Kate Hudson on what the signing of the START arms reduction treaty means for nuclear disarmament and the obstacles to its implementation

Last week, after a year of negotiations, Presidents Obama and Medvedev finally agreed a new Treaty to reduce their numbers of deployed nuclear warheads.

Obama and Medvedev

After the increasing tension of the Bush era, and the new cold war triggered by his provocative policies on NATO expansion and missile defence, this is a relief.

For those of us in the anti-nuclear movement, it is also a small step in the right direction – towards the global nuclear abolition that both Presidents now say they want.

But how much has the Treaty achieved and what is the scale of the problem still to be solved?

Both countries have agreed to reduce their numbers of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. That’s good as far as it goes, but the problem is that the category of deployed strategic warheads (big city-busting type nukes) is only a small part of each country’s total arsenal.

Take Russia for example: Russia has 13,000 nuclear weapons, of which 2,787 are deployed strategic, 2,047 are deployed non-strategic and then there are 8,166 already in reserve or awaiting dismantlement.

In the case of the US: the US has 9,400 nuclear weapons, of which 2,200 are deployed strategic, 500 deployed non-strategic, and the rest are in reserve or awaiting dismantlement.

So while I am pleased that this Treaty is going ahead, it does raise the question – as a radio interviewer put it to me on Saturday – isn’t it a bit like rearranging the deckchairs? If the nukes are still there, and there are still so many of them that aren’t even included in the talks, is this really that significant?

Frankly, I think it is significant that the agreement has even got this far. As I wrote in these pages last week, the determination of the Obama administration to press ahead with a new version of Bush’s missile defence provocation has been a major obstacle to this agreement.

The Americans refused to include it and the Russians refused to leave it out. For the time being, a compromise has been reached. The system has been included in the preamble to the Treaty, and either side can cease reductions if they feel that ‘defensive’ systems are putting them at risk.

But is this enough to ensure ratification of the Treaty by the Russian parliament? The Duma will be more than wary of ratification if it feels that it is signing US nuclear primacy into law.

And is it too much to ensure ratification by the US Senate? Ratification requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate – 67 out of 100 votes – therefore requiring some Republican votes in favour. So to get the Treaty through the Senate, Obama has to convince them that America’s ability to develop missile defence will not be limited.

The road to nuclear disarmament is not an easy one…

Kate Hudson is Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament