Editorial: U.S.-Russia summit strengthens momentum toward nuclear abolition

Efforts for nuclear disarmament, which made little headway in the past nearly ten years, have begun to again move forward. U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed at their first summit meeting to proceed swiftly with negotiations on a new treaty to reduce strategic nuclear arms. We hope this momentum can grow and beget the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The numbers of nuclear weapons held by the two nations together are estimated to be about 20,000, accounting for more than 90 percent of all nuclear weapons in the world. The two nations are expected to reach a treaty agreement by July that will reduce their 4,000~6,000 strategic nuclear weapons to roughly 1,500 each.

If the two nuclear superpowers take the initiative in terms of nuclear disarmament, this will have a significant impact on the world as well as on the other nuclear weapon states. As if indicating its support for the success of the negotiations, the U.K. has already announced its willingness to reduce its own nuclear arsenal.

We also hope the negotiations will send a message to Iran and North Korea, which are thought to be developing nuclear weapons. If the U.S. and Russia continue to cling to their nuclear arsenals while demanding that Iran and North Korea abandon their plans to produce such weapons, or destroy the weapons already in their possession, this will only breed resentment. For the message to be persuasive, the U.S. and Russia must adhere to the stance of reducing their own arsenals.

The U.S., which had obstinately refused to pursue a path of nuclear disarmament under the Bush administration, has shifted its stance as a result of its change in leadership. At the same time, a change in U.S. public opinion is also responsible for this new outlook. The idea that nuclear powers must take the lead in arms-reduction efforts in order to prevent rampant proliferation has spread throughout the U.S.

Former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who helped guide the nation’s policy of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, began to promulgate the view that the world needs to eliminate nuclear weapons in order to prevent the growing possibility that terrorists will obtain them.

Taking this concern into account, Mr. Obama has pledged to pursue “a world without nuclear weapons.” The negotiations involving the new treaty, though, must also serve Russian interests.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. began plans to construct missile defense (MD) facilities in the Czech Republic and in Poland. Though the U.S. explained that these facilities are intended to monitor Iran, the move evoked strong resentment from Russia. In addition, Russia is sensitive to the desires of its neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia, to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), “the Western military alliance.”

If Russia can draw concessions from the negotiations and improve the now-cool U.S.-Russian relationship brought about by the war between Russia and Georgia, this would serve the nation’s interests.

The details of the treaty have yet to be determined, but the pact should clearly stipulate both the numerical target for reducing nuclear weapons and the means for verifying the disarmament steps taken by the U.S. and Russia.

The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, or the Moscow Treaty, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce active strategic warheads, but does not oblige them to destroy these weapons. If the new treaty has such a “loophole,” its effect will be substantially diluted. Above all, a treaty of this nature will disappoint non-nuclear states.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, held once every five years, will convene in the spring of 2010. The previous conference produced no tangible results, due to the Bush administration’s negative view of nuclear disarmament. Now, however, we are hopeful that a path toward nuclear abolition will be forged through these negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.

(Originally published on April 3, 2009)

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