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New Start Treaty and Its Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy

Speakers: Kay King, Vice President, Washington Initiatives, CFR, and Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention, CFR
Presider: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, And Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
November 22, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations

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OPERATOR: (Gives conference call instructions.) I would now like to turn the conference over to Jim Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay, please begin.

JAMES M. LINDSAY: Thank you. Welcome, everybody, to this Council on Foreign Relations media call on the new START treaty. I'm James M. Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. We're joined in this call by my colleagues Kay King, who is vice president for Washington Initiatives at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Micah Zenko, who is a fellow for Conflict Prevention at the Center for Preventive Action here at the council.

Our topic today is "New START Treaty." This call is on the record. And we'll begin with a question to Kay.

Kay, what are the prospects for the new START treaty here in the lame-duck session?

KAY KING: I would say at this point, Jim -- and thank you, everybody, and thank you, Jim -- I would say that the prospects at this point are probably 50-50. I do think that the administration is really determined to move forward on this and is putting a great deal of pressure on those members of the Senate who are likely to vote in favor of the treaty whenever it actually gets taken up. And so I think that if they really push ahead on a vote, it is very likely that this could get the 67 votes it needs in this Congress.

The question then becomes: Well, if that doesn't happen, if they don't vote on it in this session, you know, what's the likelihood of it passing in the 112th Congress? And there, I think the prospects for it going through obviously diminish, because you're going to lose a lot of very knowledgeable senators about the treaty, and it's going to take a while before they'll actually turn to it. And I think by then, by the time they do turn to it, some damage could be done in relations with U.S. Russian -- in U.S.-Russia relations.

LINDSAY: Kay, you put the odds of the new START treaty being approved by the Senate at 50-50. Yet if you look at the vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move the treaty out of committee, you got a strong bipartisan vote. I believe it was 14-to-4 in favor of the treaty when Foreign Relations voted back in October. Why is the treaty in trouble now?

KING: Yeah, and that's really the $64,000 question, Jim. And it's really a little puzzling to me, given that the Senate received the treaty over six months ago. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did its due diligence, it discussed and -- all the concerns that were raised by members of the Senate who had issues regarding missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons and verification and a whole range of things. It went through the hearing process, and I think everybody's familiar with all the data that the State Department has handed out about all the different briefings and hearings and questions that were answered. And then, it held -- drafted its resolution of ratification, and attached to it 10 conditions, three understandings and 13 declarations that addressed all these issues that were raised; and then voted out on a bipartisan -- as you mentioned, 14-to-4 -- vote.

So one really has to wonder why now is the treaty not moving forward to the full Senate for a vote? And that is kind of baffling. And the reason is because one or two individual senators have decided that the Senate needs more time to consider some of the issues that are related to the treaty. And the way the Senate works, as you all know, one member of the Senate can block any progress.

I say 50-50 because I am hopeful that reason can prevail, the issues can be addressed -- although my understanding is in fact that the administration has addressed all the outstanding issues -- and that the holdouts in the Senate can be brought around before the end of this Congress, to actually allow a vote to go forward.

LINDSAY: Kay, I should point out that you just authored a council special report on Congress and national security, which is available at cfr.org, in which you talk about the rise of partisanship in Congress on foreign policy issues and consequences for American foreign policy.

As, you know, we sort of think about the debate over the new START treaty, what do you make of the argument that the administration has an obligation to let the treaty lay over until the new Congress resumes in January, because we've had elections and the new members should have a chance to vote? I believe 10 incoming senators wrote a letter urging that the treaty be held over to January for just that reason.

KING: Well, I actually have some issues with that. The treaty was submitted in the 111th Congress. There were six months where the sitting members of the Senate were part of the process that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee undertook to move forward on the treaty. They are all familiar with the issues related to the treaty, and therefore they really ought to be the Congress that votes on -- or the Senate that votes on this particular treaty. They have the knowledge. They have the expertise, especially the Foreign Relations Committee.

