Treaty with Obama: will Moscow want to seal strategic imbalance?

MOSCOW. (Yevgeny Kozhokhin for RIA Novosti) - On May 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss strategic offensive arms.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that in the second and third week of May, the two sides will hold the first round of full-scale talks on signing a new treaty on strategic offensive arms. At their forthcoming summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama will focus on the same subject.

The intensity of the negotiating process will grow as December 5 approaches, the date when the 1991 Soviet-U.S. treaty on strategic offensive arms expires. There is very little time left for the drafting of a new document, which is designed to become a cornerstone of the international security system.

Who needs this treaty and why? What it should be all about?

Even in the late 1980s-early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was hit by a severe crisis and conducted a policy very favorable for the United States, Washington was upgrading its nuclear missile potential, and quickly increasing a tentative gap in the military potentialities of the two countries. In 1991, U.S. national security strategy was built on the premise that modernization of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and nuclear submarines would be vital for deterrence in the 21st century.

Later on, despite statements about U.S.-Russian strategic partnership, and the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of May 1997, the need to keep U.S. nuclear forces in Europe was continuously justified by the argument that Russia would remain a strategically "unknown quantity" even if it further reduced its nuclear potential. In real policy, the Russian nuclear capacity was viewed as a potential threat, although in principle it could never be materialized.

R&D in the United States, and military operations in Yugoslavia and Iraq produced a fundamental change in its defense policy. Throughout the 1990s, the United States was consistently modernizing its nuclear triad, while deploying theater missile defense systems (TMD). In effect, it was the Bill Clinton administration that embarked on the formation of a limited missile defense system in violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. However, reluctant to antagonize Russia and China, Washington suggested differentiation between the national missile defense system and TMD. At that time, the 1972 ABM Treaty was still being viewed as a major instrument for maintaining strategic stability.

The team, which came to power under George W. Bush, openly proceeded from the premise that arms control agreements were good as long as they defended U.S. national interests. Neoconservatives were ready to waste no time in creating absolute security for the United States without thinking about the reaction of other key international players.

Withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty signified a switch to the testing and deployment of a global missile defense system, with a view to fully removing the deterrent potential of China, and partially that of Russia. In the aggregate military potential, the United States had already exceeded all other countries, but Washington was still trying to eliminate international legal restrictions on the formation of a system, which would theoretically make it invulnerable towards an act of retaliation, and even a launch-under-attack strike.

Washington's stubborn refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty testified to its intention to continue developing fundamentally new nuclear warheads without international legal restrictions. Today, it continues to upgrade them through simulations of nuclear explosions on a computer. For this purpose, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is going to place an order for a supercomputer, which can carry out 20,000 trillion operations per second. This, the world's fastest computer, is designed for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The United States is trying to integrate into its missile defense system interceptor missiles and radars, which have or are being deployed on the ground and on ships all over the world - from Alaska and California to Japan, Britain, Norway, and Poland. Since 2005, it has conducted a series of tests of its missile interceptors - out of 27 launches, only one was a failure.

Full-scale deployment of a missile defense system in Alaska and California will cover about 90% of U.S. territory. If such a system is stationed in five or six regions, the ratio between the Russian and American nuclear potentials will be one to 10, or even one to 15 in favor of U.S., depending on its configuration.

When a draft budget was endorsed for the new fiscal year last fall, the Pentagon and the White House seemed to have proceeded from the premise that the United States can afford to further increase its military appropriations. This was done with the support of the Democrats who already had a majority in the Senate and the House.

In reality, under the circumstances these military appropriations should be reduced, and during the next fiscal year President Barack Obama may even encroach on the expenses designed for the further development of the missile defense system. Disarmament initiatives addressed to Russia may be accompanied by the revision of the missile defense deployment strategy. Probably, Washington will again lay more emphasis on R&D and improvement of ballistic missile interceptors.

The impression that Washington is giving up its missile defense project will be no more than an illusion. This is clear from statements made by Obama himself, not to mention members of his team. At the international conference in Munich last February, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden said that the United States would continue developing its missile defense system to counteract Iran's growing potentialities. On April 5, Obama repeated this point, saying that America will continue implementing its missile defense program, which has proved its effectiveness, as long as the threat from Iran exists.

Now Washington is revising the prospects, costs, and possibly some technical parameters of its missile defense system. It wants to use this time for pause for conducting talks and legally sealing the established strategic imbalance of forces, and for suggesting a system of verifications, which would help its clandestine intelligence. It also wants to carry out space and airborne reconnaissance to identify as precisely as possible the potential of Russian nuclear forces and opportunities of their development.

A considerable part of the Russian ruling class is oriented towards cooperation with the United States - and the Russian leaders cannot ignore this factor. At the same time, there is an obvious link between offensive and defensive armaments; this fact was introduced at Russia's initiative into the Joint Statement by President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Barack Obama of the United States of America. The two sides are in for complicated, and, most likely, lengthy talks.

It is not only Russia which is interested in the signing of documents to promote long-term stability rather than in sealing a prospect of weakening one of the sides. This will benefit the whole world, or at least all those countries, which are devoted to freedom in international relations.

Yevgeny Kozhokhin, Ph.D (History), is a professor at Moscow State University.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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