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DISARMAMENT: Bridges Could Become Barricades

Analysis by Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Mar 5 2011 (IPS) - Although the ratification of a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START) with the United States is considered a top priority for the Medvedev administration, experts are debating whether such an agreement could threaten to reduce Russian military power in the future.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratified the treaty on Feb 5, 2011. The document slashes the maximum amount of Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads, down from the current ceiling of 2,200.

One expert, Alexander Fomenko, a member of the foreign relations and security committee at the Russian State Duma, does not believe that the agreement will result in weakening Russian military might.

“The reduction of strategic offensive weapons is quite understandable today, as the strategic arsenals were created during the cold war time,” Fomenko told IPS.

“Today, we see that real modern war is special operations war – it is something new,” he explained.

Formenko added that the strategic weapons serve as a guarantor of non-use of nuclear weapons, and that Russia currently possesses new Topol-M and Ïskander missiles, as well as other weapons capable of responding to an aggressive move.

Tom Collina, of the Washington-based Arms Control Organisation, told IPS that the signing of the new START treaty will greatly strengthen U.S.-Russian relations and build trust between the two nations, as well as make the citizens of both countries safer.

“The treaty is in the interests of both nations, and increases the security of both sides by reducing nuclear forces, resuming inspections, and increasing trust,” he explained.

“It is now time to build on this success by moving on to the next treaty that should cover long-range, as well as short-range (tactical), nuclear weapons,” he said.

But Russia also has its critics of the treaty: Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky claimed that the treaty substantially weakens Russia’s military power. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said any reduction of nuclear potential will undermine Russia’s security. And retired general Leonid Ivashov warned that the treaty is disastrous for Russia because it does not address the U.S.’s superiority in conventional arms.

Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev explained the Duma’s position to local media: “Its key idea is that the U.S.’s unilateral understanding of certain provisions of the new treaty does not impose any new commitments on Russia.”

“The document stipulates significant cuts in both sides’ nuclear arsenals, but will not affect the development of strategic components of their armed forces,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov pointed out.

“This treaty does not envision any duties from Russia except the necessity of observing the limits it stipulates. Russia, like the United States, reserves the right to continue to develop its strategic forces in the future,” he said.

“In this regard,” Ivanov added, “the new START treaty slaps no restrictions on the two sides’ strategic offensive arms levels. The plans we earlier mapped out to develop the strategic component of the armed forces remain in full force.”

This means that Russia will continue to develop the Bulava submarine- launched ballistic missile and the Yars RS-24 missiles, among other sophisticated weaponry. The U.S. will undoubtedly pursue similar aims.

Evgeny Bazhanov, vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told IPS, “Russia and the West came together and had a very good discussion.”

According to Bazhanov, the conference signaled to other countries that have or are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons that Russia and the U.S. are ready to continue the process of disarmament, and that others should join them in this effort.

Many people believe that the treaty will lead to a significant improvement in U.S.-Russian relations and to greater opportunities for cooperation between them. Proponents claim that it paves the way for further talks between Moscow and Washington on military issues, particularly the thorny question of a joint missile defense system.

“If an agreement can ultimately be reached on joint missile defense, Russia, the United States and NATO will become true partners,” said Bazhanov.

“(One) positive result of the agreement is that it helps ease tensions on a global scale,” he concluded.

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