A host of senior officials and lawmakers are on their way to Munich this weekend, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ceremoniously exchange the article of ratification for New START with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, officially bringing the treaty into force.
"With New START, the United States and Russia have reached another milestone in our bilateral relationship and continue the momentum Presidents Obama and Medvedev created with the ‘reset' nearly two years ago," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. The official exchange will take place on Saturday, Feb. 5.
There will be a star studded U.S. lineup at the Munich Security Conference, including form the administration: National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, NSS Afghanistan-Pakistan coordinator Doug Lute, NSS Senior Director Dan Shapiro, and NSS Director for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Jeff Hovenier.
The congressional delegation is impressive as well: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).
So what's next for arms control? Back in 2009, the Obama administration had been planning to follow up New START with a congressional push to ratify the Congressional Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). But after the grueling fight to ratify New START and in the face of staunch and reliable Republican promises that CTBT won't be ratified by this Senate, the new plan is to move forward with the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty next. (FMCT is an agreement that all countries stop producing new fissile material for nuclear weapons.)
The State Department's lead negotiator for New START, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, said on Jan. 27 at the conference on disarmament in Geneva that the Obama administration wants to get going on FMCT now.
"Our priority is for a negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty to begin here in the Conference on Disarmament, and we are resolved during this CD session to do everything we can to ensure that that goal is achieved," Gottemeoller said.
So why haven't the negotiations for FMCT started already? "A single country has been basically concerned about the start of negotiations and has been standing in the way of launching negotiations," she said.
That country is Pakistan, which has been resisting FMCT because they are still increasing the size of their nuclear arsenal. In fact, the Washington Post reported on Monday that Pakistan has doubled its deployed nuclear arsenal, which now totals over 100 weapons.
The State Department has thus far been unable to convince Pakistan to get on board with FMCT, despite that the Obama administration has been striving to increase support and ties with the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and the military led by Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
"We believe in the value of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. And through our Strategic Dialogue we are encouraging Pakistan to engage constructively on efforts to conclude the FMCT," Crowley said.
Of course, if the negotiations for FMCT ever do begin and if all the countries involved come to an agreement on the treaty, it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where GOP senators are prepared to take a very close look. Inside the GOP, that could reignite a familiar battle between the two top Republicans on arms control, Richard Lugar (R-IN) who supports the pact and Jon Kyl (R-KY) who still has concerns.