The Prague Treaty
Yesterday, I woke up to the news that the world is now a little safer because Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed a new nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague. It calls for a 30% reduction in nuclear arms between now and 2020. It seemed all rosy and sunny until I looked a little more deeply into it.
With next week’s Washington Conference on Nuclear Weapons and next week’s Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference coming up, Washington and Moscow — which still control 90% of the world’s nukes — did come up with very creative (non)solutions in cobbling up a treaty together at the last-minute. It has fingerprints of the civil service all over it.
Let’s look into the details: “Each country is allowed 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear arms. Another 100 are allowed if they are not operationally deployed – for example, missiles removed from a sub undergoing a long-term overhaul.” (BBC) So far, so good right? No. Russia currently only has 566 deployed missiles, and the US, 798.
The limit for warheads is 1,550 — a 30% reduction. However, each heavy bomber is counted as one warhead irrespective of the fact that it might carry multiple bombs or missiles. A US B-52 carries up to 20 of them, and US has 44 of them; its Russian equivalent, Tu-95 carries 16 nukes, and Russia has 62 of them. Since both nations now have 2,200 and 2,600 deployed warheads, this clause may not even require both sides to reduce at all. (The Arms Control Association said the new limits are met by US cutting just 100 warheads, and Russia 190 — 5% and 7% cuts respectively).
Meanwhile, 2,000 non-deployed warheads stored in U.S. military warehouses were not counted in the treaty, nor were ‘hedge’ warheads, the warheads in reserve. US has 6700 of them, Russia 8,150. Meanwhile, nuclear defense budgets continue to rise in both countries. In US, although plutonium pits (the explosive core of nuclear weapons) are assessed to be sufficient for another century, the government has decided to manufacture about 50 to 80 pits per year thanks to Congressional earmarks. It is all politics, I think Obama’s gesture tonight said it all: to allay fears that the U.S. is abandoning them, he had to spend the night in Prague with Eastern European leaders and to call the Georgian President before signing the treaty.
I actually thought twice before posting this because I know the photo above is not iconic — the moment itself will be though — and I am drifting into some sort of political rant. But I am not ranting. I am just relieved to know that creaking old bureaucratic machine is alive and kicking.