The ice has broken

The ice has broken

A remarkable sequence of events in April has turned the spotlight on nuclear disarmament and global security. I am referring to the signing by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev of the new Start treaty, the Obama administration’s presentation of its nuclear doctrine and the nuclear security summit meeting in Washington attended by leaders of several dozen countries.

The ice has broken. The situation today is dramatically different from just two years ago. But has it changed enough to say that the process now under way is irreversible?
Let’s first look at the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which has already come under criticism. It has been deemed irrelevant and the reductions it calls for described as ‘creative accounting’. Though the cuts are indeed modest compared to those made under the treaty President Bush and I signed in 1991, the new treaty is a major breakthrough.
First, it resumes the process initiated in the second half of the 1980s, which made it possible to rid the world of thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of launchers.
Second, the strategic arsenals of the United States and Russia have once again been placed under a regime of mutual verification and inspections.

Third, the US and Russia have demonstrated that they can solve the most complex problems of mutual security, which offers hope that they will work together more successfully to address global and regional issues.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with the new Start treaty the two biggest nuclear powers say to the world that they are serious about their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to move toward eliminating nuclear weapons. By reviving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the treaty is a powerful tool for political pressure on those countries, particularly Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programmes have caused legitimate concern.

I have often been asked, in Russia and elsewhere, whether the process of nuclear disarmament could be scuttled by a build-up in the arsenals of other countries, for example China, Pakistan and India. This is a legitimate question. The least that the other members of the ‘nuclear club’ must do now is freeze their arsenals.
Further progress along the path of disarmament and nonproliferation would be facilitated by a statement from nuclear powers saying that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to prevent their use. Unfortunately, the new US nuclear doctrine does not go that far.
The new US doctrine emphasises that Russia is no longer an adversary. It declares the Obama administration’s intent to secure ratification of the treaty banning all nuclear testing and states that the US will not develop new nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has proposed bilateral dialogues on strategic stability with Russia and China.

Missile defence issues
Such a dialogue must include missile defence issues. After all, the interrelationship of strategic offensive arms and missile defence is recognised in the new Start.
The dialogue on strategic stability is certainly in Russia’s interest. To conduct it with confidence, we in Russia need a serious debate on the problem of missile defence, involving experts, members of parliament and the military. What kind of missile defence does Russia need? Should it be linked with the US missile defence system? These are political rather than ‘agency’ issues. Decisions on such issues will be with us for decades to come.

The US national security strategy, adopted in 2002 and still in effect, clearly proclaims the need for US global military superiority. This principle has in effect become an integral part of ‘America’s creed’. It finds specific expression in the vast arsenals of conventional weapons, the colossal defence budget and the plans for weaponising outer space. The proposed strategic dialogue must include all these issues. Reaching mutual understanding will take a sense of realism and long-term vision.
NATO is now discussing a new ‘strategic concept’, and for the first time it is consulting with Russia. I welcome this. Does it mean that NATO is ready to renounce the claim to include the entire world in its ‘zone of responsibility’ and instead work together with others within multilateral institutions vested with real authority and powers? I am sure Russia is ready to engage in such a discussion — and not Russia alone. For, whether we like it or not, the world today is multipolar.

The problems the global community faces are real and getting worse, many seemingly intractable, with no signs of progress. The West Asia settlement process is in a deep crisis. The world is still paying for the mistakes of US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Efforts to agree on a global climate policy are stalled. The mechanisms for fighting poverty and backwardness are dysfunctional.
In the final analysis, it all comes down to the lack of political will and failure of leadership. We need collective leadership. We have recently seen examples of what it can achieve. But what remains to be done is much more than what has been done.
Too much time was wasted after the end of the Cold War. The legacy of mutual suspicion, narrow self-interest and domination is still very much with us. The struggle between this legacy and new thinking will define international politics in the 21st century. We have not yet passed the point of no return.
(The writer was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991)