Nonproliferation turning pointPresident Barack Obama of the U.S. and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, made significant progress toward “a world without nuclear weapons” when they reached an agreement that would greatly reduce the number of deployed long-distance nuclear warheads and missiles.
The agreement, which is scheduled to be signed by the two leaders in Prague, follows the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia, which came to an end in December.
Once it takes effect on April 8 after ratification by the U.S. Congress and the Russian Parliament, the number of long-distance nuclear warheads in the countries will decrease from 2,200 to 1,550, and the number of land, marine and air missiles will drop from 1,600 to 800.
We hope that this agreement, which will go down as another milestone in the history of U.S.-Russia nuclear disarmament, will lead to normalization of the currently shaky nonproliferation regime.
It’s timed propitiously. In reaching the agreement right before the Global Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington in April and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty revision conference in New York in May, Obama has given himself leverage with which to urge other countries to stop nuclear development and expansion, and strengthen the restrictions on nuclear substances.
Nonetheless, nonproliferation remains a tall task. The 40-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system faces a serious challenge from Iran’s persistent inroads in developing nuclear weapons and the terrorist ambitions of radical groups.
India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea all developed their nuclear weapons outside the NPT system.
The example of the United States and Russia in actively pursuing regulated nuclear reduction will contribute to preventing the spread of nuclear arms and reviving the fundamental purpose of the NPT system - peaceful nuclear use.
However, this is not enough. The agreement does not address the nuclear weapons the countries keep in reserve, and the United States and Russia still possess 95 percent of the world’s total.
If they cannot get rid of all of them, the two countries should at least continue to empty out their stores of nuclear arms.
We still have a long way to travel toward nuclear disarmament. But if the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is ratified, international society will have more confidence in Obama’s strides toward nonproliferation.