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6 Apr, 2010 07:42

Russia, US to reduce warheads by a third – Lavrov

The new Moscow-Washington nuclear arms reduction treaty, START, will be based on the principle of parity and indivisible security for all parties, Russia’s Foreign Minister has said.

Following months of tough negotiations, Russian and American Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama are due to meet in Prague on April 8 to sign a new nuclear arms reduction agreement. The new document will replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – known as START – which expired on December 5, 2009.

Read more about the history of the treaty

Prior to the meeting of the heads of state, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke to the media in Moscow to reveal some details about the new treaty.

According to the foreign minister, the two states have “fulfilled and even over-fulfilled” their commitments under the START treaty.

The preparations for a new agreement started several years ago, in autumn 2005, when “the Russian side proposed to the Americans to work on a new document.” However, he said, preliminary consultations with then-president George W. Bush and his administration demonstrated that American partners were not ready for work based on parity.

“The issue diverged from its core after a new administration came to the White House. At the meeting between Medvedev and Obama in London on April 1, 2009, it was decided to start negotiations on a new fully-fledged bilateral document on strategic offensive arms,” Lavrov said.

On the Russian side, an interdepartmental delegation approved by President Medvedev was taking part in the talks. The leader “personally controlled the process of negotiations and was directly involved in resolving the most difficult sticking points, in particular, during his regular meetings and telephone conversations with the US president,” Lavrov said. All in all, there were about 15 such contacts.

Speaking about the position of the Russian delegation, he said it was based on “well-balanced analysis of the situation in the sphere of nuclear arms, and on objective needs and capabilities of our state.”

“We have always believed that the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament is the principle of equal and indivisible security for all parties” and these, Lavrov said, are the principles that the parties adhered to when reaching an agreement.

“While working on this document we consistently tried for all its provisions to be based on the principle of parity,” the Russian top diplomat underlined. All agreements concerning disarmament – especially such an important one as a new START – are “based on an incredibly complicated complex of compromises that delegations work out during talks”.

“We need to preserve the balance of interests that determines the notion of strategic stability and we believe we have succeeded in doing this,” Lavrov stated. “Everyone will benefit from this predictability.”

According to the new agreement to be signed by Moscow and Washington, the two countries “will reduce and limit their strategic arms in such a way that seven years after it comes into force and later on the overall number on both sides will not exceed:”

- 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles and deployed heavy bombers;

- No more than 1,550 deployed warheads;

- 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and heavy bombers

The overall number of warheads will be reduced by a third, while delivery vehicles will be reduced by more than 50 per cent.

This, Lavrov noted, “demonstrates our commitment to following Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Differences between new and old treaties

The Foreign Minister noted that “unlike the previous START, the new treaty will allow the sides to determine the composition of their strategic offensive forces.” The same regime – that excludes specific verification measures over any systems – will apply to all strategic offensive arms.

“This will ensure parity and equal rights for both parties. This also reflects a new level of trust and confidence between Moscow and Washington,” Lavrov said.

The new treaty covers all strategic offensive arms regardless of their nuclear or non-nuclear load. Non-nuclear warheads are included in the maximum number of military payloads and their delivery vehicles are included in the overall number of vehicles. This, according to the minister, will help to further reduce intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with non-nuclear warheads and the effect they have on the general strategic stability.

“We believe that non-nuclear warheads can also destabilize the situation,” he added.

In addition, the two sides have agreed to simplify the verification, information exchange procedures and the procedure for dismantling and re-equipment of strategic offensive arms.

The new agreement does not include provisions that would require the exchange of telemetry. However, the two sides will continue doing it anyway in order to ensure “additional transparency and predictability.” The parameters of the telemetric information will be determined by each party on its own, though.

Offensive arms and AMD linked

Sergey Lavrov noted that unlike all the previous agreements, the new START will be signed in a situation when there are no limitations under international law for the development of strategic anti-missile defense.

Sergey Lavrov recalled that “in 2002 the American administration unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty” signed between Moscow and Washington in 1972.

“While working on the new treaty it was impossible to ignore the link between the strategic offensive arms and anti-missile defense,” Lavrov said. The new document includes a legally-binding link between the two.

“Besides that, the two parties have agreed not to re-equip and use ICBMs and SLBM launchers to deploy missile interceptors and vice versa,” Lavrov said. Also, the negotiators agreed have a clear dividing line between ICBM and SLBM and interceptor missiles. That, the minister added, “will increase the transparency of our programs in missile defense.”

