Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama and Medvedev Reach an Agreement on Arms Reduction

Dmitri Medvedev is one of the most fascinating of the current world leaders. Something about him just seems more jovial and laid-back than Putin (is it the lingering effect of the happy picture at last year's G-20, to the left?).

And now, this great news: Obama and Medvedev have reached agreement on a nuclear arms reduction treaty. The treaty still needs to be approved by the Senate, and that is not a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, it sounds like a significant step forward in (1) improving US/Russia relations and (2) contributing to an atmosphere in which other countries might reduce (or at least stop increasing) their arsenals.

Fred Kaplan has an excellent explanation of the agreement, here.

Kaplan emphasizes the symbolic import of the agreement, and my sense is that this is one of the ways that Obama's election really has shifted the course of our foreign relationships in a positive way. Here's an excerpt from Kaplan:
U.S. officials say that the good cheer engendered by the treaty will build mutual trust, which could lead to more cooperation on matters that really count these days: terrorism, nuclear proliferation (including joint efforts to stop Iran's uranium-enrichment program), climate change, and so forth. During the Cold War, nuclear arms-control talks were a surrogate for diplomacy. They gave U.S. and Soviet diplomats something to talk about—let them get to know each other, scope out intentions, reduce distrust—at a time when political disagreements made it impossible to talk about anything else. After the Cold War ended, the two countries could suddenly talk about lots of issues. The icy exchanges between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin pumped a bit of frost back into the air. A renewed START accord will help "push the restart button." That's the (explicitly stated) hope, anyway. We'll see. One thing's for sure: If the treaty had collapsed, so would have the prospects for cooperation in other areas.
Here are the numbers of US and Russian weapons:

United States
ICBMs: 450 missiles, 550 warheads
Submarine-based missiles: 288 missiles, 1,152 warheads
Bombers: 113 planes, 550 bombs

ICBMs: 383 missiles, 1,355 warheads
Submarine-based missiles: 160 missiles, 576 warheads
Bombers: 77 planes, 856 bombs

I'd have thought we actually had a lot more missiles than that; have we been steadily reducing their numbers for the past twenty years?

The other big news from Russia this week has been two terrorist attacks: first, two suicide bombs on the Moscow subway that killed 39 people, and then today there was a bomb in the Caucasus. So far I have not heard anyone attributing the attacks to al Qaeda -- I think the assumption is that they were carried out by Chechen rebels.

In the United States, Nicolas Sarkozy has been visiting with Obama and trying to get the US more revved up on Iranian sanctions -- the Iranian nuclear story seems to continue to percolate in the background without grabbing all that much American media attention.

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