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A new START with Russia

President Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev announced plans to sign a new arms-control treaty that would set equal limits on the numbers of missiles, launchers, and nuclear warheads that each country can deploy.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced plans to sign a new arms-control treaty that would cut each nation’s long-range nuclear arsenals by nearly a third, breaking a logjam in negotiations and signaling a marked improvement in relations between the two superpowers. The new treaty, which replaces the expired 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), sets equal limits on the numbers of missiles, launchers, and nuclear warheads that each country can deploy, while leaving both sides with enough firepower to assure their mutual destruction. Obama and Medvedev plan to sign the treaty next week in Prague, but it won’t take effect until it is ratified by the Russian Duma and the U.S. Senate.

Senate ratification is no slam-dunk, said Spencer Ackerman in The Washington Independent. Sen. Richard Lugar, “the Republican dean of arms control,” is in favor of the treaty, but that doesn’t mean that other Republicans will follow his lead. Having just lost their fight to block health-care reform, “will Senate Republicans really give the Obama administration another victory on, of all things, nuclear arms control, a principle they largely don’t accept? In an election year?”

Let’s hope not, said Frank Gaffney in The Washington Times. Requiring the U.S. to cut its deployed launchers “to match the lower levels that the Russians can afford” amounts to “unilateral disarmament.” It may look as if both sides would have equal strategic weaponry, but in reality the Russians are “aggressively modernizing” their forces with new warheads, while ours are aging.

The treaty is a plus both for the U.S. and for the world, said The New York Times in an editorial. Though it makes only “modest cuts” in both countries’ arsenals, it will strengthen Obama’s ability to press for “tighter penalties on nuclear scofflaws like Iran and North Korea.” After all, U.S. and Russia “cannot credibly argue for restraining other countries’ nuclear programs if they are not moving ahead on reducing their own.”

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