Meanwhile, U.S. negotiators have made any incorporation of restraints on BMD a no-go area for negotiations, believing that any such restrictions would condemn a treaty to death in the Senate. In other words, they've capitulated to the Republicans pre-emptively on what could be a more ambitious treaty. Acton said what could not be known is just how substantive the differences were. If they were indeed "niggling details," Obama and Medvedev might step in and resolve them at the last minute. But if they involved ballistic missile defense, the problems might be insoluble.
When I asked Acton whether there was anything Obama could to break the logjam, he said he wasn't sure—the delay might turn out to be a symptom of what veteran arms control negotiators had told him was a Russian negotiating tactic: make concessions along the way and then just as it looked as if agreement could be reached, "put everything back on the table."
"Meaning?" I asked.
Take back the concessions and see what else you can extract from the pressure of what seems like proximity to finality.
Proximity to finality. Zero always was a long-term dream. But the first step has been so agonizingly difficult, it begins to seem less like a dream and more like an ever tantalizing, never approachable delusion.
Alas, "proximity to finality" may be the epitaph for the START Treaty, for Zero, for the prospects of avoiding a nuclear cataclysm. Proximity to finality, yes. Zero may be stopped in its tracks before it could get STARTed.
I would argue there is one thing Obama could do. Recognize that this is at least as important as health care in terms of the urgency with which he treats it. And that he has to get involved personally and politically. He has to find out whether the Russians are serious, whether the Pentagon is sabotaging him, whether there's any hope left. He has to realize that a nuclear war would be a rather substantial health care crisis, for instance, if he wants to put it in that framework. Recognize that this is truly the way he could make a mark on history unlike that of any previous president. And if he won't follow my advice and appoint a Zero czar, at this very late hour, he should become the Zero czar himself.
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