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Wednesday, 15 July 2009

How US Missile Defense Plans Sabotaged Nuclear Disarmament Talks With Russia


Although Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to work for a nuclear weapons free world this spring, they failed to take meaningful steps at their July summit to put the world on the proper path to nuclear abolition. Disappointingly, they only agreed to minor cuts in their respective weapons arsenals due to US unwillingness to cancel its plans to put missile and radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic which Russia views as a threat to its security. Essentially we have come full circle to the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik, when negotiations for the total abolition of nuclear weapons tragically collapsed because Reagan wouldn't give up U.S. plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative to dominate space.

Clinton similarly rejected opportunities to take up Putin's proposal to cut our nuclear arsenals to 1,000 warheads. After Russia's ratification of START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 2000, Putin called for new talks to reduce long-range missiles from 3,500 to 1,500 or even 1,000, upping the ante from planned levels of 2,500 warheads. This forward-looking proposal was accompanied by Putin's stern caveat that all Russian offers would be off the table if the United States proceeded to build a National Missile Defense (NMD) in violation of the ABM Treaty. Astoundingly, U.S. diplomatic "talking points" leaked by Russia to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists revealed that Clinton was urging Russia it had nothing to fear from NMD as long as Russia kept 2,500 weapons at launch-on-warning, hair-trigger alert. Rejecting Putin's offer to cut to 1,000 warheads, the United States assured Russia that with 2,500 warheads it could overcome a NMD shield and deliver an "annihilating counterattack"! If the Clinton administration had instead embraced Putin's plan, the United States and Russia would have been able to call all nuclear weapons states to the table — even those with arsenals in the hundreds or fewer — to negotiate a treaty to ban the bomb. Bush unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, pursuing U.S. plans "to dominate and control the military use of space, to protect U.S. interests and investments," as set forth in the U.S. Space Command's Vision 2020 mission statement and the Rumsfeld Commission Report of 2000.

Had Obama been willing to forego the illusory US missile shield (which is incapable of offering any protection against incoming missiles, since those missiles could easily be accompanied by a barrage of indistinguishable decoys rendering the missile defenses useless) Russia might well have agreed to larger reductions in their mutual arsenals which together now total about 25,000 warheads with only about 1,000 more in the possession of all seven other nuclear powers—UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. If the US and Russia agree to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear bombs to 1,000 or less, they would then have the moral authority required to bring all the nuclear weapons states to the negotiating table to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The numerous responses from US experts and commentators that have been highly critical and dismissive of Obama's goal for nuclear abolition make it apparent that Obama must overcome the resistance of rusty cold warriors in the Pentagon and weapons labs to achieve a nuclear-free world. But he must also address the drivers for space weapons and missile shields--the millions of dollars spent unconscionably by Pentagon contractors now staffed by former Congress members and Capitol Hill aides. This corrupt revolving door system lobbies Congress and finances the re-election campaigns of members who can then be relied upon to keep the military-industrial-academic-congressional complex in the money to the detriment of nuclear disarmament and world peace.

Alice Slater is NY Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a founder of Abolition 2000.