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The Arms-Control Agreement: Not Worth a Victory Lap



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President Obama this morning hailed his new arms-control agreement with Russia’s President Medvedev as “the most comprehensive…in nearly two decades.” He cited the agreement as evidence of the success of his “reset” with Russia and connected today’s announcement to his broader effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Unsaid by the president, but already emanating from the White House, is the notion that this new agreement is the foreign policy win he was lacking to accompany his supposed victory this week on health care.

In reality, the new agreement doesn’t achieve much — the Russians, unable to pay for their current nuclear forces, have already of their own volition cut the number of launchers to the treaty’s new level. The reductions of strategic deployed nuclear weapons are not that far below the levels obtained under the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The treaty also faces an uncertain future in the Senate. It is uncertain in part because the administration has only released limited information about the treaty’s details. On several occasions, a bipartisan group of senators has expressed concerns about how U.S. plans for European missile defense will be affected and whether the United States will continue to receive telemetry and other data about Russian missile tests.

Today’s announcement only increases the danger that this administration will continue to neglect U.S. allies in Europe while it “resets” relations with Russia. In 2010, arms control and disarmament should not be the raison d’être of U.S.-Russia relations, let alone of American foreign policy.  In its rush to make nice with Moscow, this administration has too often overlooked the real concerns of key U.S. allies such as Georgia, which faces continued threats and provocations by Russian military forces. Even the Czech Republic, which will host the treaty’s signing ceremony in early April, will find that occasion an unfortunate consolation prize after Czech leaders were humiliated last fall when President Obama abruptly changed course and canceled plans to deploy a missile-defense radar in that country, failing to notify the Czechs in advance.

Perhaps most troubling is this administration’s belief that U.S. and Russian reductions in nuclear weapons will somehow affect the calculus of nuclear rogues such as North Korea or nuclear wannabes such as Iran. North Korea, Iran, and other countries that develop illicit nuclear-weapons programs are not going to set aside their ambitions because the United States and Russia have hundreds fewer deployed nuclear weapons. What President Obama fails to recognize is that under his watch, the world is dangerously headed to more nuclear weapons and more nuclear-weapons states, not fewer. If he is serious about disarmament, he would spend more time and energy focused on the Iranian nuclear crisis than on 1980s-era negotiations with a country that threatens our allies and restricts the freedom of its own people.

Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.



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