Making a NEW START

US President Barack Obama may finally have some reason to celebrate amid the gloom of recession and the upsets facing his foreign policy agenda on a number of fronts.

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Published: Sat 25 Dec 2010, 11:29 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:37 PM

The US Senate has finally approved the revised Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, NEW START with Russia. This is likely to give a boost to Obama’s sliding popularity and at least clinch him a victory of sorts in Washington.

Prior to ratification by the Senate, the Republicans had raised several contentions over the new treaty. So much so that the Russians had warned against the opening of the treaty and any changes that the US House members wanted to include other than the previously agreed details listed at the time of signing of the treaty in April.

With the expiry of the 1991 START doctrine last year, efforts were underway to redraw a new agreement that would continue the process of strategic disarmament in the larger global interest. The expiry also contributed to uncertainty because of the inability to monitor the other side’s nuclear arsenals.

With the NEW START agreement, US and Russian strategic arsenals would see credible if not drastic reduction. As per the agreement, deployed nuclear warheads were to be reduced to about 1,550 signifying a 30 per cent cut from the limit of 2,200 set in 2002. Both states would also be able to visually inspect respective arsenals in order to determine the number of warheads per missile. The new limits are expected to be implemented within seven years of the treaty coming into force. There are loopholes however. Nuclear experts suggest that both states could easily get away with theoretical implementation since the counting of warheads is tricky. Moreover, the new limits are applicable to deployed warheads and not those in storage. The fact that the new treaty allows both sides to engage in “limited” missile defence is also tricky. Russia is strongly opposed to the proposed US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe and has even threatened to abandon NEW START in case this is deployed.

So are the former Cold war foes strategic reduction plans merely hogwash? Far from it. Though NEW START may not be as rosy-hued as envisaged, it deserves due credit for continuing the process of strategic disarmament. Both Russia and the United States have demonstrated willingness to move towards nuclear disarmament in a responsible manner. Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world may be a far-fetched dream at present but at least he is making noteworthy efforts to re-set dealings with Russia on the START front. It is hoped that more transparency is incorporated within the new treaty at some point so that the gaps are filled and trust restored.

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