You move this over to the 112th, and what you have is a minimum of a dozen brand-new senators coming in who not have the expertise and knowledge that the current Senate has on these kinds of issues, plus what I think a lot of people don't understand is, when a treaty is not acted upon by the Senate by the end of a Congress, then the treaty goes back to the committee of jurisdiction, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the whole process for getting the resolution of ratification voted out of the committee has to start all over again.

And so that process also would have to take place again in the Foreign Relations Committee, and you will have lost several senators with a lot of experience on these issues: Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold, Dodd having been in the committee for almost 30 years, Feingold for 17 years -- they've worked on a lot of arms control treaties over the years -- and also Ted Kaufman, who quite frankly, even though he hasn't been a senator for a long time, was Senator Biden's chief of staff and was obviously very familiar with the work that Senator Biden did on arms control when he was in the Senate.

So I do think that the argument that the new members should get a chance to vote just, to me, doesn't stand up, because in my view expertise matters, and they will be lacking the expertise, plus the current Senate is duly sworn until the 3rd of January and so therefore they have every right to vote on this treaty.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Kay.

Let me bring Micah into the conversation now. Micah, like Kay, you've recently written a council special report. In your case, it's on the United States and Russian nuclear weapons. It, like Kay's report, is available at cfr.org.

If I may, Micah, if you could just sort of lay out for us -- let's assume that the 50-50 possibility that Kay talks about comes heads up and the treaty is approved by the Senate and duly ratified by the president. What are the consequences of that?

MICAH ZENKO: I think it -- I mean, it has two factors. One is the aspects found directly in the provisions of the arms control provisions of the treaty, which is that it reduces the severity and probability of a Russian nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies. There are fewer permitted nuclear warheads. There are fewer permitted strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.

A second aspect is that it enhances the transparency and predictability of on-site inspections, which -- we haven't had an access to their nuclear facilities in over a year.

In the absence of on-site inspections, nuclear weapons planners will do common worst-case assessments of what Russia's capabilities and intentions are, and they'll adjust U.S. forces accordingly.

The U.S. will also redirect what they call national technical means, or satellites and other spy technologies, towards Russian nuclear weapons facilities, in order to get a better sense, and that means they will be redirected away from looking at nuclear weapons facilities in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere. We have a limited number of satellites in space.

And the other thing the treaty provides is the -- a lot of people have overlooked is the Bilateral Consultative Commission. So this is a forum by which the U.S. and Russian technical experts and policymakers come together and discuss disagreements about the treaty in a quick and relatively concise manner. It does -- it allows them to get past disagreements and move forward.

The other issue -- factor is things found outside the treaty, which is the notion of linkage to other U.S. foreign policy priority goals. The primary one is continued pressure on Iran's nuclear weapons program. Russia has strongly supported the fourth U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed a few months back. Russia also agreed not to sell -- not to fulfill a contract, a standing contract based in 2007, of advanced air defense system for Russia -- to Iran. I'm sorry. Iran does not have a very advanced integrated air defense system. In a sense, Russia is willing to forgo money in order to make Iran's nuclear weapons infrastructure more vulnerable to attack by not delivering a system.

The final thing I'll just say, which is the more ominous though unknown effect, is that -- is whether or not passage allows people -- policymakers in Russia who are intent on engaging with the West and the United States to get more traction domestically within Russia. There is a presidential election in 2012. It's uncertain whether or not Vladimir Putin, who generally does not support engagement with the West, the United States as strongly, will run again. But if the treaty passes, and it reasserts Russia's position as a world player with its nuclear weapons and its advanced -- and its significant energy infrastructure, then I think it will make it more likely that Medvedev and his allies, who support engagement, will be reelected, rather than Vladimir Putin.

LINDSAY: Well, Micah, let's assume the coin flip comes down tails. What are the consequences of the Senate not approving the new START treaty during the lame-duck session for U.S.-Russian relations?

ZENKO: Well, Russia might go ahead with the sale of advanced surface-to-air missile, the S300 SAM system, to Iran. That contract is suspended, but it was not terminated. Russia might also reduce cooperation on a broad number of other nuclear security goals that they have with the United States. I mean, we have been -- United States has provided over $12 billion worth of enhanced security upgrades to Russia's nuclear facilities since the early '90s. The U.S. has installed security upgrades at most facilities; they provide for secure transportation of nuclear material; they signed -- we signed a plutonium disposition agreement which was needlessly held up. All that sort of lower-level cooperation might end.

