of US-Russian nuke disarmament
slows By Carey L Biron
WASHINGTON - Although the United States
and Russia have massively reduced their collective
number of nuclear weapons since the heyday of the
Cold War, the rate of that reduction is slowing,
the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) warned
Further, these two countries
alone continue to account for more than 90% of the
worlds total nuclear arsenal, 15 times the rest of
the seven nuclear weapon states combined.
"The pace of reducing nuclear forces
appears to be slowing compared with the past two
decades," Hans M Kristensen, director of the FAS
Nuclear Information Project, said on Monday.
"Both the United States and
Russia appear to be more cautious about reducing
further, placing more emphasis on 'hedging' and
reconstitution of reduced nuclear forces, and both
are investing enormous sums of money in
modernizing their nuclear forces over the next
Since 1991, the United States has
reduced its number of nuclear weapons from around
19,000 to roughly 4,650 today, according to data
in a new FAS report, authored by Kristensen,
looking at the next decade of nuclear disarmament.
Although the corresponding Russian numbers are not
publicly known, FAS estimates that the decline has
been even more significant, from around 30,000 to
4,500 today. (Though between the two countries,
another 16,000 are awaiting dismantlement.)
Those are nearly fivefold decreases,
echoed by reductions in non-strategic (or
short-range) nuclear weapons by both Washington
and Moscow of some 85% and 93%, respectively. Such
numbers represent a major success in international
negotiation and engagement, but the FAS analysts
suggest that tracking this trend in the long term
is "becoming less interesting and relevant".
Although a new bilateral treaty, the New
Strategic Arms Reduction (START) Treaty, came into
force between the US and Russia in 2011, it now
appears that by the time of the agreement's 2018
deadline, the number of strategic nuclear weapons
deployed by the two countries will be only
"marginally smaller" than today. Further, the new
treaty is set to see its sunset just three years
Given the new data, the implication
is that either a new set of arms-reduction
treaties will need to be agreed in coming years,
or each country will need to embark on new
unilateral programs of reduction. If neither of
those takes place, "large nuclear forces could be
retained far into the future".
election over, Kristensen is calling on President
Barack Obama to "once again make nuclear arms
control a prominent and visible part of his
foreign policy agenda". He also suggests that,
with the US debt and government spending currently
front and center in a rancorous debate, now might
be a good time to gain traction on unilateral
reductions of the US's own arsenal.
According to the Ploughshares Fund, a
peace- and security-focused foundation in
Washington that supported the FAS report, the
United States looks set to spend around US$640
billion on its nuclear weapons programs over the
nukes President Obama began his first
presidential term by almost immediately giving a
forceful speech, in April 2009 in Prague, in which
he noted that the continued presence of nuclear
weapons "matters to all people, everywhere". The
president, who had taken over office only months
before, also admitted that the United States has a
unique responsibility in this regard.
the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear
weapon, the United States has a moral
responsibility to act So today, I state clearly
and with conviction America's commitment to seek
the peace and security of a world without nuclear
weapons," said Obama.
The subsequent four
years have seen some limited legislative movement
on the issue in Washington, with the most
significant being the ratification of the New
START Treaty. Yet Kristensen and others have
characterized even this as "modest", while
Washington has continued to fail to ratify the
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
However, following the recent US
presidential election, President Obama has made
initial suggestions that he remains deeply
interested in undertaking a major new disarmament
push. In early December, in his first major
address on foreign policy since the election, the
president noted that, despite past
nuclear-reduction successes, the United States was
"nowhere near done - not by a long shot".
He also stated: "Russia has said that our
current agreement hasn't kept pace with the
changing relationship between our countries. To
which we say, lets update it".
remarks are an important signal to his national
security team, the congress, the American public,
and the world that Obama intends to complete
unfinished nuclear risk reduction tasks, Daryl G
Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control
Association, a Washington watchdog, said in an
analysis e-mailed to IPS.
"By taking ...
bold steps, President Obama could significantly
reduce global nuclear dangers, reinforce the
beleaguered nuclear non-proliferation system, and
establish a lasting international nuclear security
Recent weeks have seen mounting
calls in Washington for President Obama to build
on this stance, both to push for new agreements
with Russia and to take unilateral moves with
regard to the United States own nuclear arsenal.
Yet prospects look daunting on both fronts.
According to a recent policy brief from
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a
Washington-based think tank, the US arms-control
agenda is currently a more partisan issue than at
any time since the end of the Cold War. The
brief's editor, James M Acton, says that this is
in part due to Republican disagreement with
President Obama's central goal, that of a world
without nuclear weapons.
US-Russian relations have become increasingly
strained in recent months, including over US plans
for a missile defense system in Europe, despite a
high-profile attempt by Obama to "reset"
Washington's Russia policy.
A major new
move by the US Congress to normalize trade
relations with Russia - for the first time in
nearly four decades - has now been overshadowed by
simultaneous punitive legislation that censures
Moscow for its human-rights record.
Russian governments response has been incendiary,
promising retaliation and noting that the law
"will rather negatively affect the prospects for