Analyst: If ratified, New Start Treaty could pave way for further agreements between Russia & US

The signing of the New Start Treaty in Prague has been hailed as the beginning of a new era in nuclear disarmament as well as US-Russian relations. But how fragile is the treaty – given that it must still be ratified in both the US Congress and the Russian Duma, and given other potential problems between Russia and the US?

Barack Obama,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
Earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Metropolitan University’s Oldřich Bureš, a specialist on security and Russian affairs who discussed the significance of the new deal.

“I think that the treaty represents part of the ‘reset’ strategy; especially from the US side this has been one of the goals pursued by Barack Obama. Also, the Medvedev administration has been quite willing to seek an improvement in relations although many tensions remain on a number of issues. The issue of nuclear disarmament has been convenient also given the effects of the financial crisis, as the maintenance of fairly large nuclear arsenals is expensive. Some experts would even argue that this was the primary motive behind the deal but I would tend to see it in a larger context within the reset strategy.”

Do you think that the New Start treaty could set the ground for future agreements between Russia and the US?

Dmitry Medvedev,  photo: CTK
“It could set the ground but it all depends on what will happen. First of all it has to be ratified by US and Russian legislators and it depends on what the actual cuts achieved will be. We now that this is ‘Start III” and we know how Start II was unsuccessful. It really depends on what will happen in the future, but it is definitely a significant step forward. The target is almost one-third below the target set by the previous treaty, so if it is really implemented – even though they will have plenty of nuclear warheads left – it will be a step in the right direction.”

But as you mentioned there it still has to be ratified...

“That’s correct and that’s never – or it shouldn’t be – taken for granted. It will be interesting to see what kind of amendment we will see put forward by the Russians, who have claimed they will reserve the right to suspend the treaty if there is a significant change to the US plans for its anti-ballistic missile defence system.”

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that the signing of this treaty represents a new level of trust but suggested that Russia could back out over US plans for missile defence Do you think that they would if the US goes ahead with missile defence?

Oldřich Bureš
“It really depends on what the final US plans will be because so far the Obama administration has outlined plans for a new missile defence system in the very long run and what is obvious, at least in the initial stages, is that it should be more flexible and will be focused more on short and mid-range missiles. Thus, it should be less of a provocation from Moscow’s point of view, which was very worried about anti-ballistic missiles and therefore a nuclear deterrent strategy of strategic weapons. So in the short run it should be easier to swallow for Moscow. “But in the long run the plan envisages the coverage even of long-range missiles and pretty much coverage of defences not in numbers of ten interceptors but in hundreds (which would make it go much further than the original Bush plan which proposed 10 interceptors in Poland). If the US aims to be able to deploy hundreds of SM3 missiles that can shoot down long-range continental missiles, that would definitely upset the Russians.”