Russia is also the destination of most highly-enriched uranium and excess spent plutonium from Eastern Europe and elsewhere that the U.S. cleans out as part of President Obama's goal to secure all unsecure fissile material in the world within four years. So all that sort of cooperation might end.

The other thing I'll add is that Russia -- the point of this treaty was to set the stage for the next treaty, which I can talk about in more depth. But all of the issues related to missile defense, related to the Conventional Forces of Europe (sic) Treaty, which Russia suspended participating in in December 2007, issues related to tactical nuclear weapons, and what's known as Prompt Global Strike, all of that could be held up if the Untied States is seen as unable to deliver on this, what was supposed to be a first-step agreement.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Micah. At this point I'd like to open up the call to questions from any of our listeners.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much. At this time, we'll open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the 1 key on your touch-tone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they're received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press star, 2. Again, that is star, 1 to ask a question now.

We have a question from Nicole Guyanou (ph) with Gannett.

QUESTIONER: Hi, thanks so much for taking my question. You had mentioned Vice President Biden, Kay, I think talking about how he had worked on advancing these negotiations when he was a senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What -- to what extent did he try and advance these negotations? What did he do, and was he on this before, and is this sort of unfinished business for him now?

KING: My understanding -- and again, you know, I can't speak for him, but what I was referring to was his work over his 36 years in the Senate on different arms-control treaties, including the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty back in the late '80s that was actually negotiated by Ronald Reagan, and that -- in fact, at that time, Senator Biden was the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he carried the water, so to speak, on getting that treaty through the Senate because the -- or I should say, he was the chairman of the Europe subcommittee at the time -- because the ranking member on the Senate at the time, Jesse Helms, opposed the treaty. So he's been working on treaty issues and is familiar with arms control and has been for a very long time, which I'm sure all of you know.

In terms of this specific treaty, my understanding is that this was negotiated, of course, by President Obama, but now that they're moving into a stage where they're working with the Senate to negotiate it getting through the Senate, that Senator Biden has been taking a leading role in that process.

QUESTIONER: Am still on -- can you still hear me?

KING: I can, yes.

QUESTIONER: Oh, okay. (Laughs.) I know that he had introduced -- (off mike) -- July of 2009 to try and push for negotiations for -- (off mike) -- START treaty. I'm assuming what happened with Georgia in the following months put that on hold. I'm just wondering if -- (off mike) -- as when he was a chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee if he did anything to try and, you know, raise the alarms that this treaty was going to be coming to an end and it needed to be renegotiated.

KING: I can't answer you that per se. My understanding is this was not an issue that was, you know, in the forefront when he was on the Foreign Relations Committee, which now is over two years ago, or almost two years ago.

You know, at that point in time, my understanding was that the process was moving forward, it was getting negotiated, you know, and -- by this new administration, and everybody had every reason to believe that the process would go smoothly. But I can't speak to what Biden did, per se, while he was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee on this particular treaty.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Trudy Rubin with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

QUESTIONER: Hi, I had a couple of questions. One is the modernization issue. The Republicans who were opposing it are now making a big deal out of this. Could you say something about it since it seems that the Obama administration has gone a long way in trying to meet their concerns.

And the other thing I wanted to ask is there seems to quite an astonishing Republican split on this between former Republicans and current. And I wonder if you can speak to that. Why is it that so many prominent past Republican foreign policy poobahs are standing up for the treaty. What is the essence of the split between these past figures, like Kissinger and Baker and (Scowcroft ?), et cetera, and the current figures who oppose it.

LINDSAY: Micah, perhaps you could take the first crack at the questions.

ZENKO: Sure. Thank you, Trudy.

Let me discuss the first one. You know, the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992. I mean, before then, we did over 1,000 tests, we modeled them in many different ways, we have a really good sense of what nuclear explosions look like. We had a suite of warheads that could be delivered from lots of different systems, but we haven't tested since '92. So in the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration was trying to pass the Conventional Test Ban Treaty, it implemented what's now known as the Stockpile Stewardship Program, and this was a way to assure a safe, effective, secure nuclear weapon stockpile without testing.

