The World from Berlin: Arms Deal More 'Illusion than Reality,' But Still a Good START

Washington and Moscow signed a new nuclear disarmament treaty on Thursday. Although the world's largest nuclear powers will still have more than 1,500 missiles each, German commentators say the treaty marks a positive development in relations between the United States and Russia.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at Prague Castle, where they signed the historic treaty on Thursday. Zoom
REUTERS

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at Prague Castle, where they signed the historic treaty on Thursday.

On Thursday, United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev signed a treaty in which both nations agreed to reduce their total number of deployed nuclear warheads by 30 percent.

The nuclear game has changed for both countries since the end of the Cold War and the advent of global terrorism. Gone are the "doomsday machines" of the 1960s, which have been replaced by fears of dirty bomb-toting Islamic radicals, imbalanced dictators, separatists and beligerent states.

Both Obama and Medvedev publicly called the treaty "historic" -- and German commentators tend to agree on Friday. The papers suggest that by acting bilaterally with Moscow and pushing relations forward that had stalled under the previous government of George W. Bush, Obama will have better means at his disposal for dealing with problems like Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon or ensuring that an atomic bomb doesn't wind up in the hands of terrorists.

The left-leaning Die Tagezeitung writes:

"First the good news: There's a new treaty for nuclear disarmament. And another item of good news: Compliance will be verifiable. After eight years of President George W. Bush's refusal to put arms control measures in place, that alone is a success. Furthermore, by making disarmament verifiable, you can build confidence."

"But that's the extent of the good news. The agreed upon terms of disarmament are more illusion than reality. The United States only has to remove a couple dozen nuclear carrier systems, and Russia is allowed to procure 200 new ones -- at least if it has the money for them. And in the future, only deployed nuclear warheads will be tallied -- not those kept as reserves -- thus making the actual disarmament figures smaller than they truly are. There's a second trick in it, too: Bombers that can carry up to 20 nuclear weapons no longer count as 10 bombs as they did up until now; instead, they count as one. In this way, both nations will be able to keep a few hundred more bombs than the agreed upon limit of 1,550."

"Finally, there's one piece of really bad news in this agreement: Russia and the United States will modernize their nuclear arsenals. At least that's the case according to the 'Nuclear Posture Review' presented by President Obama on Tuesday. If implemented, the US' nuclear arsenal would remain active well past 2050 and possibly into the 22nd century."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The Russian-American nuclear disarmaent treaty is about reducing the number of strategic warheads on both sides over the next 10 years to 1,550 -- more than enough to ensure balance, deterrence and prestige. But the most important point is that the new treaty represents an end to the ice age between Moscow and Washington and carries with it confidence-building measures, including on-site inspections, transparency and predictability."

"It is in the interest of both sides to dispose of the old 'overkill system'. The security and maintenance of the system is too expensive and complex, and it makes little military sense in light of new threats -- from cyber war right up to terrorism inspired by religious fanaticism. Both sides also share a common interest in preserving and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. The treaty arose out of fear and reason following the nuclear confrontations between the Americans and Soviets in Berlin and Cuba, and it is at the same time the most important and vulnerable article of world order."

"The treaty rests upon this equation: The five legitimate atomic powers agreed to disarmament and concurrently support non-nuclear nations to utilize nuclear energy for civilian purposes. India, Israel and Pakistan have stayed outside of the system and today possess nuclear weapons; North Korea has withdrawn from the treaty; and Iran aspires to have nuclear weapons."

"Thursday's START treaty was overdue and should be greeted without objections. But the Americans worryingly eyeball Russia's superior number of tactical nuclear weapons and their role within Russia's new military doctrines. With respect to the United States, the Russians are concerned about the American technological trend towards smaller, laser-like nuclear weapons and high-performance conventional warheads."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"After 20 years there is finally a comprehensive agreement between the two great nuclear powers that prescribes a balance. In 2002, Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty limiting the possibility of missle defense systems. And he didn't care about strategic parity with Moscow -- he wanted to make America's supremacy in the world unsurpassable, even as a nuclear power."

"Obama won't give up the planned missle-defense system and he won't willfully compromise American security, either. But he will relinquish some of the US' ambition towards absolute dominance. That's why he's put the missile defense shield and the nuclear disarmament treaty back on the table with Russia. Consequently, Russia gained more from this agreement than the United States because its aging nuclear arsenal would otherwise inevitably fall behind. The US president is attempting to use strategic reserve in order to overcome the feelings of distrust and animosity that built up in recent years. The treaty builds trust -- even if more of that will be needed to make courageous cuts in the size of the nuclear arsenal."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"For Russia, the new treaty is symbolic proof that it can be on par with the United States at the bargaining table. But that's just window-dressing: Russia has already lost the geopolitical competition, and its leaders know that. The primary concerns for Putin's and Medvedev's Russia is whether the massive country, which is threatened by hot spots like the Caucasus, can manage to hold itself together and whether it can preserve its say in major international issues. Quantitative disarmament frees up resources for the qualitative betterment of its deterrence arsenal. At the same time, those resources can also be put towards the expansive military reform recently started by Moscow so that it can modernize its arsenal of conventional weapons and adjust to a security situation that has changed."

"For the United States, the new nuclear treaty -- in cojunction with its new nuclear doctrine that limits its use of nuclear weapons -- can be used as a measure for the purpose of limiting proliferation and keeping nuclear weapons from getting into the hands of countries that do not already have them or terrorist groups. In a few days, Washington will host a global nuclear summit, and in May reforms to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be negotiated in New York. Above all, Washington has its sights set on Iran's nuclear activities, for which it will need the help of Russia and China in order to pass stricter sanctions against the Islamic regime."

"Whether the new Russia-US nuclear pact will have its desired effect -- to bestow new momentum on global disarmament efforts and to strengthen Obama's goal of a nuclear weapons-free world -- is doubtful. Russia and the United States hold more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The only other remaining nuclear powers in the West -- France and Great Britain -- long ago reduced their arsenals to the minimal deterrent for financial reasons. Rising global power China won't feel affected by the treaty, the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs will remain within their own geopolitical sphere, and Israel will most certainly maintain its position of 'nuclear ambivalence'."

-- Eric Kelsey

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