MOSCOW, April 7th (Washington Post) - As President Obama prepares to sign a landmark arms control treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a chorus of skeptics here is quietly expressing concerns that Moscow has conceded too much in the deal.
The concerns, fueled by lingering suspicions and anxieties about the vast superiority of U.S. conventional forces, will do little to interfere with the signing of the new treaty in Prague on Thursday. But they will make further progress toward Obama's goal of a world without nuclear weapons extremely difficult.
In a sign of the Kremlin's own unease about how the treaty will be received in Russia, neither Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has uttered a word in public about it, even as Obama called a news conference to celebrate the conclusion of the talks and followed up this week by unveiling the findings of his administration's review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
Criticism of the new treaty has focused on its failure to set any limits on U.S. plans to build a European missile defense shield -- long a point of friction with Russia -- as well as a change in rules that will make it easier for the Pentagon to keep nuclear warheads in storage and quickly rebuild the U.S. arsenal if necessary. Others have delivered an even broader critique, questioning whether the entire post-Cold War enterprise of nuclear disarmament, including the expired 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, has served Russia's interests.
"The departing point or assumption of the critics is that the previous treaty was detrimental to Russian security, and the new treaty, which contains more concessions of Russia to the United States, will be still more detrimental," said Alexei Arbatov, an arms control scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center and former member of parliament.
The treaty calls for both Russia and the United States to cut their deployed arsenals to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 missile silos and bombers each, with an additional 100 such launchers permitted to be in repair or other non-combat status.
On the ground, experts say, the treaty will ultimately require a U.S. reduction of about 100 launchers, the equivalent of two squadrons of Minuteman III missiles or four antiballistic missile submarines. Russia, however, already deploys fewer launchers than the ceiling set by the treaty.
The limit on warheads should result in cuts by both nations. How deep the actual reductions will be is unclear, though, because of a new provision that counts bombers as carrying one warhead each regardless of how many are stored on their bases or they are capable of carrying.