New START Delayed Again

Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia and Barack Obama of the United States walk together outside Moscow, July 6, 2009
Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia and Barack Obama of the United States walk together outside Moscow, July 6, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

Further delays in the signing of a new START between Russia and the United States cast doubt upon nuclear arms reduction once again.

The two nuclear powers proved unable to reach agreement in December of last year and again in January in spite of claims that 95 percent of the treaty had been prepared. On February 1, American and Russian negotiators convened in Geneva, Switzerland to work out their differences but so far, little progress appears to have been made.

The Russians are objecting to revised American plans to construct a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Last year, American president Barack Obama agreed to withdraw his intent to built the system largely in the Czech Republic to appease Russian fears about further NATO entrenchment upon its former sphere of influence. With Iran’s nuclear enrichment program advancing however, current American planning is to operate the missile shield from Poland and Romania.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated the American position last Tuesday: that the missile shield is not aimed at Russia but necessary to protect the region against Middle Eastern aggression.

Moscow sees things differently. In the words of General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and First Deputy Minister of Defence, “The development of the American missile defense system in Europe is also targeted against Russia,” and should be taken into account in any new START agreement.

The United States maintains that nuclear disarmament and the missile shield are two separate matters. President Dmitri Medvedev didn’t even raise the program when he last discussed the treaty with President Obama, notes the White House. “I think the notion that somehow this is in any way an impediment to what’s going on with START is […] simply not true,” said Gibbs. “It certainly wasn’t what President Medvedev told President Obama.” The delay, he explains, is due to fights over words.

The American ambassador to Russia John Beyrle takes a more nuanced view and stated that the two countries have agreed that the treaty will recognize a link between offensive nuclear arms and defenses against them.