MOSCOW (Reuters) - The nuclear arms treaty signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday could affect an array of global issues, from wider ties between the Cold War foes to the atomic ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
Here are some of the possible implications for Russia, the United States and the rest of the world:
The treaty commits the two countries with 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons to significant cuts in their strategic arsenals and restores clear rules on verification, which were lacking after the 1991 START I pact expired in December.
Both the United States and Russia have cast it as a crucial step toward a world without nuclear weapons and called for talks on further cuts.
But the pact leaves them with more than enough firepower to annihilate each other, and further reductions may be far more difficult to secure.
“The Russians are going to be very careful about that, since strategic nuclear weapons are a primary part of their claim to superpower status,” said Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The United States will want to include short-range tactical nuclear weapons in further talks. Moscow sees its large tactical arsenal as security against NATO’s superior conventional forces in Europe, and has hinted cuts would not come easy.
Russia has warned the United States against putting conventional warheads on long-range missiles, and would likely balk at new cuts in offensive weapons without limits on U.S. missile defenses.
A fragile compromise on missile defense leaves the treaty itself vulnerable.
It sets no limits on U.S. missile defenses — a crucial point for the United States. But Russia has warned that if U.S. missile defense plans threaten its security, it could take advantage of an exit clause and withdraw from the pact.
NUCLEAR SECURITY AND PROLIFERATION After nearly a year of negotiations, the signing demonstrated solidarity between the Cold War foes on the need to control nuclear weapons.
Obama hosts a security summit next week focusing on keeping nuclear materials out of the wrong hands, and a U.N. conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty follows next month.
Failure to reach agreement would have cast a pall over the high-profile gathering and undermined efforts to curtail the defiant Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
The treaty is the first major product of a “reset” announced by the Obama administration a year ago and welcomed by Moscow after nearly a decade of deteriorating ties.
The Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser called it “a huge event that will have an extremely profound and positive effect on the way our countries deal with many other issues.”
Analysts predict a more modest spillover effect, and caution it may not mean stronger Russian support for the United States on sanctions against Iran or the war in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think the treaty’s effect on relations as a whole should be overestimated,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin conveyed that message when he listed a litany of economic complaints to the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month.
The powerful Putin suggested the United States was blocking Russian entry into the World Trade Organization and said full cooperation with Washington is impossible until his country gets in.
Meanwhile, some Kremlin critics and Obama opponents say the “reset” has come at the price of an excessively conciliatory U.S. approach to Russia on issues such as democracy, human rights and Moscow’s behavior toward ex-Soviet neighbors.
The signing is a diplomatic achievement for Obama and a chance to cast the United States as a constructive global leader after years of dismay at U.S. foreign policy.
It puts some substance behind Obama’s pledge, in a speech in Prague a year ago, to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
But the time it took to seal the deal set back other items on Obama’s arms control agenda, and his achievement would be gutted if the U.S. Senate does not ratify the pact.
Obama also faces a balancing act in Eastern Europe, where there is concern in former Soviet satellite states that closer U.S. ties with Russia could come at their expense.
Signing a major nuclear arms pact with the United States gives a dose of superpower prestige to a nation still smarting from its post-Soviet shrinkage. A continuing dialogue on weapons reductions could help restore Russia’s image as a U.S. equal.
More practically, the treaty could please investors by raising the prospect of a more cooperative relationship between Moscow and Washington, and help Russia’s equities markets.
It “may lower Russia’s risk perception in the West as U.S.-Russia cooperation increasingly focuses on the economic agenda,” Deutsche Bank analysts said in a research note on Wednesday.
Editing by Paul Taylor