No strategic arms beyond national borders

The new agreement on strategic weapons between Russia and the US must ban their deployment outside the territory of the two countries, said Russia’s deputy prime minister Sergey Ivanov.

He was speaking at the 45th annual security conference in Munich, where leaders and diplomats from around the world have gathered to discuss the most pressing issues of international policy.

The hawkish Russian official was referring to the START-1 agreement, which is due to expire his year. The arms reduction treaty signed in 1991 limited the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

He added that another provision that the new treaty should include is the demilitarisation of space.

Sergey Ivanov also spoke about the American anti-missile system in Eastern Europe. He said the shield would undermine Russia’s deterrence capabilities. He also mentioned the plans to deploy Iskander short-range missiles in Kaliningrad region, but said Russia will not do so if the US halts its anti-missile plans.

Moscow is calling for the rapid implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which, according to Ivanov, is an important instrument for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear arms reduction. Ivanov said the countries that have not signed the document and are thus blocking it from coming into force must do so as soon as possible.

The CTBT came into being in 1996, and so far 150 nations have ratified it. Notable absentees include North Korea, India and Pakistan. The document lists the three nuclear states among the countries that must sign the treaty for it to come into force.

Munich conference: armed conflicts on agenda

This year's security conference has no shortage of issues to discuss: war in the Caucasus and the Middle East, financial turmoil and the new administration in Washington.

In 2007, former Russian president Vladimir Putin made a hard-hitting speech criticizing the unipolar system of the world. This time, Russia will try to push forward its own security agenda focusing on a new collective security treaty.

“The Challenges to security are becoming increasingly wider and increasingly global, but the answers provided are becoming ever more limited in scope and nature…no single organisation active in the whole of the euro atlantic space is capable of addressing today’s risks and challenges to security,” said Vladimir Chizhov, permanent Russian representative to the European Community.

Russian officials question the effectiveness of NATO, the organization that was created as a defensive alliance to counter any possible threat from the USSR during the Cold War.

“Now what we see is that NATO has evolved into an attacking alliance…waging wars in the Balkans and Afghanistan,” said Adrian Pabst, an analyst at the Univeristy of Nottingham in London.

The work of the NATO-Russia council has been frozen since August.

Russia was then accused of a disproportionate response to Georgia’s attack against the former break-away region of South Ossetia. Many experts agree though that ice will melt as the alliance needs Russia’s support.

“Afghanistan is seen as a very logical area of common interest since neither country in the region wants to see a Taliban resurgence. No NATO country individually has been able transport non-lethal cargo through the territory of Russia,” said analyst Richard Weitz of the Hudson Institute in New York.

Russia is now ready to extend a helping hand.

This year the American delegation is led by Vice-president Joe Biden. His speech might give hints of President Obama’s stance on foreign policy. Washington made it clear it is ready to take a break in tensions with Russia.

Said Weitz: “The hope is that Biden might use the opportunity to at least signal the American interest in working with Russia.”

Washington seems ready to once again sign up to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, from which George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew.

Moscow has already welcomed the move but wants to know the new administration’s plans on the missile defense system in Europe.

“It looks like Obama is not going to go ahead with this, essentially for economic reasons…too expensive, the Americans cannot afford to spend 20 million dollars or indeed more,” said Adrian Pabst.

Obama’s decision is likely to determine the mood of talks between Moscow and Washington.

This year Munich has attracted unprecedented international attention. With more than 70 big-name delegates, including several presidents on the list, the conference could offer a better idea on what future international relations will look like.