“Nuclear disarmament is in both US and Russian interests” – ex-ambassador

Russia and the US could be closer than ever to signing a new arms reduction treaty. Thomas Pickering, a former US ambassador to Russia, believes that a state of zero-weapons is just a matter of time for both.

“Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union both understood that their national survival depended upon a sane nuclear posture and the ability to reduce, and we have gone down from perhaps collectively 60,000 nuclear weapons to below 25,000 now. And people have observed these agreements because it’s in their interest to do so. And they continue because they believe it’s in their interest, and both President Medvedev and President Obama have, over the last year, again committed themselves to move in the direction of zero weapons,” Thomas Pickering said.

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Barack Obama confirmed his commitment to the deal in Wednesday's State of the Union Address.

Both President Obama and President Medvedev have said that nuclear danger is a priority for both. It has taken too long to negotiate arms control reduction. But we should anticipate that in the next few weeks they will conclude this agreement,” says Doctor Graham Allison, from the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. “That will be one of the elements of action in the year 2010, which has got to be the year of delivery with respect to all the promises that were made in 2009.”

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But even if the new nuclear arms reduction treaty is signed soon, it could be some time before it comes into force, believes John Isaacs from the Center for Arms Control and Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

“Here we are, almost 20 years after the Cold War ended, and both the US and Russia still have huge [numbers of] – many tens of thousands – nuclear weapons. There are about 23,000 nuclear weapons across the globe, and Russia and the US have over 90% of them. And this treaty is designed to begin the reduction process, which then has to go much further beyond this treaty. The US Senate takes a long time to deal with this treaty, so even if the two presidents of Russia and the United States signed an agreement let’s say the next month, by February, it still will take several months, maybe many months, before the US Senate ratifies,” John Isaacs says.

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Gareth Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister, who chaired Friday's meeting, claims that a realistic goal has to be for nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles to just 10 per cent of their current amount.

“The big guys, including the US and Russia, in particular, really have to lead the way on disarmament, if we really are going to get the necessary buy-in that we need from all the other countries to support many complex and difficult strategies that are needed to stop other new countries requiring nuclear weapons,” Evans said. “It’s a long-term objective, but it is achievable in a long term.”

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Meanwhile, director of the MacArthur Foundation in Moscow Igor Zevelev says the economic forum in Davos is a good opportunity to discuss global issues informally, including non-proliferation.

Deterring states from developing nuclear weapons will be among the topics in Davos. It is one of the last chances for 189 signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to meet before a conference in May.

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