What Obama's Russian Nukes Treaty Accomplishes

The milestone in U.S.-Russia relations was signed in Prague today

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The White House announced in March that President Obama would be signing the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. Today, Obama and Medvedev meet in Prague to formalize the treaty and, both leaders hope, enter a new era where nuclear weapons will be less prominent. Here's what's happening and why it matters.

  • It's About Restoring U.S.-Russia Friendship  The New York Times' Peter Baker reports, "While the treaty will mandate only modest reductions in the actual arsenals maintained by the two countries, it caps a turnaround in relations with Moscow that sunk to rock bottom in August 2008 during the war between Russia and its tiny southern neighbor, Georgia. When he arrived in office, Mr. Obama made restoring the relationship a priority, a goal that coincided with his vision expressed here a year ago of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons." However, "they found no common ground on American plans to build an anti-missile shield in Europe to counter any Iranian threat. Mr. Obama refused Russian demands to include limits on missile defense in the treaty, nearly scuttling the agreement."
  • Making The World Safer  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton writes in the Guardian that the top U.S. goal is to "make America and the world safer by reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, proliferation and terrorism." She calls out nuclear rogues like Iran and North Korea, "To those who refuse to meet their international obligations and seek to intimidate their neighbours: the world is more united than ever before and will not accept your intransigence."
  • Don't Worry About GOP Blocks  Slate's Fred Kaplan waves aside fears that Senate Republican will block the treaty, which requires 67 Senate votes to ratify. "Though Republicans in the Senate will be desperate to block a nuclear-arms treaty that adds to Obama's political luster, they will have a hard time mustering any objections to this treaty on substantive grounds."
  • Full of Fuzzy Math  Daniel McGroarty writes in RealClearWorld, "don't expect the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to turn back the doomsday clock - and don't expect New START to shame the rogues of the world into abandoning their nuclear dreams." He surveys the "fuzzy math" that he says permeates the treaty, making it look more revolutionary than it really is. For example, the treaty now counts each bomber as "one" nuclear weapon, though the bombers can carry over a dozen warheads each.
  • 'Reagan Would Approve'  So announces the Daily Beast's John Avlon, comparing the Obama and Reagan goals of nuclear reduction. He reports, "it is members of Reagan’s administration and their contemporaries who see the continuity of vision between Obama and Reagan, albeit only in the nuclear policy area." That conservatives declaring themselves loyal to Reagan so misunderstand Reagan's legacy and attack Obama over nuke police indicates just how misunderstood the Gipper has become: "In the continued wrestling over Reagan’s legacy, the best living authorities are the people who knew him best."
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