So this is a difficult art, right? I mean, we have very few people left in the DOE, Department of Energy nuclear labs who were around during the era of testing. And so, what we're doing now is lots of other types of modeling, lots of other ways of trying to assure that nuclear components work, all of the fissile material is ready to be used. Things like these limited -- what's known as limited life cycle components can be updated quickly.

And at the back end of it, the U.S. also has a very, very long line of nuclear weapons that are retired and waiting dismantlement. And this happens at this plant in Texas called the Pantex Plant. They're currently about 12 years out from dismantling them all. So there's a huge amount of -- the United States has a huge nuclear infrastructure spread out through a lot of states.

Now, the Obama administration says that they will not develop new nuclear warheads. So that means, in order to have a safe, secure and effective stockpile, there has to be some measure of refurbishing the existing warheads, re-using components from different warheads, and then the final thing is the notion of potential replacement if some degrade to a level that they cannot be reliably accounted to.

What amount of money is required to do that is unknown. The labs -- the director of the nuclear labs, the what's called the Nuclear Weapons Council, which includes Pentagon officials, people from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from the Department of Energy, they have to come together every year and assure that America's nuclear weapons system is safe, secure and reliable.

And so a little bit more money probably makes it a little bit more safe, secure and reliable, and then a little bit more makes it a little bit more. So the Obama administration very early on, back in April when this first came into play, said we're going to increase spending on nuclear weapons by roughly 10 percent, $80 billion over the next 10 years. And then last week, they added another 4 billion (dollars) or so for the next five years.

Now, the argument from Senator Kyl and some others is that this is not secured, locked down money. Of course, as Kay can speak to, the president proposes a budget, you know, every second week of February, and Congress ends up actually authorizing and appropriating the money. So the White House cannot make sufficient guarantees that all the money will be there forever, and as long as the people in the labs, in DOE, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the head of Strategic Command -- the generals in charge of Strategic Command -- they all verify the weapons system, then that means there's enough money. But if it's based on actual substance, there can never be -- you know, there can never be enough money to guarantee that all weapons will be safe and secure.

As to the second question, I'll just say briefly, the reason that there's -- the reason I perceive a split in the Republicans is that there's ownership among older Republicans who, since 1967, when the U.S. started to have a sort of relationship with Russia on arms control, many Republicans in the past were part of developing and implementing arms control agreements with the former Soviet Union and then with Russia.

The incoming Republicans see, I think, some of these agreements as part of the Cold War. They don't really understand why you need a(n) existing long-term sustained relationship with Russia, and they see the greater nuclear weapons threats coming from Iran and North Korea, and they don't perceive the linkage between cooperation with Russia on U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons and preventing Iran or North Korea from getting the bomb.

KING: And if I could add, I agree with Micah's analysis of the split, although I will say I don't think the split in the end is going to be that great a split. I think when the vote finally happens, if it finally happens, that this will be another one of those treaties that is endorsed by a fairly large margin. And I say that because right now there is reason to believe that there are quite a few Republicans, not just those on the Foreign Relations Committee, who have voted in favor of the treaty, but there are others who are likely to support it.

And I also want to point out that just because there's some new senators coming in, we shouldn't assume that those Republicans coming in are all automatically going to vote against the treaty. For example, Mark Kirk, who is going to be seated very shortly for the seat from Illinois, is a former staffer on the House International Relations Committee, is somebody who's very knowledgeable about foreign policy issues and very thoughtful. And I don't think there's necessarily a guarantee that he's automatically going to vote against this treaty just because there is a move afoot some way to keep Republicans in line.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question comes from Elizabeth Weingarten with The Atlantic.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thanks so much. My question is, you know -- and when speaking about the Russian relationship with Iran, I'm wondering if there's an incentive beyond the economic one to, you know, go ahead and renew the agreement to give them the surface-air missiles. And would Russia see Iranian nuclear capability as a threat if they weren't receiving pressure from the United States?

