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US and Russian Presidents Meet: A Challenge to Cut the Number of Nuclear Weapons US and Russian Presidents Meet: A Challenge to Cut the Number of Nuclear Weapons
by Rene Wadlow
2009-03-31 10:08:38
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The meeting in London on 2 April of Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev is placed under the sign of needed cooperation to deal with the world-wide financial and economic crisis. There is also a need to deal with a number of on-going tension areas such as the Russia-Georgia-Abkhazia-South Ossetia conflict where negotiations in Geneva are making slow progress. However, it is in the nuclear-weapon field where quick bilateral agreements can be reached.  An agreement to reduce nuclear arsenals on both sides and to take weapons off hair-trigger alert would signify to the world that major agreements can be reached to provide common security.

There have always been at least two major aspects of nuclear issues — one is to prevent the proliferation to new states such as Iran or North Korea, the other is to reduce the number of warheads among existing nuclear-weapon states.  The reduction of the number of warheads seems to be on the table for new USA-Russia negotiations.  The number of 1000 each seems to be a common goal.  Speedy negotiations can be encouraged by the Obama-Medvedev discussions.

The USA and Russia have reduced strategic nuclear weapons by more than two-thirds since the 1991 end of the Cold War, but neither country has begun planning for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.  Much strategic thinking in both countries remains bound to the Cold War past and is at best vague on what use nuclear weapons have in the new world society.  While strategic frameworks have historical, cultural and economic roots, they must also evolve to meet new realities.

A new willingness to strengthen cooperative political relationships between the USA and Russia is an essential requirement for creating an atmosphere of political confidence that will draw other nuclear-weapon states into the process of weapon reduction.  There is a world-wide danger of continued reliance on nuclear weapons with outdated strategic thinking.  The USA and Russia can show the way to eliminate those sources of instability that are driving other states to develop nuclear weapons.  A common US-Russian commitment to work for a Nuclear-weapon Free Zone in the Middle East would be a sign of a renewed willingness to deal seriously with the security issues of the Middle East.

An easily-achieved mutual confidence-building measure would be to lower the operational status of nuclear arsenals, basically to take nuclear weapons off ‘hair trigger’ alert.  Such a measure would enhance confidence and transparency.  The lowering of operational readiness of nuclear-weapon systems has been urged by United Nations General Assembly resolutions starting in 2007. Such a change of status by the USA and Russia would be an important mark of respect for world opinion in the lead up to the 2010 review  conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The last few years have been years of drift in US-Russian relations.  A quick agreement on nuclear issues would be a sure sign of a willingness to put relations back on track.

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

    
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