President Barack Obama has made it clear since the beginning of his administration that negotiating a new nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia is a high priority.
In this new analysis, I lay out the enormous momentum building for a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires at the end of the year. I also foreshadow the political challenges in getting a new treaty through the Senate.
Here are five primary challenges I see in the future.
1. There is a short period of time available to complete all the details of an agreement (and there are many issues to be negotiated), produce the paperwork needed to go to the Senate, hold hearings, and find Senate floor time before the December 5 deadline. This may require a modest “first round agreement” by the end of the year that can then be bolstered by a “second round agreement” in 2010 or beyond.
2. So far this year, Republicans in Congress have met most of Obama’s initiatives with united opposition. It is not clear whether that attitude will extend to the START follow-on treaty.
3. Early indications suggest that Senators and former Republican officials who may support a modest follow-on treaty may not endorse reductions to 1,000 deployed nuclear weapons or fewer in a second stage of negotiations.
4. The startup of the negotiations has been slowed by key appointees only now taking their positions in the Obama administration. Moreover, the exodus of nuclear experts from government over the past eight years has resulted in a dearth of qualified officials available to implement Obama’s initiatives.
5. It is difficult for grassroots organizations to organize support for a treaty that has not yet been negotiated.