ZENKO: Well, I -- this is Micah, and I'll just note quickly that one of the things that the United States and Russia have been doing for the last -- since July, there was something created called the presidential commission. And one of the sub-working groups of the presidential commission with Obama and Medvedev is, the deputy foreign minister, Ryabkov, and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher have met 10 times, and they've discussed the threats from Iran. You know, they've discussed both Iran's potential nuclear weapons capability, and they've discussed the ballistic missile threats from Iran.

So they're trying to do, you know, joint threat assessment; they're trying to do tabletop exercises of what Iran's nuclear -- these -- the sort of outer edges of Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities could be, how far its ballistic missiles could potentially fly. Presently, Russia does not perceive Iranian nuclear weapons as a threat, but they have come a long way from where they were even three or fours years ago to seeing advancement in Iran's nuclear weapons program. They don't necessarily think it threatens them, but they see that it's -- that it's -- that it's increasing.

So they are -- I mean, we'll see this play out as there are additional threat assessments, and as was agreed to last weekend with the NATO-Russia Council, where Russia may become an integrated component of the ballistic missile defense system, which the United States is proposing to place over all of -- all over -- all of Europe by 2018. And if Russia participates in that, it's a pretty clear signal that it sees Iran's ballistic missile capabilities as a threat. So -- and there's also no reason you develop ballistic missiles unless you're going to put nuclear warheads on them if you're Iran. So --

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Emily Cadei with Congressional Quarterly.

QUESTIONER: Hi there. Thanks for doing the call. I had a quick question. I guess it's a bit of a follow-up on a previous question about the Republican split, but it's -- it's for Kay, and it's, why do you think Kyl has acquired so much influence over this issue, as opposed to someone like Richard Lugar, who's been working on arms control for decades? And does that say anything about where the Republican Party is at right now on national security?

KING: Well, thank you for asking this question. And as Jim Lindsay mentioned, I actually have just written a study on some of the overall breakdown in the congressional process and system and how that has an impact on foreign relations and national security. And in fact, to me, this is an indicator of where this systemic breakdown is taking place in Congress.

First of all, Senator Kyl is very knowledgeable on these issues. He has studied them, he is very smart and he really does know them well. And so he -- and also, as you know, he is well within his rights as a senator to raise these issues. I guess my concern is exactly the one that you pointed to, though; is that there is a process in the Congress, a committee system that is used to vet, for want of a better word, these treaties and to go through a process to bring -- to raise concerns, to bring in experts, to analyze the impact of the treaty, and to then take those concerns into consideration and address them. And that's everything that the Foreign Relations Committee did.

And as you pointed out, Senator Lugar has had over 30 years experience doing this and is, in my view, the most knowledgeable member of the Senate, in either party, on nuclear-weapons issues and arms control. And as you know, he was the author of the Nunn-Lugar legislation that deals with loose nukes. He's been a huge force within Congress.

And so it is troubling that the system breaks down, where the committee and what the committee's work has done -- what the committee has done with its work is not respected in the Senate. And this happens on both sides. This is not just the Republicans doing it to each other or to the Democrats. You see these kinds of breakdowns in a lot of major issues, where the Democrats also don't necessarily respect what has been put out of committee. You know, health-care reform I think is probably one example.

But so what I think this is, is it's symptomatic of a larger breakdown in Congress, where the committees have lost their clout and their jurisdiction, and the leadership or an individual senator is allowed to kind of stop the process.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Vladimir Kikilo, with Russian News Agency.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I have a question. Who needs this START treaty more, the United States or Russia? The reason I am asking this question is, when listening to the public statement -- statements by certain U.S. politicians, especially newly elected Republican Party representatives or senators, I have a feeling that they're doing favor to Russia by signing arms-control treaties or by ratifying arms-control treaties. Correct me if I -- if I am wrong in my perception.

ZENKO: This is Micah. I'll just take a stab at that. The -- as you -- as you know, Vladimir Putin and President George W. Bush signed the SORT strategic -- SORT treaty, which was a nonbinding agreement to limit strategic weapons to a range between 1,700 and 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads. It was an informal agreement. There were no verification procedures.

