What Comes after START?

Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexander Golts thinks that the Russians are in no hurry to conclude any talks about arms treaties with the United States.

The real question is whether Moscow has any desire for a compromise or a new treaty. President Dmitry Medvedev’s announcement, voiced by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at an arms reduction conference in Geneva on Saturday, sets two preconditions. First, it demands that both warheads and delivery vehicles should be counted. The second, a suggestion to prohibit deployment of nuclear arms beyond national territory, is a bit of a mystery. If this is only a reiteration of the numerous limitations already included in START I, it is unclear why Russia is emphasizing this demand now. I suspect, however, that Moscow plans to consider not only the traditional nuclear triad of land-, submarine- and strategic bomber-based missiles as strategic arms but also elements of missile defense systems. Moscow thereby proposes that the United States cancel plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Central Europe. That condition alone could cause the negotiations to drag on for years.

I am not at all sure that the Kremlin actually wants to see the negotiations conclude quickly. After all, strategic arms talks allow the Kremlin to assuage its inferiority complex and raise Russia to the status of being the only country definitely capable of destroying the world’s mightiest superpower. If an agreement is reached quickly, Russia’s foreign policy authors will inevitably be left with the question: What more can we discuss with the United States the day after the new treaty is signed?