To much fanfare, the United States and Russia have announced they have hammered out all the details of what is being billed as the most comprehensive nuclear arms treaty in nearly two decades. The "New START Treaty" demands each side cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about a third. The agreement is due to be signed in Prague on April 8th, just days before U.S. President gathers powerbrokers in Washington to talk nuclear disarmament, a 'cause' of his outlined in a Prague speech last April. However, the treaty still must be ratified by both countries' legislatures, and the Russian State Duma will likely be skeptical if the treaty is not linked to U.S. pledges not to expand its 'missile defense' program, something Washington categorically rejects. And as the two sides were backslapping over the no-nuke pact, reports leaked of fresh Pentagon plans to boost 'military assistance' to several former Soviet republics.Yes, START is a step forward, but just one in a race whose finishing line at times seems to fade further into the distance.
Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, phoned on Friday, March 26, to congratulate each other on the treaty amid a torrent of press print.
However you slice it, the treaty appears significant.
Under the agreement, both sides will be required within seven years to reduce their arsenals of long-range nuclear warheads to 1,550, about one-third below current levels and nearly three quarters below the level agreed in the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that was signed in 1991.
The deal also cuts the number of vehicles for deploying nuclear weapons, such as submarines and heavy bombers.
Russia Today called the agreement a "real breakthrough."
But for those thinking the treaty will lead to a world without such weapons anytime soon, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pretty quickly slew such hopes.
"America's nuclear arsenal remains an important pillar of U.S. defense posture ... but it is clear that we can accomplish these goals with fewer nuclear weapons," said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In his Prague speech, although overlooked by most of the media, Obama said pretty much the same thing.
Others note while strategical nuclear weapons are a nemesis, their overlooked poor relation, tactical weapons, (meant to be used on the battlefield), are even more threatening, since they are not regulated or monitored by any treaty.
Only one informal 1991 agreement between the United States and Russia addresses these warheads.
A few plucky NATO allies -- Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway -- are acting a little uppity, getting the nerve up to ask the US to take its nuclear weapons -- believed to number some 200 -- out of Europe.
But the US military, sporting its best poker face, won't even fess up to having any of these weapons on European soil.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Taylor Clark, a public affairs officer with the U.S. European Command, said he could “neither confirm nor deny” the presence of any U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.
The Russians are no victims in the realm of tactical nuclear weapons. They have about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, according to various estimates.
But as this analysis points out, the Russians are not eager to give up these weapons, because they help compensate for the country's overall military slippage.
Despite Obama's rhetoric and possibly true intentions, the Pentagon still has plans on the books to upgrade some of its nuclear weapons.
According to Global Security Newswire, the Air Force wants to spend $800 million to build a new nuclear-armed cruise missile.
A "Follow-on Long-Range Stand-off Vehicle," or LRSO for short, would replace 375 aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missiles, expected to retire from the fleet by 2030. The Defense Department has estimated the new effort could cost a total $1.3 billion, Global Security Newswire has learned.
This weapon, GSN reports, would either be strapped aboard B-52 bombers or a new Long-Range Strike aircraft.
The Defense Department is expected to announce its plans for a future Long-Range Strike aircraft as part of a major Nuclear Posture Review. The congressionally directed review of atomic forces, strategy and readiness has been repeatedly delayed but is anticipated for release in the coming weeks.
And while Moscow and Washington were talking peace over strategical nukes, folks over at the Pentagon had other plans.
In notifications sent to Congress, the Pentagon said military assistance programs for Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia and Hungary were designed to build their capacities "to conduct stability operations alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
For Washington, the former Warsaw Pact nations are a blessing. Conditioned anti-Russian sentiment after decades of dreary Moscow-forced Communism threw the region into Washington's arms. To prove their "worthiness," the former Communist states eagerly volunteer their sons and daughters to fight Washington's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
News like this, appear almost weekly.
In western Europe, the Pentagon is facing a tougher job selling the wars.
According to Wikileaks, A CIA analyst has suggested using Afghan women to convince skeptical Europeans, namely in France and Germany, that the war there is worth the fight.
"Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission," it said.
Public relations efforts could "tap into acute French concern for civilians and refugees," the report said, suggesting highlighting polls that show most Afghans support the presence of coalition troops.
Back to the topic at hand, the fate of the NEW START treaty, could still be stillborn.
Russian lawmakers are bound to seek 'missile shield' concessions from the United States, while Washington rejects any linkage.
NATO salesman, err Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has again stated that missile defense deviltry is still critical for NATO's 27-member military pact suffering from insufferable mission creep.
As Rick Rozoff writes, Rasmussen has reiterated the now standard demand that NATO combine Article 5 so-called collective defense for its members – in Poland’s case that can only be a reference to Russia – with expeditionary deployments outside NATO’s self-defined area of responsibility as exemplified by recent wars and other armed missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Darfur region of Sudan.
Rozoff also cites a Polish press report saying U.S. missile defense plans are bolder than mentioned to date in most press reports.
Earlier this month a Polish newspaper revealed that American missile plans in Poland are far more ambitious than just the construction of Patriot and Standard Missile-3 batteries: “The US is also interested in building longer-range missile silos near the Poland-Kaliningrad border. These would be capable of shooting down missiles from as far as 5,500 kilometers away...”
It's doubtful, Russian lawmakers aren't aware of such reports, and won't be too amenable to ratifying the New START treaty.
In the West, this will be seen as intransigence by the Russians.
All the current fanfare over the new treaty may prove very premature.