When the outgoing Bush administration sort of thought about how to set the table for a new arms-control agreement, and then when the incoming Obama administration came into place, they found out that President Medvedev did not want another informal agreement; he wanted a binding arms-control agreement with all the verification provisions that are necessary, and the language in the front dealing with missile defense.

So this was -- I mean, this was done both at the request of Russia, because the U.S. desperately wants to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia on a range of nuclear issues, including strategic nuclear weapons; but this was also done because President Obama, I think, personally believes it when he says he wants to work towards a -- you know, an era with no nuclear weapons, though not in his lifetime. I think he believes that he wants to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy. And 90 percent of all the nuclear weapons in the world exist in two countries. And if you're going to try to work towards both those goals, it deals with Washington and Moscow sitting down and working out its disagreements. And the best way to do that, according to Washington and Moscow, is to do that through a verifiable treaty. So I think, in that sense, both of them wanted this done, for different reasons.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Doyle McManus, with the Los Angeles Times.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I wanted to ask Micah to expand a little bit on a theme that he opened up, which is the effect of the Senate action, or inaction, on the political dynamic in Moscow. You know, the conventional wisdom is that if Putin wants to run for president again he gets to run for president, and he controls enough of the machinery that he also gets to win. So it's not -- it's not that this is going to affect the outcome of the 2012 election in Russia, is it? But is it a question of, okay, Obama and Medvedev have invested a lot in the relationship with each other, and much or all of that goes up in smoke if Medvedev doesn't get this?

Or is it a matter of affecting Putin's thinking on what the future possibilities in Russian foreign policy are, or what?

ZENKO: I agree that -- in -- ultimately Putin is the decider of Russian foreign policy. But he is not a sultan who then has people, you know, act out his wishes from his court. It's a very semi-delicate dance with Medvedev about going forward on different -- on different priorities. If Putin wants to run in 2012, he will create the justification for doing so. But I would note that in the last year or so, if you look at polling about approval of Medvedev and Putin, Medvedev was always trailing Putin for a long, long time, and just recently he has become as popular as Vladimir Putin, which is a -- which is a fairly significant statement itself, you know.

Could Medvedev become too popular and have too much sort of power and go away from the priority that Putin wants, that Putin tries to cut his legs out from underneath him? Undoubtedly he could do so. But if you look at the slight opening in Putin's -- or, I'm sorry, Medvedev's emphasis on, for example, supporting NGOs, supporting a whole rash of new think tanks, which was the sort of things that Putin Hated, at least making a modicum of effort to stand up for press freedoms when there have been some of the attacks against journalists in Moscow -- in that sense, those sorts of thing didn't happen under Putin; they are happening under Medvedev. The plutonium disposition agreement, for example, did not happen under Putin; happened under Medvedev. S300 sale also was something that was a priority of Putin.

The one thing that Medvedev did go through with, which was the sale of fresh nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor, that is not a significant proliferation threat to the United States. This is an energy-producing reactor in Iran. That reactor is under very close IAEA monitoring and safeguards. We know what that reactor looks like very, very closely; we know exactly what Russia sent. We have lots of ways to looking -- to look and see if Iran reprocesses the spent fuel from that into plutonium. So that's the nuclear facility we don't have to worry about to a great extent.

So -- but you're right. In the end, Putin's the decider and the only thing that this relation -- if this treaty does not pass, it harms Medvedev and his allies for taking the -- making the effort to engage with Europe and the West, because the allies of Putin can say, see, you didn't get anything out of it.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you'd like to ask a question, please press 1, one now.

Our next question comes from Margaret Warner with PBS NewsHour.

QUESTIONER: Hi, thanks for doing this.

Is there a connection for the Russians between the conversations that they've now agreed to begin with NATO on the conventional missile defenses to -- for Europe and this START treaty being approved? Either on a substantive level or on a political level?

ZENKO: Let me take that one. I would say that there is some connection to it, although Russia has wanted to have better relationships with NATO for a long time; it was just the terms under which that was going to happen. The NATO-Russia Council is now a viable entity; they have regular meetings; they discuss ballistic missile threats from Iran. So there is a U.S.-Russian bilateral discussion forum called the Presidential Commission, and then there's the NATO-Russia permanent council, which is another forum whereby U.S., NATO and Russia discuss ballistic missile threats.

