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Getting a 'New START' on the next negotiations

Today will be Ellen Tauscher’s final day as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Rose Gottemoeller is expected to be named as her successor for the time being. As the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Gottemoeller negotiated New START for the US and this weekend marked the one year anniversary of its entry into force.

Its first year has been a success. The US and Russia have exchanged 1,800 notifications on numbers, locations, and technical characteristics of weapons systems and facilities to help track movements and changes. Furthermore, comprehensive data exchanges are made every six months to account for where weapons systems are located, whether they are out of their deployment or operational bases, or have been retired. And, both countries have performed the 18 onsite inspections that they are allowed per year. But New START itself did not go as far as many had hoped nor did it include many important issues that remain as contention points between the US and Russia.

It was originally expected by the Administration and Congress that tactical nuclear weapons and non-deployed strategic warheads would be up next on the negotiation agenda. It is understood that the US has approximately 200 B-61 gravity bombs deployed in six bases across Europe, out of its approximately 500 tactical nuclear weapons in its active arsenal. Meanwhile, it is believed that Russia has over 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons positioned close to Europe. The Russians have said they want the US’ B-61 gravity bombs out of Europe before they would agree to anything else.

In an interview in January, Gottemoeller told Maria Tabek of Ria Novosti that the Administration is in a “homework period,” preparing the way for new negotiations, but they are not ready to embark upon anything concrete. The homework involves strategic conceptualizing on, for example, a definition of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons that both countries can agree upon. Gottemoeller has mentioned in the past that one way to move forward with Russia on the next round of nuclear reductions would be to lump all warheads together and counting ones assigned to both strategic and sub-strategic/tactical delivery systems.

The complexity is that bilateral arms control negotiations between the US and Russia also involves European and NATO countries, and the opinion of allies is deemed by the Administration to be of great importance. Gottemoeller admitted that she is unable to predict how long this important “homework” phase will take, but it is clear that because of the US involvement in the deterrence and defence posture review with NATO, any negotiations with the Russians on tactical nuclear weapons will be stalled until after the NATO summit in May so the Administration can move forward with the explicit support of its allies.