Let’s START again

Presidents Obama and Medvedev plan to reach new arms reduction deal by the end of 2009. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, is close to its expiry date after 15 years.

Just a few months before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US and the USSR agreed to reduce their massive nuclear arsenals to 6,000 warheads. It came into effect three years later.

In 2002, The Treaty of Moscow was signed to reduce the number of missiles further, which was linked to START.

So far attempts to update the agreement have failed. The latest initiative from Vladimir Putin, while he was president, was in 2006.

The US, however, insisted mutual trust was enough. Doubts remain that any new detente will be in place any time soon.

“The positions on the specific way towards arms reduction, on what should we put in the treaty at this stage are very, very far from each other”, said Vladimir Orlov of Moscow’s Centre for Policy Studies.

The biggest split between the sides is a question of arithmetic. They can't agree exactly on how to count the weapons.

“The Russian side wants counted the systems that deliver the weapons. We [the US] only want to count the warheads,” said Stephen Cohen, an expert on the U.S.-Russia relations.

With the current START deal set to expire this December, Russia is optimistic about President Obama's proposal to renew and expand the treaty.

There are firm hopes on both sides that there will be new steps in disarmament and that a new START can mean a new beginning.