Gone are the days when nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States was one of the greatest threats to the world. Today it is considered more likely that other countries or terrorists will use nuclear weapons. But it is up to Russia and the US to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons. In London, Presidents Obama and Medvedev discussed steps there.
In order to contain the danger of the spread of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was adopted and signed at the end of the 1960s. While the nuclear-armed states committed themselves to complete disarmament, the states without nuclear weapons declared that they would renounce such weapons. 188 states now belong to the treaty and review conferences are held regularly. The last meeting in 2005 failed due to the willingness of those involved to introduce further disarmament steps.
Meanwhile, experts are concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in regions like the Middle East and in countries like Pakistan, India and North Korea. Not only could the opposing states engage in an arms race with unforeseeable consequences. In domestically unstable countries like Pakistan, there is also the danger that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. Other states without nuclear weapons, however, criticize the fact that new barriers should be imposed on them while disarmament in the nuclear-armed states is not making progress.
Missile defense systems instead of disarmament
The disarmament process stalled, especially during the term of office of US President George W. Bush. Bush and Russia’s then President Vladimir Putin agreed on a new disarmament agreement in 2002. However, compared to previous contracts, the stipulations are far less precise and no measures have been taken to review the agreements.
In addition, the US government implemented its missile defense plans and canceled the ABM Treaty, which regulated the limitation of missile defense systems. Meanwhile, Russia is working on modernizing its nuclear weapons and is also pushing its own missile defense system, says the expert Oliver Thranert from the Science and Politics Foundation in an interview this site.
For security reasons, however, both states are interested in keeping the group of states with their own nuclear weapons small. The next opportunity for new global agreements is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York next spring. If the USA and Russia want to get the other member states back on track, they have to set a good example.
How many nuclear weapons can a state afford??
Indeed, both sides have expressed their will to reduce their nuclear weapons. That is obvious in times of economic crisis. In order to keep nuclear weapons operational, high expenditures are necessary. The US spends around 50 billion dollars a year on this, but it also has to invest a lot of money in foreign missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Russia, for its part, needs to modernize its entire arsenal. The war in Georgia showed that the Russian army lacks modern means of communication, for example. In December, however, the Russian government announced a 15 percent cut in the defense budget. Russia’s military spending is already 15 times lower than that of the US, according to the information from the International Peace Research Institute SIPRI in Stockholm.
The time for a new agreement is pressing
For example, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev will present a first statement on reducing their strategic attack weapons at their first meeting in London. This was announced by Medvedev’s foreign policy advisor Sergei Prichodko the previous weekend.
Specifically, it is about a successor agreement or the extension of the START contract, which expires on December 5th. The originally planned reduction in the number of nuclear warheads to 6,000 each and the corresponding delivery systems to 1,600 have been considered to have been achieved since 2001. However, the inspection measures agreed in the contract are still important. If the agreement is not extended or replaced by a new one, the system of nuclear disarmament and arms control would largely collapse, warns Thranert.
Negotiations on warheads and delivery systems
Thranert assumes in a study that both sides will agree to the reduction of their strategic warheads to 1,000 to 1,400 each. They would not be willing to do less because they want to maintain their deterrent potential. In addition to the basic consensus, it must be clarified how many and which delivery systems should be allowed, which other types of warheads should be included and how exactly the agreements should be reviewed in the future.
Russia also wants to include an issue that has so far caused great resentment: the US missile defense. It is quite clear to the Russian government that the planned missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland do not pose a threat to their own territory, says Thranert. The protests of the Russian government were mainly political reasons.
But both states want to protect themselves from the missiles of other states. Therefore, Thranert believes that an agreement in this area is possible. First of all, it is important to understand the threat potential posed by other countries such as Iran and North Korea. In the future, they could also work together on surveillance and defense.
If Russia and the USA come to an agreement, the first step towards disarmament has been taken. The other states from the "Atomic Club" such as France, Great Britain and China, but also Israel, are also in demand. Only then will the states without nuclear weapons allow themselves to be persuaded to renounce their own nuclear programs. There is still a long way to go, however, to a world without nuclear weapons, as several elder statesmen around the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have called for.