x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New START is small step to a safer world

The new US-Russia accord is a good start, but only with greater collective vision will nuclear symbolism be translated into lasting peace of mind.

On one hand it was a key political victory. The nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia, approved by the US Senate yesterday, gives President Barack Obama an important win in an increasingly divided Congress.

But to the rest of the world, and especially to governments in the Middle East, it is the symbolic aspects of the treaty's ambitions that merit the most attention. Reducing the number of the world's nuclear weapons is in the interest of all nations, not just those who possess them. Washington and Moscow have just moved the ball forward.

But hypocrisy has a way of undermining the best of intentions. Had Mr Obama failed to win Senate support, and the United States not committed to reducing the size of its arsenal, it would have been easy to be sceptical about his efforts to rein in Iran's contested nuclear programme or challenge the North Koreans. Now that a US-Russia deal is on his desk, pressure against these and other regimes can progress with vigour. Mr Obama can also continue to advocate a world free of nuclear weapons, as he has done repeatedly since taking office.

Hard work remains. For one, Russia's parliament must also approve the treaty. Moscow should in turn use its influence to cajole Iran - whose nuclear ambitions are a significant challenge to regional security.

This is not outside the realm of the possible. Moscow is already providing fuel to Iran's only operational civilian nuclear reactor at Bushehr. As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia could play a key role in convincing Iran to alter course.

New START, as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is known, is far from perfect. While the deal cuts each side's deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550, that's still leaves "enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come", in the words of the Republican senator Lamar Alexander, who supported the measure. Tactical nuclear weapons are not covered, nor are warheads that are in storage.

And yet, Mr Obama still claims a "world without nuclear weapons" is possible. To get there, governments must be willing to step up. One way to do that is to recognise that local enrichment capabilities are not necessary for civilian power programmes, and often produce material that can fall into the wrong hands. The UAE has acknowledged as much. Other nations, including Israel and Iran, should follow suit.

Mr Obama is off to a good start, but only with greater collective vision will nuclear symbolism be translated into lasting peace of mind.