Other Obstacles to Disarmament Exist Besides States Holding on to Nukes

It’s true that Russia seems to feel that it can’t divest itself of many more strategic nuclear weapons (the kind you’re familiar with). In his notes from the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann explains.

The 1000 warhead central limit posited for a New START follow-on agreement by numerous American analysts was also endorsed by Russian participants on two separate Carnegie panels. [But] Sergei Rogov of Russia’s USA and Canada Institute predicted that Russia would be willing to reduce to “something like 1000″ in the next round. He said this would be a likely floor for bilateral arms control because of Russia’s concern with maintaining clear superiority over Chinese and other third-party strategic systems.

But

Equally as circumscribing to further disarmament, though, are issues other than strategic nuclear weapons. There was also fresh evidence in the Carnegie discussions . . . that future enhancements of U.S. strategic missile defenses and Russian resistance to tactical nuclear weapons limits threaten to derail further progress. Indeed, [Carnegie Moscow's] Alexei Arbatov assessed “dim prospects” for a New START follow-on agreement. . . . not because of any problems inherent to a 1000 warhead limit [but] because of the difficulty of resolving the “thorny” issues [such as] missile defense . . . and tactical nuclear weapons.

It’s ironic that ancillary issues tie the hands of nuclear negotiators as much as reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons proper. This is especially the case in light of how laughable those issues are. Everyone knows that missile defense isn’t effective against the warheads of any nuclear state except maybe, on a good day, North Korea’s. As for tactical (scaled down for battlefield use) nukes, does Russia really foresee a time when it will be lighting those suckers off in the middle of a firefight, thus sowing radiation to all, friend or foe?