U.S. and Russian arms-control negotiators have now reached an “agreement in principle” on a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty which will symbolize the Alice in Wonderland readiness of the U.S. side to believe all manner of impossible things before breakfast.
The agreement will bring down the ceiling for deployed nuclear weapons to 1,500 to 1,675 (from 2,200) and the ceiling for nuclear-delivery systems (missiles, submarines, and bombers) to between 700 and 800 for each side. It will soon be the task of the U.S. Senate to ask why these reductions are necessary but it is already obvious that the negotiations for the treaty have been carried out in an atmosphere of irreality that does not bode well for the usefulness of the final product.
In the first place, the new arms-reduction treaty is a major part of the Obama administration’s “reset” of relations with Russia, a policy that so far has involved serious U.S. concessions to Russia, such as the cancellation of the deployment of anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe with scant sign of reciprocity on issues of concern to the U.S. for the Russians.
At the same time, the treaty along with the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by Congress is seen as an important step in “getting to zero,” a world without nuclear weapons. This, under existing circumstances, is a totally unrealistic and even dangerous goal. It comes at time when Russia, far from seeking to abolish nuclear weapons, is making them the keystone of its military strategy and lowering the threshold for their use.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, the Obama administration believes that its efforts in the disarmament field will make it easier for the U.S. to isolate the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs in advance of the United Nations conference to review the nuclear non-proliferation treaty later this year. It should be plain to “a drunken hedgehog” as the Russians like to say, that Iran and North Korea are not going to be deflected from their goal of building a nuclear arsenal by the moral example of Russia and the U.S.
Finally, the treaty is based on the elimination of weapons that the Russians would be obliged to scrap anyway. Russia does not have the means to maintain its present nuclear arsenal. In exchange, the U.S. will eliminate weapons that we can afford and may need to keep. Ironically, by preserving Russian parity in nuclear weapons — the one area where they can compete — at U.S. expense, we don’t make the world safer. All we do is encourage Russia’s great power illusions which are actually more dangerous than the nuclear weapons themselves.
— 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.