Moving Past START

Moving Past START

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control under Obama and Medvedev

Since assuming office in late January 2009, President Barack Obama and his senior foreign policy advisers have resurrected the traditional approach toward Russian-American strategic arms control negotiations pursued by U.S. administrations during the 1990s. After an initial internal review and successful talks between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on March 6, the Obama administration decided to attempt to negotiate a new strategic arms control agreement before the existing START accord expires on Dec. 5, 2009. At their July 6-7 summit in Moscow, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a "joint understanding" that offers a general framework for negotiating their next agreement on strategic nuclear weapons. They also released a joint statement on missile defense as well as documents pledging both parties' cooperation on other international security issues.

Despite these agreements, Russia and the United States will probably find it challenging to meet their ambitious deadline of reaching a new strategic arms control agreement by year's end. Russian and American officials have yet to agree on the specific number of warheads and delivery systems each side can retain and the rules for counting them, how to verify any agreement, and other issues directly related to their strategic offensive nuclear forces. The two governments also have different visions of what subjects should be covered in a START follow-on treaty. While the Obama administration wants to limit the range of topics addressed in the current talks to increase the prospects of negotiating and ratifying an agreed-upon text by early December, Russian officials have indicated they expect the next treaty to deal with such contentious subjects as ballistic missile defense and the use of conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles.

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