As ever, the promised reduction in nuclear stockpiles is a good thing:

The treaty would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200 now, officials have said. It would also oblige each side to reduce its arsenal of strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to 800, half the old limit of 1,600.

Arms control advocates consider those reductions to be relatively modest. But Mr. Obama wanted to negotiate a relatively straightforward replacement for the Start treaty as a way to rebuild trust with Moscow, leading to more ambitious agreements down the road.

Once this first treaty is done, the administration wants to open talks on further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads, perhaps down to 1,000 each, as well as elimination of at least some of the thousands of strategic warheads currently in storage, and the thousands more tactical nuclear bombs that each side has.

These reductions are modest. They are always such. Are there any realistic expectations that we will live in a nuclear weapons-free world? No. For that matter, I don’t expect we can do much to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club. At best, we can slow down the pace of proliferation through regulatory regimes and economic incentives.

So long as global powers like the U.S., Russia, India and China maintain stockpiles as leverage in their competition for resources and strategic advantage, we can expect regional powers to seek similar security advantages that nukes provide. Pakistan, Israel and Iran have rational reasons to flaunt a giant nuclear prick, given the hostile forces that surround them. To that end, reduction treaties as negotiated between the U.S. and Russia have their tactical and diplomatic advantages — reducing tensions between the two states, signaling similar to China, cooling regional conflict to some degree in Asia and the Middle East, and providing negotiating room with Iran. Yet these efforts are compromised by continued military presences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tibet, etc.

Just keep all that in mind when the inevitable “this bad fur Merka!” bellowing and braying and Beck-weeping arises from the Cheney crowd.

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