I think it is crucial that the United States and NATO involve Russia into the -- what the Obama administration calls the phased adaptive approach for protecting Europe from missile defenses by 2018, primarily because if Russia perceives that its nuclear -- strategic nuclear rocket force can be vulnerable to the interceptors that the U.S. will place in the Mediterranean sea and on land in Europe, they will be less likely to accept further reductions in its rocket force and further reductions in its strategic warheads.

Russia also has a range of radar -- early-warning radars in Azerbaijan and in southern Russia which could help us see into Iran and help us get a better picture of Iran's both ballistic missile tests and its potential balistic missile launches into southern Europe. So I think if the treaty does not pass, Russian cooperation on a lot of these other issues would be less likely, in part because the treaty does include that language, the nonbinding language in the introduction that discusses the -- what they see as the relationship between offensive and defensive systems, none of which binds the U.S. to not deploy any -- doesn't deter any U.S. missile-defense plans or policies.

But it was important for Russia to have that language so they can -- they can sort of demonstrate to people back home that we understand our -- we understand missile defense is an issue and will be an issue in any future nuclear reductions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Arianna Tekno (ph) with Independent Journalists.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much for doing this conference call. My question refers to the comment made by Mr. Zenko early on. You said the current treaty's supposed to set the stage for the next one, and if it fails today, then a lot of work will be held up. What is in the pipeline? What are the examples of that low-level cooperation, low-level work that's in the pipeline, that is lost in the woodwork and we kind of often overlook it? Thank you.

ZENKO: Yeah. This is -- this is done through the Bilateral Presidential Commission. It was established in July 2009. The working group on Arms Control and International Security has met 10 times. You can find out their sort of program of work for -- on the State Department website. You can talk to its -- Vann Van Diepen and Franklin Rose under Ellen Tauscher's outfit there who have conducted some of these negotiations.

And, you know, what they do is, they look at Iranian ballistic missile capabilities; they look at Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities. That's on the missile-defense side of things. They've had substantive discussions about a big impediment to dealing with the issue we haven't raised yet, which is tactical nuclear weapons. There is a significant imbalance between NATO's conventional military power and Russia's conventional military power. As a consequence of that imbalance, Russia maintains a significant proportion of its tactical nuclear weapons on bases towards its west, along the -- along the borders with NATO. Until there is an amendment to the conventional forces in Europe treaty, which Russia stopped participating in, in December 2007, we cannot have a real discussion about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons.

And so -- and there's -- the final issue I'll discuss briefly, which is the conventional warheads, (non ?)-nuclear capable delivery systems. This is known as "prompt global strike" or the ability to strike -- by the United States to strike anywhere in the world within one hour by placing a conventional warhead on what used to carry nuclear weapons, flying out of North Dakota or Wyoming or any of the other ballistic missile bases in the United States.

Russia is significantly worried about prompt global strike. If you look at its military doctrine, it's the fourth-biggest threat to the -- to Russian national security, because obviously, if the United States launched a ballistic missile from North Dakota to try to get at buried Iranian nuclear weapons facilities, it would fly over the North Pole, it would fly over Russian territory and Russia would not have the transparency, presently, to know whether or not that warhead carried conventional weapons or whether it carried nuclear weapons.

So these are all the issues that need to be discussed in the near term, and if there's going to be further reductions, which both President Medvedev and President Obama agreed that they want to work towards further nuclear reductions, which are also required of the United States and Russia under Article 4 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to make good-faith negotiations towards eventual nuclear disarmament even though that's decades away, if at all.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we are holding for questions. If you'd like to ask a question, please press star-1 now. (Pause.)

We're showing no further questions at this time.

LINDSAY: I'd like to thank Micah and Kay for answering all these questions, and remind everybody, if you're interested in the materials at the Council on Foreign Relation(s) and particularly reports that Kay and Micah have written, that you can access them at cfr.org. Thank you, and have a great day.

OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's teleconference. You may now disconnect.

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