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S.T.A.R.T Talking

U.S./Russia summit could significantly reduce tensions and nuclear arsenals

S.T.A.R.T Talking

Next week President Obama travels to Moscow to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Much of the focus of the meeting will be on negotiating a new The current treaty expires December 5. Can a new START treaty lead to disarmament and non-proliferation between these two nuclear powers?

The U.S. and Russia each currently have more than 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads, 95% of the world's total. It is estimated that no other country possesses more than 300 nukes. Many of the nuclear warheads in the U.S. and Russia are still on high alert from the Cold War days, which makes for a very unsafe scenario. U.S. and Russian diplomats have been meeting for preliminary talks, and many expect that the U.S./Russia summit next week will reveal a draft of a new START treaty.

Relations between the U.S. and Russia have been tense. When Russia went to war with Georgia over South Ossetia last August, the U.S. was quick to condemn Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as states and supported Georgia's sovereign borders. The expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe has also been a factor - seen by Moscow as a continuation of the Cold War attempt by the U.S. to isolate Russia. Georgia was promised future admission to NATO in 2008.

Another issue that is sure to be contentious is the U.S. plan to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe which would include 10 missile inceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. The U.S. says the system will only be used against potential threats from countries like Iran, but Russian leaders are highly skeptical. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in May that the U.S. has invited Russia to be a part of research efforts to choose sites for a U.S. missile defense base in Eastern Europe.

President Obama said during his Prague speech this April that the U.S. would not need a missile defense in Eastern Europe if the Iran threat goes away. However, relations with Iran and the U.S. do not seem to be getting better and may have been further stressed by Iran's crackdown on protesters after its presidential election.

Obama has touted a new START treaty as one of the essential and immediate next steps toward fulfillment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) disarmament articles. Indeed many nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament advocates agree that a new START treaty will reinvigorate and strengthen the NPT. The two nuclear giants can decide to increase their commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons by making deep and extensive cuts to their own nuclear weapons arsenals.

Can a new START treaty get the U.S. and Russia away from their Cold War mentality and toward better relations? What will a new START treaty mean for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament? How can Obama use his visit to Moscow to ease tensions and achieve nuclear arms reductions? What are the U.S.'s plans for an eastern European missile defense system? How does NATO expansion threaten U.S./Russian relations?