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Analysts: N-deal won't protect world

Putin and Bush signed the landmark strategic arms deal at the Kremlin  

LONDON, England -- Arms control observers are calling the new U.S.-Russia nuclear weapons treaty an achievement in Russian diplomacy -- but one that does not go far enough to protect the world from potential terrorist threats.

By letting each country choose which nuclear weapons it wants to keep, the treaty gives the financially struggling Russian military much-needed breathing room.

"The treaty has untied Russia's hands," Ret. Gen. Vasily Lata, the former deputy chief of staff of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, told The Associated Press.

But by letting both countries store -- rather than destroy -- some of their warheads, some analysts say the deal could increase the likelihood of nuclear theft.

"Our greatest danger now isn't that Russia is going to attack the U.S. with nuclear missiles," Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told TIME magazine.

"It's that some group is going to get its hands on the growing number of nuclear warheads stored in less-than-secure conditions in Russia."

Russian President Vladimir Putin had pushed for destruction of warheads. But the U.S. administration under President George W. Bush, concerned about future dangers, insisted on storing some of the warheads to be taken off alert.

Russia is likely to follow suit, but its nuclear weapons storage programme already poses a security threat, according to a report to the U.S. Congress earlier this year by the National Intelligence Council, which represents U.S. spy agencies. The United States spends $1 billion each year to improve Russia's nuclear warehouses.

Citing poverty and homelessness among Russian nuclear-weapons guards, the council said the country's security "may not be sufficient to meet today's challenge of a knowledgeable insider collaborating with a criminal or terrorist group," according to TIME.

'Sign of goodwill'

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Storage instead of destruction also leaves open the possibility of another Cold War, some treaty critics say. Bush is expected to store at least 2,400 of the warheads, and according to the Arms Control Association, the United States would have 4,600 warheads available for deployment up to three years after the pact expires.

"The treaty will not liquidate the legacy of the Cold War as President Bush has claimed," Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Reuters.

"Ten years from now, the U.S. will still field a large dispersed force of strategic weapons whose only justification is to target and destroy Russian military, industrial and political sites."

However, the treaty won praise from Russian officials and analysts, who said it keeps Russia and the United States on an equal footing.

"This is important not only for relations between Russia and the United States but also with all the countries of the world," Ret. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, a former top arms control negotiator, told Russia's ORT television.

Sergei Rogov, head of the USA and Canada Institute, a leading think-tank specialising in arms control and foreign affairs, described the treaty as a "serious achievement of Russian diplomacy."

"A few months ago, the United States didn't want to take on any legal obligations, and it appeared that the whole arms control regime would disintegrate, especially after the United States pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty," Rogov told ORT.

Russian parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachev said the deal was especially important in the face of imminent cuts to Russia's nuclear forces.

"It's a sign of goodwill shown by Bush, and it must be highly appreciated," he said.

'Virtually meaningless'

Previous arms deals specified in great detail the numbers and types of weapons each country could have. The last treaty -- 1993's START II deal, which was never implemented -- banned Russia from deploying the core of its nuclear forces: land-based missiles with multiple warheads.

Instead, if Russia wanted to match U.S. arsenals, it would have been forced to deploy a large number of new, single-warhead Topol-M missiles or build nuclear submarines equipped with ballistic missiles -- neither of which Russia could afford.

The U.S. plans to pull out of the ABM treaty to pursue a missile defence system
The U.S. plans to pull out of the ABM treaty to pursue a missile defence system  

Under the new deal, Russia can keep its Soviet-era, multiple-warhead missiles for a while longer, which it starts fitting the Topol-M with three warheads each.

But the massive Soviet-made weapons are long past their originally designated lifetimes and are to be scrapped later this decade. And the slow pace of the Topol-M's deployment is likely to make it hard for Russia to ultimately balance the U.S. nuclear arsenals.

The new pact "simply formalises what each leader previously announced he planned to do unilaterally," Graham Allison of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University wrote in the Boston Globe daily newspaper.

Ivo Daalder, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Reuters the treaty was "strategically virtually meaningless ... given the fact that (the Bush) administration has shown no compunction about withdrawing from treaties" -- a reference to U.S. plans to pull out of the ABM treaty and deploy a missile defence system.

But analysts and officials also noted the deal shows that Russian objections to missile defence will not stand in the way of arms control progress.




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