Saturday, 28 November, 2020
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OPINION

Strategic Stability And Trust



Hira Bahadur Thapa 

Strategic stability and trust play a crucial role in maintaining global peace and security. Global nuclear arms race has always posed a serious threat to world peace. As countries compete in producing nuclear weapons, the more lethal of which are the strategic ones, the global community faces a bigger risk. Having realised that the disadvantages of nuclear weapons outweigh their advantages, the countries have endeavoured to slash their possession though complete elimination of such deadly weapons remains the ultimate goal of world community.
Nuclear disarmament has remained a utopian idea despite its provision in the 1970 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which so far is the only existing and most universally adhered international agreement seeking to establish a global regime of nuclear non-proliferation. This treaty has faced many ups and downs in its history of 50 years; nonetheless, its value cannot be dismissed in curbing the number of nuclear-armed nations. As warned by former US President Kennedy in the early 1960s the number of such states would have spiked many folds had there been no nuclear nonproliferation regime in place.
Spurred by the NPT which came into effect in 1970 following years of complex negotiations, the US and Russia, the world’s two dominant powers possessing 90 per cent of nuclear weapons worldwide, engaged bilaterally negotiating various nuclear arms control agreements. Notable among US-Russia agreements concluded are Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) 1972, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) 1979, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) 1987, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) 1991, and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) 2010.

Bilateral agreements
Of all the above bilateral arms control agreements in the field of nuclear weapons, the 2010 New START is considered to be the gold standard. It has outlived every other bilateral arms control treaty. It is because New START is the sole instrument that keeps a new nuclear arms race at bay. This treaty is the first nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia that sought to replace the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in 2009. It was negotiated and signed during President Obama’s first term. Then Obama had played a pioneering role in persuading his Russian counterpart Medvedev to agree to New START.
The name of the 2010 treaty suggests that it has new elements that are vital in curtailing the nuclear arms race focusing on the strategic weapons. It has played a central role in keeping the peace and preventing a dangerous arms race between US and Russia. In nuclear arsenals the warheads that hit the targets and the missiles that form the part of delivery system have important roles to play. Nuclear warheads are too deadly to describe in terms of catastrophe they lead to. Equally significant are the missiles which make them threaten on account of the distance they cover in carrying the nuclear warheads.
Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are the category of delivery system that makes any nation’s nuclear stockpiles more terrifying. Such missiles can reach the target beyond continent. That is why when nuclear threshold North Korea claimed to have tested such missiles, it sounded a great alarm to the international community despite its leader’s off and on nuclear negotiations with President Trump. Sadly, though such negotiations have stalled since February 2019 when US-North Korea Hanoi talks collapsed without agreeing on anything.
The New START obligated both the US and Russia, the two signatories to limit the number of their nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them. By imposing ceilings of 1550 strategic weapons and 700 delivery vehicles (missiles) for each party, the treaty has contributed much in slashing the stockpiles of nuclear big powers. This is the only treaty that has helped to significantly reduce the nuclear weapons belonging to the US and Russia and has thus signaled to the outside world that nuclear arms reduction is doable.
Furthermore, by arranging a Bilateral Consultative Commission to address the differences that may arise between the parties on the question of treaty’s implementation, the New START has strengthened the regime of verification. Effective verification measures are vital in ensuring transparency and predictability. The treaty provides for a verification regime that is reciprocal and effective so that any cheating from the signatory can be easily detected.
By bolstering transparency and predictability, the treaty has enhanced strategic stability and trust. This is essential for supporting the already existing nuclear non-proliferation regime as enshrined in the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons. Under Article VI of the NPT, all parties have obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament. Major nuclear powers’ adherence to the New START counts much in convincing other parties to fulfill their obligations of the global treaty they have become parties to.

Replacement treaty
Notwithstanding the above the treaty is in trouble now as its expiration is only a few months away. Unless extended based on agreement between the two parties the New START is set to collapse. Hopefully, the negotiators from the signatory countries are engaged in negotiations and would reach a conclusion to avoid treaty’s demise at a moment of growing international fragility. Indications are that the US-Russian negotiators are progressing in bridging their differences on issues of extension. Reportedly Russia has consented to extend for one year with freeze on the number of nuclear warheads.
It is believed that the US is keen to include China as one of the parties in the extended treaty. At the time of this writing no final version of the treaty is available but optimistically both the parties won’t let the US-Russia arms control system totally collapse by refusing the replacement treaty. It is a moment for building strategic stability and trust for which New START’s extension is essential.

(The author is the former foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. thapahira17@gmail.com) 

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