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After New START: Challenges and Opportunities for 21st Century Arms Control

Author: Jonathan Pearl, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, 2010-2011
February 18, 2011
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists


Now that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) has finally entered into force, how will the Obama administration achieve further bilateral nuclear reductions with Russia? With tremendous effort, public engagement, and compromise. Negotiating a follow-on agreement promises to be difficult and divisive -- even more so than with New START -- because it will force both countries to reassess deeply ingrained beliefs about how nuclear and non-nuclear assets affect national security. Washington and Moscow will need to reach compromises on four challenging issues: tactical (nonstrategic) nuclear weapons, missile defense, conventional missile technology, and space security. Though contentious negotiations lie ahead, the Obama administration can take several near-term steps to increase the chances of long-term success at the negotiating table.

Tactical nuclear weapons. Great disparity exists between the number of Russian and US tactical nuclear weapons (approximately 2,000 and 500 PDF, respectively) as well as how the two states perceive these weapons. To Russia -- with its extremely long land borders, shrunken military budgets, diminished industrial capacity, and reduced conventional military capabilities -- tactical nuclear weapons are seen as essential to national defense.

In contrast, reports indicate that the role of tactical weapons in the US arsenal continues to decline. Further complicating matters, Washington sees the Russian nonstrategic arsenal as vulnerable to theft and as a potential threat to NATO defenses and alliance unity. This latter view reflects the lingering concerns of some NATO allies regarding Moscow's intentions; it can also be attributed to the fact that the "reset" in US-Russian relations is still in its early stages.

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