Since Jeff and Pavel already have done such a nice job explicating the “Joint Understanding for the START Follow-On Treaty,” I’d thought I’d chime in with a couple of thoughts about its poor cousin, the “Joint Statement by Dmitry A. Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, and Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, on Missile Defense Issues.”
The first thing to notice about the Joint Statement is that it’s not part of the Joint Understanding. In fact, it doesn’t represent any kind of real understanding, in the sense of an arrangement, agreement, pact, or even a common perspective. As President Obama explained in an interview with Novaya Gazeta, defenses aren’t part of the workplan:
In our meeting in London on April 1st, President Medvedev and I issued a joint statement on instructions for our negotiators for this new treaty. These instructions very explicitly did not mention missile defense as a topic of discussion for these negotiations.
Indeed, the April 1 text says that the “subject of the new agreement will be the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.” There’s no mention of defenses. President Medvedev seems to have preferred otherwise, but had to settle, both in April and now again in July. As Pavel has pointed out, there’s no good reason to let disputes over the “third site” undermine the renewal of START.
The second thing to notice about the Joint Statement is that it doesn’t deal with missile defense issues. After the title, it doesn’t mention them at all. Here’s how the substantive paragraph starts:
We have instructed our experts to work together to analyze the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century and to prepare appropriate recommendations, giving priority to the use of political and diplomatic methods.
In the press conference Q&A, Obama referred to this as “a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century, including those posed by Iran and North Korea.” When that assessment comes due — assuming there’s a public version — it will be interesting to compare it with the EWI Iran missile threat report.
Then there’s this:
At the same time they plan to conduct a joint review of the entire spectrum of means at our disposal that allow us to cooperate on monitoring the development of missile programs around the world. Our experts are intensifying dialogue on establishing the Joint Data Exchange Center, which is to become the basis for a multilateral missile-launch notification regime.
Some of you may recall JDEC, an undertaking of the Clinton-Yeltsin era that never quite materialized. (Fact sheet and Memorandum.) Intended to “strengthen strategic stability by further reducing the danger that ballistic missiles might be launched on the basis of false warning of attack,” it has languished. Reviving JDEC is a welcome development, and the multilateralization idea is interesting, but neither has much to do with missile defense. [Correction: Indirectly but significantly, JDEC does relate to missile defense.]
The Joint Statement is not the end of the story. Obama also mentioned to Novaya Gazeta that the U.S. side will be conducting a review of its missile defense programs, and would like Russia to participate in whatever defenses are built in Europe. While this idea originated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it remains to be seen whether it will satisfy the Russian side. The details will count.