Ratification of START II Treaty

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jalil Bayat

Mounting Pressure on Iran

Active ImageThe US Senate ratified the new version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (known as START II) yesterday through 71 ayes and 26 nays. The treaty had been signed by Obama and Medvedev, presidents of the United States and Russia, in Prague on April 2, 2010. After signing the Treaty and its ratification by the Russian Duma, both countries will have to reduce the number of their nuclear warheads to below 1,550.

The United States and Russia will be also authorized by the new treaty to inspect each other’s nuclear arsenals. The new treaty was signed more than one year after the expiry of START I on December 5, 2009. The White House has announced the event as the most prominent achievement of the US foreign policy under President Obama. This paper will discuss goals and consequences of the ratification of START II by Washington and Moscow and its impact on other countries.

The United States, as the sole dominant power in the existing international system, is trying to preserve that supremacy by adopting appropriate policies. Since the United States has a remarkable edge over Russia and other countries in terms of conventional weapons, its defense capabilities will not be compromised after signing START II treaty. Meanwhile, reduction of nuclear weapons (most of which are now outdated) will also decrease maintenance costs and this will be an economic relief to the United States which has been already grappling with serious financial crisis.

It seems, however, that one of the subsidiary goals of the treaty is its impact on Iran’s nuclear case. The US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in last March in an interview with New Times that while actual threat of a possible nuclear war has dissipated and while more countries are seeking nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia, as two main nuclear-power states, are especially responsible for leading efforts aimed at freeing the world from nuclear weapons. She added that taking such tangible measures as signing the new START treaty will be a practical step toward achieving that goal. Clinton also noted in an address at the University of Kentucky in April 2010 that the new START treaty can potentially get China in line with new US sanctions against Iran and this was practically proven through adoption of the Security Council Resolution 1929 in June 2010.

On the eve of the new round of nuclear negotiations, the United States seems to be poised for reducing support for Iran from China, Turkey, and Brazil by putting new pressure on Tehran through propaganda campaign centered on START II. Obama is sure to construe the ratification of START II as proof to his genuine position on having a world free from the nuclear weapons (which he first mentioned in his Prague address in 2009) and will try to convince other countries to follow his policies against Iran’s nuclear program.

It seems that this issue is a cause of the new treaty’s ratification by the US Senate. Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican Senator from Indiana, attacked Iran, north Korea and Myanmar in his address to the Senate saying that Iran, North Korea, Syria and Myanmar would welcome rejection of the new START bill at the Senate because they blocked investigation into their nuclear programs and were following programs to access sensitive technologies which would end in production of the nuclear bomb. Five former secretaries of state (Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell) had also forewarned the Senate that rejection of START II could have a negative impact on Russia’s cooperation with the United States over such sensitive issues as nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Active ImageAnother important goal pursued through the new treaty is to mend fences with Russia. Relations between Washington and Moscow were somehow tense after the Caucasus war in August 2008. Explaining about a plan which has been in gear since a year ago to “reset” US relations with Russia, Clinton noted that resetting relations had already begun, but development of cooperation in common fields of interest like Iran, START Treaty, Al Qaeda, and North Korea would be a practical test for the success of the plan.

The Kremlin leaders had also warned about negative outcome of the rejection of START II by the Senate. Russia is mainly pursuing economic goals through the treaty. Reducing maintenance cost of outdated weapons, getting the US support for accession to the World Trade Organization, and more powerful role in G-8 are major goals pursued by Russia through ratification of START II. Other factors which have convinced Moscow to sign the treaty included dwindling economic and military power of Russia as compared to the United States and the concession given to Moscow by Washington when the latter agreed to change its mind about the controversial missile shield plan. Signing of the new START treaty is, in fact, an attempt by Medvedev to get more friendly to the west and become more cooperative toward the United States. Reengineering relations with Moscow has been a policy priority for the Obama Administration. This was quite evident in the latest NATO conference and the compromise its members reached over the missile shield.

Reducing threats emanating from arms rivalry between the United States and Russia was a common goal for both sides. Of course, the treaty and its main goal, which is quantitative reduction in the nuclear arsenal of the two countries, does not mean reduction in quality of those weapons. Therefore, more attention will be paid to other spheres such as development of conventional and unconventional weapons. The new treaty will allow its signatories to inspect nuclear arsenals on each other’s soil and this will help to build more confidence between Washington and Moscow.
Last but not least, ratification of START II can promote the United States prestige as protector of international order and security.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy:
Translated By: Iran Review

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