By Tom Z. Collina
New START is reaching the finish line. After three votes in Russia's lower house of parliament, or Duma, Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, gave unanimous final approval today. The U.S. Senate approved New START on Dec. 22. The only thing still standing in the way of the treaty's entry-into-force is the exchange of official documents, called "instruments of ratification" between Presidents Obama and Medvedev. This could happen in a matter of days.
Inspections could resume by April
Once the treaty is in force, the two sides have 45 days to exchange data on the current status and deployment locations of their strategic nuclear forces, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers. The sides have 60 days from entry-into-force to prepare for the first on-site inspections, which could begin by April. One of the main benefits of New START is that it resumes bilateral inspections of nuclear weapons sites that expired with the old START treaty in December 2009.
Tactical reductions, talks with Russia
New START's entry-into-force will pave the way for further progress on US-Russian arms reductions. As ACA has written elsewhere, not only must the United States and Russia further reduce their still large strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals, they must work harder to prevent other states from building up and improving their nuclear arsenals.
When the Senate approved New START (for more on this, click here) it also passed an amendment to the "resolution of ratification" by Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) stating that prior to entry into force, the president must certify that he will seek negotiations with Russia within one year "to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner." The LeMieux amendment may prove particularly significant as it represents a Republican endorsement of tactical arms reduction talks with Russia.
The Obama administration intends to "carry out the requirements of the [U.S. ratification] resolution by seeking to initiate negotiations with Russia on tactical nukes within one year of New START's entry into force," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said following the Senate's vote.
Tactical weapons are part of Obama's broader agenda to seek a new round of talks with Russia to reduce all nuclear weapons on both sides, including strategic and tactical, both deployed and in storage. Tactical and stored weapons have never before been dealt with in U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations. Other issues that will have to be resolved in this process are US-Russian disagreements on missile defense and the future of conventional weapons in Europe.
Test ban, fissile ban
In addition to further talks with Russia, the Obama administration intends to pursue Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to end nuclear testing, to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) to stop the production of these materials for weapons, and to follow through on the action plans from both the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and the Nuclear Security Summit, Ellen O. Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said earlier this month.
Both the CTBT and FMCT will take some heavy lifting from the Obama administration. Little work has been done with the Senate on CTBT so far, and the FMCT faces opposition from Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Both agreements, however, are essential to President Obama's goals for reducing nuclear dangers and must be pursued with creativity and vigor.