Almost a year after New START was ratified, it is clear that the treaty represented major progress in arms control, even if one agreement is not sufficient to fix the broad range of nuclear policy issues. President Obama said it best himself last April: “While the New START treaty is an important step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey.” However, the progress in Russo-American relations has stalled, and the United States has missed an opportunity to effect greater change in bilateral nuclear policy. New START has helped preserve global stability and security due to increased transparency and predictability. It enabled the US to resume the critical task of monitoring and verifying Russian nuclear weapons by gathering data on Russia’s forces and activities, sharing information and establishing a codified avenue for communication. Since the treaty came into force in February 2011, the US and Russia have conducted multiple inspections, passed thousands of notifications to track activities and have exchanged a comprehensive database of weapons systems’ locations. Furthermore, New START called for each side to decrease their forces to 1,550 deployed warheads within the next seven years. This weapons draw-down by the two most heavily armed nations was intended to strengthen the NPT and provide a positive example for other states.
Yet, although New START was necessary, it was not comprehensive. Other potential issues include tactical nuclear warhead limits, limits on non-deployed strategic warheads, further reductions in deployed strategic warheads and delivery vehicles, conventional warhead delivery systems, missile defense cooperation and the necessity of multiparty negotiations.
Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that the current administration will make any more progress on these issues before the next election. The expected momentum for further negotiations and reductions never materialized because of the contentious, partisan ratification debate and the lack of internal political unity and goodwill. Critics are also concerned that US-Russian relations have soured due to disagreements over missile defense and responses to the Arab Spring. Furthermore, both countries have upcoming presidential elections that many worry will negatively affect the bilateral relationship, making it unlikely that negotiations will occur until after the elections in 2012. Because these issues were not addressed in New START, resolution on them will have to wait.
In the meantime, the US and Russia should seek to cooperate on nuclear terrorism, Iran and Pakistan—issues of mutual concern—to maintain a robust dialogue and build rapport. Although the US and Russia don’t always see eye to eye on these issues, working together through continuous dialogue and repeated tangible actions could help build cooperation and consensus. Both Russia and the US want security and stability in the region, to stop drug trafficking, to prevent nuclear trafficking and to secure nuclear weapon stockpiles. The US and Russia have formed their own relationships with Pakistan and Iran to achieve these objectives, but the two nations would be stronger working together. The US should persistently reach out to Russia by forming high-level working groups to address these issues. By working together, they might eventually join together to find a solution to Iran, or convince Pakistan to allow them to provide outside training and technology to secure nuclear weapons. An ongoing dialogue would hopefully lead to greater cooperation on bilateral nuclear issues, setting the stage for future negotiations.
Elizabeth Blazey is a senior in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is an editor for the Forum Section of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs