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18 May, 2009 08:06

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 18

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 18

This Monday ROAR presents opinions on Russia-US nuclear disarmament.

Dr. Aleksey Fenenko of the Institute of International Security in Moscow writes in NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA: Nuclear disarmament? There is a catch! The academic says that the process has passed various stages in the past 60 years, but every time one of the two sides had an advantage over the other, it canceled out a good part of the joint effort.

In 1946, the US suggested that nuclear fuel cycles should be controlled by the UN and all combat nuclear devices destroyed. The sequence of these steps alerted the Soviet leadership: USSR had no ready devices yet but quite a few in the final stages of production. So the responding offer was to reverse the sequence: destroy the devices and then put nuclear fuel cycles under UN control. The US rejected the offer, so everything remained as it was.

Then in the 1960s came the linguistic catch of ‘in good will’ versus ‘in good faith.’ The negotiations were on non-proliferation, but there was an article in the treaty presuming that in the future the nuclear powers would totally denounce the use of nuclear weapons and would destroy them according to a procedure yet to be defined. The Russian text read ‘in good will’ and was understood as a voluntary rejection of nuclear weapons by both superpowers while the English text read ‘in good faith,’ practically meaning the opposite: an obligation to disarm at an undisclosed point in history.

In the 1980s Gorbachev suggested destroying all nukes by the year 2000, but Reagan decided against it, fearing the Soviet Union’s huge lead in conventional weapons.

Another initiative, again by the Soviet side, was to discontinue all work in the field of radioactive materials production and research for military purposes. However, without new radioactive materials, every nuclear power faced the impossibility of replacing old warheads with new ones once again in 30 years, and everyone decided to postpone the signing of a document on military nuclear research and production.

The fifth phase of the process comes today, says the academic, when the arsenals have already been cut down to six-to-eight thousand warheads by the START 1 treaty. And there is a catch again: now nuclear disarmament is much more serving the interests of the US than Russia. Without the nukes the US has a great advantage in conventional, especially high precision weapons, sufficient for maintaining the status of a military superpower, while Russia, without its nukes, loses its superpower status.

The academic also mentions one more historical lesson that should be taken into account by the two sides: the Geneva Protocol (1925) had banned the use of weaponized poisonous gases on battlefields, but it only opened the doors widely for massive tank battles of WWII, which turned out to be as nasty both in the numbers of the dead and maimed, and in the ways the casualties were inflicted. The absence of gases gave considerable, yet imaginary safety to infantry units protecting the tanks, and so a new cycle of death opened…

In KOMMERSANT Fedor Lukianov, the Editor of the magazine RUSSIA IN GLOBAL AFFAIRS writes that there are two main problems in the new phase of the disarmament process. One: if in Gorbachev’s times the Soviet Union had a total advantage in conventional weapons, which prevented the West from accepting the idea of a total nuclear disarmament. Today it is vice versa – the US has a great lead in conventional weapons, while Russia’s nuclear arsenal is considered by many to be the only guarantee of the nation’s security.

The second problem is missile defense: it used to be Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, now it’s the system of US missile defense in Europe. Lukianov says that the fact that Barack Obama’s administration is not very enthusiastic about the program doesn’t mean that this program is going to be shelved. With the proliferation of missile technology and nuclear weapons the number of countries from which a missile attack on the US may originate has gone far beyond the original list where there used to be only one country: USSR. It means that missile defense is a vital necessity for America, and it will never be dropped, says the author.

The US and Russia still have the undisputed status of nuclear superpowers, continues Lukianov, but the time when they could define and decide on every issue of international and global security between themselves, the time of a bi-polar world where everything was controlled by the two superpowers, is long since gone. There is no hegemony by either of the superpowers, and it won’t happen in the future.

Lukianov says there still can be a joint system of missile defense at least, and it may become the most effective such system, hugely increasing the world’s strategic stability and security, but to achieve that it would be necessary to totally abandon Cold War thinking and to commit ourselves to a complete ‘reset’ of mentality – the chances of which, so far, are quite slim.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.