The START I pact between the U.S. and Russia will expire Friday night, but talks are expected to continue until a new agreement is reached. Both sides say they want to uphold the “spirit” of the 1991 Cold War–era treaty. But the U.S. seems confused about what that treaty meant.
START I, with its deep reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both sides, did not come about because arms control had created greater trust between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It was possible because the Soviet Union itself had changed. While the Soviet Union existed in its totalitarian form, nearly two decades of arms control brought little advantage to the U.S. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an explosion of the arms race and the rapid expansion of Soviet power.
In fact, all experience shows that progress in relations with Russia depends on improvements in the Russian internal situation. Without that, arms-control agreements are meaningless. At the same time, in the present negotiations, what is at stake is possible damage to the strategic position of the U.S. Russia is unable to maintain its huge nuclear arsenal and will be compelled to retire a large number of launchers whether an agreement is signed or not. Russian general Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of the Strategic Missile Troops, was quoted by Interfax-AVN online as saying that not a single Russian launcher with remaining service life would be withdrawn under a new treaty. The American cuts, however, will be real.
Reducing our strategic forces to a level at which Russia can compete may preserve Russian strategic parity, but it should not be a goal of the U.S. We have strategic requirements of our own. As for the “reset” that the new agreement is intended to facilitate, it should depend on decent values on the part of Russia’s leaders and respect for human rights.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His latest book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State.