The Russian Duma voted to ratify the New START treaty today, thereby ensuring that the treaty will enter into force. While this was more or less a forgone conclusion, START’s completion represents a significant achievement for the President. In fact, the past two years have seen remarkable progress on nuclear non-proliferation that has not simply moved the ball forward on non-proliferation but as Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association noted, “has put the United States back in the role of global nuclear risk-reduction leader.”
So what was accomplished?
Set the goal: Obama’s Prague speech in April of 09, which set the goal of the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, essentially went there. He said what past leaders, with the exception of Reagan, had been reluctant to say: that nuclear weapons ultimately make the world a more dangerous place.
Reset and START: The US and Russia have more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, therefore the White House effort to reset relations with Russia has been critical to paving the way for nuclear arms reductions. The successful negotiation and ratification of the New START treaty that verifiably lowers nuclear arsenals and nuclear delivery vehicles lays the groundwork for future cooperation.
The Nuclear Posture Review: While not going as far as some hoped, the NPR that came out last spring significantly moved the ball forward by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our military posture.
Nuclear Security: The Administration organized for the first time a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this past April to secure loose nuclear materials in Washington. The summit brought together the largest number of heads of state to the US since the creation of the United Nations and saw real commitments from countries to reduce vulnerable nuclear materials.
NPT Review Conference: In May, the Administration was able to forge a consensus agreement at the five-year Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which stood in stark contrast to the acrimony that occurred five years ago during the Bush administration.
Nuclear stockpile: The Administration has allocated an enormous sum to fully modernize the nuclear stockpile, ensuring its reliability for decades and eliminating any possible need for new explosive testing.
Iran and North Korea: The administration was able to forge an international consensus at the UN to levy sanctions against Iran and North Korea. On Iran, it seems clear that sanctions have served to hinder Iran’s nuclear development.
The extent of the accomplishments lays the groundwork for future progress. Action can now begin on a new round of arms reduction talks with the Russians, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and further action on nuclear threat reduction and nuclear security programs. As the chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian senate, Mikhail Margelov, remarked upon START’s passage:
The arms race is a thing of the past… The disarmament race is taking its place.
Some may point to the knock-down drag out fight in Congress over the START treaty as evidence that ratifying future treaties will be too hard to do. But this ignores the extent of the defeat suffered by the nuclear-right. The Administration was able to get the treaty through despite opposition from the leadership of Senate Republicans, every Republican Presidential candidate, the Tea Party and the Heritage foundation. How did that happen? Because opposition to START was nuts and the country knew it. Fights over future treaties will be similar, making them hard but doable.