US Senate looks set to ratify START treaty | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 22.12.2010
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US Senate looks set to ratify START treaty

Once branded by leading US Republicans as his worst foreign policy mistake, President Barack Obama may now have the last laugh as the new START arms reduction treaty with Russia looks set to be ratifed by the Senate.

President Barack Obama with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev after signing the new Start treaty

The signing of the treaty by the presidents doesn't guarantee its ratification

The US Senate looks set to ratify the new START treaty later on Wednesday after lawmakers paved the way for a final vote. This comes after 11 Republicans broke rank with their party, giving President Obama the two-thirds Senate majority he would need for ratification.

However this has been anything but plain sailing for the president. Earlier this year, Mitt Romney, generally considered to be a leading Republican contender for the 2012 US presidential election, chose an op-ed in the Washington Post to pour scorn on the so-called new START arms reduction treaty negotiated by the Obama administration with Russia.

Under the headline "Obama's worst foreign policy mistake," Romney, who lost the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election to John McCain, didn't mince words. Arguing that the treaty was badly negotiated by the Obama administration and that it puts US security at stake, he called it a non-starter that must not be ratified.

Sico van der Meer, an arms control expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, doesn't think Romney's op-ed had much merit:

"In my opinion he is completely wrong," he told Deutsche Welle. "The Republicans ask why should the Russians reduce less than we should? I think this is a debate you can have, but in my opinion and I think for most people in Europe the amount of warheads that will be reduced through the start treaty is very low anyway, so I don't think there should be any problems with this treaty."

Better than nothing

Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO and now managing director of the Center on Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University, offers a more nuanced take on Romney's piece: "I read the Romney piece and I thought the criticism there was very very strong."

Mitt Romney during a speech in which he announced he was ending his presidential campaign in 2008

Republican Mitt Romney is eyeing another presidential bid in 2012

The new START treaty is certainly no breakthrough, argues Volker. "The treaty itself doesn't do a whole lot, it doesn't reduce numbers that much. In fact by some analysis it may even give some headroom to the Russians on what they can do based on the counting rules."

In addition, the deal also doesn't improve access for verification and inspections and excludes the large stockpile of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons, adds Volker.

"But what it does do is it establishes a legal framework around the strategic nuclear weapons that exist," says Volker. "On balance that is probably a good thing to do rather than a bad thing to do."

While the new pact is mostly regarded as an important follow-up to the expired START treaty, most experts consider it a modest step rather than an ambitious leap toward nuclear disarmament.

It will cut the number of deployed nuclear weapons by some 25 percent. Each side would be limited to 800 armed launchers. The agreement also envisages slashing the number of nuclear warheads within the next seven years to 1,550 from currently 2,200, which goes beyond a previous planned cut to 1,700. By most accounts the US may need to phase out more weapons than the Russian side.

Sico van der Meer would have wanted a much more aggressive arms reduction pact, but he agrees with Volker that this deal is better than no deal at all.

Slow progress

"Europeans support the treaty not only because they are afraid of nuclear war," he says. "I don't think that is really a possibility at the moment. But the more weapons there are, the more risks there are for accidents or thefts of nuclear weapons by terrorists for example. To reduce those risks is very important for Europe, but also for the whole world."

#bWhile there are ultimately good reasons to pass the Start treaty, Volker remains deeply skeptical about the prospects for future arms reduction.

"It generally cheers European hearts to see that arms control is moving ahead," he says. "I don't think it is a harbinger of future success for arms control. I don't think the Russians have any intentions of limiting their tactical nuclear weapons. They have been very clear about that. They have also pulled out of the CSE treaty (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe - ed.) and I don't see them going back into the CSE. So I don't see this pointing the way ahead."

Author: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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