It’s unthinkable but in his first month as president, Barack Obama has already set the US on a path to cut nuclear weapons by 80%:
The radical treaty would cut the number of nuclear warheads to 1,000 each, The Times has learnt. Key to the initiative is a review of the Bush Administration’s plan for a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, a project fiercely opposed by Moscow.
Mr Obama is to establish a non-proliferation office at the White House to oversee the talks, expected to be headed by Gary Samore, a non-proliferation negotiator in the Clinton Administration. The talks will be driven by Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
No final decision on the defence shield has been taken by Mr Obama. Yet merely delaying the placement of US missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic — which if deployed would cost the US $4 billion annually — removes what has been a major impediment to Russian co-operation on arms reduction.
The Times gives further analysis:
Analysts say he also wants to ask Russia for help on Iran. Obama, short of ways to persuade Tehran to drop its nuclear work, which the West believes is a covert weapons programme, wants Russia to stop supplying parts for Iran’s reactor or missile components. A reduction in nuclear weapons, and a cut in help to Iran, in return for scrapping the shield: that’s the outline of the offer. The question is whether Putin will think that he is being asked for too much in return for something that Obama probably wants to do anyway.
Biden was right when he said a challenge would come to Obama early on in his term. This appears to be him taking the challenge to his most significant opponent, in a way not just unthinkable in the last 8 years, but essentially since Reykjavik in 1986. This really is an all-new foreign policy he’s pursuing and it’s terribly exciting. It indeed puts Putin on the back foot (particularly as Putin is equally in need of not spending money wastefully, with a painfully contracting economy), but really continues the diplomatic squeeze against Iran. I mean why bomb when you can completely outmanoevre?