Outgoing Obama wants extension of Russia nuclear treaty to thwart future changes - report

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. © Ian Dudley / U.S. Air Force photo
US President Barack Obama is reportedly considering offering Russia the chance to extend the New START treaty regarding the deployment of nuclear weapons. He wants to make sure the pact is prolonged so his successor’s administration cannot potentially cancel it.

The New START treaty, which was signed in April 2010 in Prague and came into effect 10 months later, is not due to expire until February 2021. The pact states that the Cold War foes, Russia and the US, must reduce their strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 per side by 2018. 

However, Obama reportedly wants to offer Moscow the chance to extend the treaty by another five years, conscious of the fact that the administration that will succeed him may want to abandon the pact, the Washington Post reports. 

“As we enter the homestretch of the Obama presidency, it’s worth remembering that he came into office with a personal commitment to pursuing diplomacy and arms control,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the Arms Control Association on June 6, as cited by the newspaper. 

“I can promise you today that President Obama is continuing to review a number of ways he can advance the Prague agenda over the course of the next seven months. Put simply, our work is not finished on these issues,” he added. 

Obama’s administration has also stated that it wants to take steps to make sure that the US’ nuclear arsenal is not modernized in the long term, which would cost about $355 billion until around 2023, a figure that could eventually balloon to over $1 trillion. 

This was somewhat of a U-turn for the US president, whose administration in 2014 told the Pentagon it needed to set aside money for 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers and 400 land-based missiles, which can either be built from scratch, or refurbish existing models. 

The statement about needing to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal also contradicted a speech he made in April 2009, in which Obama outlined his dream of a planet free from nuclear weapons in a speech in Prague. 

“We must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century,” Obama said at the time. “As a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it; we can start it.” 

Over seven years since making that speech in Prague, it seems as though Obama is once again committed to implementing what he said, despite opposition that he is facing in Congress and the Senate.

“It’s pretty clear the Prague agenda has stalled,” Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which supports groups advocating for nuclear nonproliferation, told the Washington Post. “There isn’t anything that the president does that isn’t criticized by his opponents, so he might as well do what he wants. He’s relishing his last days in office.” 

Showing just what a battle Obama faces, in June two leading Republican urged Obama to stick with the nuclear modernization plans. 

Citing comments made by Rhodes on June 6, the Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain and Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker said that the president is bound by commitments he made in Congress. 

“We are concerned Mr. Rhodes' comments may presage efforts, such as a rumored ‘Blue Ribbon’ panel, to review the modernization program you promised to fund for as long as you are president, which would obviously contradict your personal promise to the Senate and military necessity,” Corker and McCain wrote in a letter released on June 17, according to Defense News.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that the Kremlin hasn’t received any notifications from the US about extending the New START treaty.

“We don’t know anything about it,” he told journalists.