Stop-and-go on START treaty

Russia has delayed the finalization of an arms control treaty

Russia and the U.S. have been negotiating a new START treaty for nearly a year

U.S. and Russian efforts to finalize a new strategic nuclear arms control agreement to replace the 1991 START treaty, which expired in December 2009, continue to drag on (Peter Baker and Mark Landler, “Delay on Arms Pact Slows Rest of U.S.-Russia Ties,” New York Times, 9 March 2010; see also Peter Baker, “Obama and Medvedev Talk About Arms Treaty,” New York Times, 13 March 2010).

The delay has been a disappointment for the Obama administration, which had hoped the new treaty would become the centrepiece of its effort to “push the reset button” on U.S.-Russian relations. Sticking points in the negotiations have included issues of verification and Russia’s opposition to American missile defence plans.

Still, there is no reason to believe that the negotiations ultimately will be unsuccessful.

U.S.-Russian relations have been reasonably good in recent months–with the Kremlin even going as far as to permit the U.S. to fly weapons and troops to Afghanistan through Russian airspace. And U.S. and Russian officials both express optimism that the remaining issues in the START negotiations can be resolved soon.  It is possible that the treaty will be ready for signature before the beginning of the nuclear security summit scheduled to be held in Washington in April.

Paradoxically, the recent delays may well signal that the “end game” of the negotiations is underway, with each side hoping to get the best possible deal on the remaining issues by acting like it wants or needs a deal less than the other side does. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s last-minute objections and the Obama administration’s reponse that it will take its time to ensure a treaty in the “best interests” of the U.S. may be the best evidence yet that the deal is nearly done.

Photo by John Leach

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