Russia has right to pull out of the treaty if US increases ABM

The new treaty will be signed considering the levels of strategic defense systems that both countries have. If those levels change, both parties have a right to decide whether they are willing to continue taking part in the reduction of strategic offensive arms, Lavrov said.

“The Russian Federation will have a right to withdraw from the treaty if quantitative and qualitative increases in the US strategic missile defense potential start to have a considerable influence on the effectiveness of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Of course, it will be up to us to define the extent of that influence,” Lavrov stated.

"This issue will be specially mentioned in the Russian Federation's statement, which will be part of the package of documents on the strategic arms reductions," he said.

Meanwhile, Moscow is closely following the development of American plans to deploy missile defense system in Europe. “We have a dialogue and we want to discuss this subject openly,” Lavrov underlined.

Ideally, he said, “we want to start with joint assessment of threats and later on, when we have a common opinion on what these threats are and where they come from…we can start working to neutralize them.” Lavrov added that Moscow has always supported the idea that European countries would join Russia and US in working on the issue.

Nukes should not be replaced with equally-destabilizing weapons

The new treaty will be signed on the eve of the Washington summit on nuclear non-proliferation scheduled for April 12-13.

According to Lavrov, the signing of Russia-US treaty will help the process of nuclear disarmament. The minister said the document may become multilateral in the future.

”We encourage all the states without exception – and primarily those who possess nuclear arsenal – to join Russian and American efforts in the process of disarmament,” he said.

“We think it is very important to have a goal of a creating a nuclear free world,” Lavrov stated. Speaking of steps to be taken when moving in that direction, the Foreign Minister said it would be impossible to reach this goal without considering “a number of factors which could potentially destabilize the global strategic security.”

First of all, he said, that refers to arms in outer space. Lavrov mentioned the Russia-China backed proposal to sign an international treaty that would ban the deployment of arms in outer space. “At this point, not all countries support this initiative,” he added.

The second serious factor that may seriously destabilize the situation is strategic nuclear arms with non-nuclear warheads.

“Therefore, before we start discussing any practical steps towards the Global Zero, we need to consider these factors as well as other aspects of global security,” Lavrov said.

“I very much doubt that countries would agree to the situation when nuclear arms disappear and instead of that some members of the international community would get equally destabilizing non-nuclear arms that practically serve the same purpose,” he said.

“We want to get rid of nuclear arms not because we do not like nuclear weapons as such but because we do not want to have any kind of weapons that would destabilize the global situation,” Lavrov stressed, adding that this issue is something that will be discussed later.

After the long-discussed treaty is finally signed, it has to be ratified by the State Duma in Russia and the Congress in the US.

Presidents Medvedev and Obama have agreed that “this will be done without delay, as we expect, before the end of this month.”

Expert opinion

The whole treaty is based on a chain of compromises and both sides understand that it is very important not to make it shaky or do anything detrimental to this very important treaty, observed Armen Oganesyan, editor-in-chief of "International Affairs" magazine.

“It is also important for the sake of this treaty to refrain from building powerful non-nuclear strategic weaponry because its destructive force is very close, if not similar to, the destructive force of the nuclear weapons,” the observer pointed out.

“We can imagine there will be a temptation to use very powerful conventional weaponry in a regional conflict,” he said, “I cannot imagine nuclear weapons nowadays used in local wars.”

Negotiating conditions of the new START treaty, the Russian delegation has achieved the maximum concerning the strategic offensive weapons, believes retired Lieutenant-General, Evgeny Buzhinsky.

According to the Lieutenant-General, there are several important positions in the document.

Firstly, the interrelation of offensive and defensive strategic weapons is clearly written in the treaty in legally-binding form.

Secondly, the present configuration of strategic offensive weapons of both sides does not endanger the offensive potential of both countries.

Thirdly, neither side will use offensive missile silos for defensive use.

Fourthly, neither side will use strategic missile silos for interceptor missiles and vice versa.

Hans Kristensen, from the Federation of American Scientists, told RT that this treaty is significant as it views non-proliferation as a major goal alongside with the need to keep intact both nations’ deterrence power.

This makes it different from the previous version of the treaty, which was mainly focused on the military aspect.