Wednesday, June 27, 2007

We'll always have Votkinsk

Reuters reports that on Tuesday Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by Interfax in remarks in Votkinsk, Russia that his country has begun mass producing Topol-M inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs): "we are now entering a new and crucial stage of reequipping all of the strategic nuclear forces and operational and tactical systems."

Verification fans will recall Votkinsk fondly as the site of the first on-site inspections for verification of negotiated limits on nuclear arms agreed to by the former Soviet Union under the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – a Treaty Russia threatened to leave in February. Although U.S. and Russian on-site inspection rights under the Treaty ended in 2001, continued observance of the Treaty’s limitation reflects both the shared interest in avoiding a resumed arms race and a hopeful model for global limitations on intermediate range missiles.

Both purposes appear to have lost their charm for President Vladimir Putin. When asked by Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail earlier this month how Russia might respond to the proposed American deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, President Putin specifically denied that Russian missile acquisition and potential abandonment of the INF Treaty are linked to the proposal, but replied that “As far as the INF treaty is concerned, this is a broader issue and it does not relate directly to missile defence systems of the United States. The thing is that only the United States and the Russian Federation bear the burden of not developing intermediate-range missiles, and the other countries are involved in this – Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, South Korea even, as far as I'm concerned. . . . If everyone complied with it, then it would be clear, but when other countries in the world are fighting to pursue such efforts, then I do not understand why the U.S. and Russia should place such restrictions on themselves. We are considering what we should do in order to ensure our security . . . a lot of countries are involved in these efforts, including our neighbours. I repeat that this does not have anything to do with the U.S. plans to deploy missile defences in Europe. We are going to find responses to both threats, though.”

While one may think President Putin protests the linkage to European missile defense a bit too much, and find his suggestion that a global treaty would be better to be cynical, the U.S. effort to multilateralize the INF Treaty following the fall of the former Soviet Union suggests the sort of expansion of verification provisions developed during the Cold War that could contribute to greater global confidence in a strengthened nonproliferation regime.

Unlikely as it seems today, and even as Votkinsk becomes the birthplace of a new generation of Russian ICBMs, we should keep in mind that if we succeed in realizing President Reagan’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons – given new life in January in the Wall Street Journal by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn – Votkinsk (along with Magna, Utah) will be where on-site inspection for nuclear disarmament was first achieved and this counterintuitive achievement should remind us that positive change is possible through careful and innovative diplomacy.

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