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, will renew verification arrangements that would otherwise be unavailable, and provides a major tangible result since the President reset relations with Russia. I look forward to seeing the details of the treaty in the weeks to come. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold hearings on the treaty provisions to determine whether the verification measures are sufficient to monitor treaty compliance. This will be among the most scrutinized issues in ratification process, and I intend to make sure the Intelligence Community is capable and adequately resourced to carry out its responsibilities.”
According to a White House transcript of a press gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to Iowa, administration spokesman Robert Gibbs said:
We're hopeful to have a call with President Medvedev in the next few days and hope that we can wrap up a new treaty on the next call.
Again, the President has been enormously involved personally in moving this process along. The two Presidents last spoke on the 13th of March and we think we’re getting -- moving toward good progress on something that will be important for the American people.
Q Is that call on the 13th kind of a breakthrough?
MR. GIBBS: It certainly helped move a number of issues along, yes.
The follow-on pact, scheduled to be signed in Prague in the 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)," Center for Nonproliferation Studies analyst and former START negotiator Nikolai Sokov writes in a commentary on the center's Web site:
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.
Further, Sokov writes that some issues were "not tackled at all," including two key ones:
* Accounting for and limitation of nuclear warhead stockpiles. START I, like all other U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian treaties, only truly limited delivery vehicles whereas warheads were limited indirectly — through agreed accounting rules. It is high time to change the focus and fully address warheads themselves, including non-deployed warheads. Among other advantages, this method will help to solve the problems of uploading capability and of conventionally armed delivery vehicles. Yet the new focus will require very delicate and probably lengthy negotiations to develop brand-new rules and verification procedures.
Tactical (non-strategic) nuclear weapons were not covered in START I at all and consequently have remained outside the Treaty of Prague as well. These weapons are not subject to any legally binding limits or verification. This is also a novel task that will require much time and effort. Leaving them out of the "bridge" treaty is justifiable, but this element of nuclear postures cannot be kept in limbo for very long.
* Other nuclear powers. As the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals, experts and many officials are beginning to contemplate when and how other nuclear powers (in particular the "official" ones listed in the Nonproliferation Treaty) will join arms reduction talks. The Russian military has been particularly insistent that the next stage of talks should be multilateral.