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Analysis of U.S.-Russian Summit

Analysis of U.S.-Russian Summit

The first face-to-face meeting, since the G-20 meeting in London, between President Obama and President Medvedev took place in Moscow in July.

President Barack Obama talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa., September 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

The meeting addressed several key issues. Most importantly, President Obama and President Medvedev signed an agreement that established the groundwork for a treaty that will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires on December 5th of this year. This Summit addressed several other key issues. President Obama’s goal is to establish a less antagonistic relationship with Russia that had developed due to events that occurred over the past several years. One of these events was the invasion of Iraq. A second was the Russian/Georgian conflict over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The United States needs to obtain certain guarantees from Russia that it will help on the diplomatic front in order to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and will offer assistance to the ongoing war effort in Afghanistan.

Considering the diplomatic tensions that arose when Russia pressured Kyrgyzstan to cancel a contract that allowed the United States to use an airbase there to fly men and material to Afghanistan, it is interesting to note that Russia agreed to allow the United States to fly over its airspace in order to accomplish this goal. President Obama is seeking to obtain a united front in dealing with the global economic meltdown that is affecting economies worldwide. One way in which Mr. Obama is seeking to do this is by encouraging business transactions between international conglomerates. PepsiCo was one of several companies to take advantage of the Moscow Summit and will invest nearly $1 billion USD’s in Russia via a bottling plant outside of Moscow along with other investments. Boeing and Deere & Company will also make investments in Russia. Conversely, the Russian oil giant Lukoil will invest in the United States.

In reality the United States appears to have succeeded on most fronts. In turn, Russia gained assurances that the United States would not rush to place a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This issue more than any other has proved to be the most contentious. Under President Bush, the United States argued for the need to deploy a ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe in order to defend Western Europe from an incoming nuclear and conventional missile attack from Iran and argued that the plan was a vital defense initiative in a strategic area.

The system would have deployed a radar installation in the Czech Republic and missile sites in Poland with the intended purpose of once a missile is detected by the site in the Czech Republic a missile would be launched from Poland to intercept the hostile missile and destroy it mid-flight. As ordered by President Obama the system is under a comprehensive review, the results of which are not due for several months.

President Medvedev won a partial victory on this issue by gaining assurances that the plan would be further debated within the administration and perhaps Russia’s input would be solicited regarding where the system is geographically placed. Speaking at the New Economic School in Moscow following his meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Obama asserted that, “I know Russia opposes the planned configuration for missile defense in Europe. My Administration is reviewing these plans to enhance the security of America, Europe and the world. I have made it clear that this system is directed at preventing a potential attack from Iran, and has nothing to do with Russia. In fact, I want us to work together on a missile defense architecture that makes us all safer. But if the threat from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated. That is in our mutual interest.”

An historical issue of disagreement between the United States and Russia is NATO expansion and the result of the Moscow Summit seems to have placed this issue on the backburner. Russia opposes membership for the Ukraine and Georgia. Historically, the United States has supported membership of any state regardless of the benefits that can be accrued by such membership. It is quite possible and rational that the United States will not push for further expansion of NATO that would include the Ukraine and Georgia in the hopes that this will not hinder any agreements that came out of the Moscow Summit. Conversely, as ties improve between the United States and Russia, hopefully another conflict between Georgia and Russia will not arise carrying with it the potential of derailing a treaty to succeed START.

START was signed between the United States and the former Soviet Union on July 31, 1991. The Treaty was to achieve limitations at these levels; 1) 1,600 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles; 2) 6,000 accountable warheads; 3) 4,900 ballistic missile warheads; 4) 1,540 warheads on 154 heavy ICBMs (and); 5) 1,100 warheads on mobile ICBMs.

Absent a follow-up treaty, verification will not occur regarding further reductions in each side’s arsenals. Under START verification occurred under these terms and conditions; 1) Data exchanges and notifications on strategic systems and facilities covered by the Treaty; 2) Exchanges of telemetry data from missile flight tests; 3) A ban on the encryption of telemetry data; 4) Twelve types of on-site inspections and exhibitions (and); 5) Continuous monitoring at mobile ICBM final assembly plants.

The follow-up treaty, planned for later this year, assuming that the United States Senate passes such a treaty, will make further reductions in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. Referencing the follow-up agreement that lays the groundwork for a new treaty, the New York Times reported from Moscow, that “under Monday’s agreement, the Start successor treaty would reduce the ceiling on strategic warheads to somewhere between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads within seven years, down from the current ceiling of 2,200 warheads by 2012. The limit on delivery vehicles — land-based intercontinental missiles, submarines-based missiles and bombers — would be somewhere from 500 to 1,100, down from the 1,600 currently allowed.”

The ability to pass a new treaty to succeed START is possible. The political will in the United States exists given the environment in Washington in favor of further cuts. Nuclear arms reduction is a bipartisan issue. Senator John McCain had this to say on June 3, 2009, “the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals. In so doing, the United States can – and indeed, must – show the kind of leadership the world expects from us,…Such weapons,…represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man. We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind. We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used. As the Administration reviews its nuclear weapons posture, it should, I believe, seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments.”

It is possible to pass a successor to START because of each president’s age and their respective command of the issues. It should be noted that officials from both sides only began to discuss this issue at the beginning of April of this year before the two president’s met in Moscow.

Aside from the efforts that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev put into achieving a nuclear-free world, Obama and Medvedev live in a world that is not bi-polar and it could be argued is multi-polar and maybe even transcends that status due to the many threats proffered by non-state actors. They represent two countries that do not distrust each other as much as in the past and at a time when any reductions of nuclear stockpiles is considered a victory. The groundwork that was laid by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev now enables Obama and Medvedev to work from that canvas and avoid their mistakes.

Other issues dealing with arms control were also addressed at the Moscow Summit and President Obama and President Medvedev have agreed to meet later in the year in the form of another summit to further discuss non-proliferation issues relating to the spread of nuclear-armed states like North Korea and Iran. Besides nuclear issues, the United States and Russia have agreed to work jointly in the form of commissions in order to account for missing military personal dating back to the Second World War up through the Russian incursion into Afghanistan where countless Soviet soldiers went missing.