Arms Control Challenges Remain After New START

The ratification of the nuclear arms treaty with Russia is literally just a start. President Obama has mapped out further steps to limit nuclear weapons, all in entirely new territory. Both the U.S. and Russia have thousands of additional nuclear weapons in categories that have never been subject to limits — tactical nuclear weapons, non-deployed warheads that could be used in a crisis. Then there are the other nations that possess nuclear weapons, such as China, France and Britain, which have never been subject to arms control negotiations. These are just a few of the thorny issues that the Obama administration would like to see included in new arms control talks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

I'm Audie Cornish.

And we begin this house with the New START in the field of arms control. The Senate has ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia known as New START. Thirteen Republicans broke ranks with their leadership. The final vote, 71 to 26.

At a press conference today, President Obama had this to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: The strong bipartisan vote in the Senate sends a powerful signal to the world that Republicans and Democrats stand together on behalf of our security.

SIEGEL: In a moment we'll hear more about what exactly the treaty requires and how it will be implemented. But, first, we look ahead to life after New START. As NPR's Mike Shuster reports, President Obama is now set to push for action in areas of nuclear arms control that have never been tackled before.

MIKE SHUSTER: After the ratification of the New START treaty with Russia, the arms control agenda becomes very crowded and very complex. There are thousands of nuclear weapons in both the U.S. and Russia that are not limited by the New START treaty. There are shorter range tactical nuclear weapons that have never been the subject of a treaty. There are thousands of strategic warheads in reserve, also never the subject of negotiation.

With the ratification of New START, now they should be, says Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

Mr. DARYL KIMBALL (Director, Arms Control Association): I think it provides an important building block for the next steps. And I think among the next steps are further U.S./Russian reductions in all types of nuclear weapons, strategic and non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed.

SHUSTER: The next steps are not any easier to negotiate and ratify, says Miles Pomper of the Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Mr. MILES POMPER (Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies): We're looking at a lot of issues that are going to be quite sticky between the two countries. This treaty, in a way, was the easy treaty. The next round will be far more complicated.

SHUSTER: Here are some of the complications. The Russians enjoy a large advantage in smaller so-called tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons. Estimates range from 2,000 to 12,000. The Russians have said these weapons are essential to the defense of their homeland. The U.S., according to estimates, possesses some 400 of these smaller nuclear weapons, half of which are stationed in several NATO countries in Europe.

The Obama administration wants to tackle these non-strategic weapons. The Russians are not so eager. But now's the time, says Daryl Kimball.

Mr. KIMBALL: These weapons need to be accounted for. They need to be secured. They need to be dismantled so that they don't fall into the wrong hands at some point in the future.

SHUSTER: If the Russians possess far more tactical nuclear weapons than the U.S., the U.S. is way ahead on strategic nuclear weapons that are in storage but which could be redeployed on missiles, submarines and bombers in a crisis. That's the kind of imbalance that could be addressed in new talks, says Miles Pomper.

Mr. POMPER: There's a potential trade that could come out of future negotiations, given that the Russians have more non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons than we do and we have far more non-deployed weapons than they do. Some have suggested one way of bridging the difference between the two countries would be to put an overall cap on the number of weapons that the two countries have.

And that way we could cut our number of non-deployed weapons and they could cut their number of tactical nuclear weapons and there could be a trade between them.

SHUSTER: And there are other issues on the arms control agenda. Russia wants to make U.S. missile defense a part of talks between the two countries. There's little enthusiasm in the U.S. for that. And there's the comprehensive test ban treaty which would formally ban all nuclear tests. That was signed by President Clinton in 1996, but rejected by the Senate three years later.

In addition, some arms control advocates would like to see a follow-up to New START, which would limit strategic weapons deployed in the U.S. and Russia to 1,000 a piece. Many experts like Daryl Kimball believe that would then trigger the involvement of other nuclear armed nations, heretofore not involved in nuclear arms control.

Mr. KIMBALL: Currently, the British, the French, the Chinese, who have the next largest arsenals, are not very interested in a formal negotiation until the U.S. and Russia much more substantially reduce their total stockpiles.

SHUSTER: Just how the Obama administration is going to manage this overloaded basket of nuclear weapons issues is not yet clear.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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