Published in:
The Washington Post, December 17, 1995, page C2
Off to a Bad START II
In Both the U.S. and Russia, Hopes for the Strategic Arms Pact Are Fading

By Rodney W. Jones and Yuri K. Nazarkin
Dr. Rodney W. Jones, now president of Policy Architects International,
served on the U.S. START delegation.

Ambassador Yuri Nazarkin headed the Soviet delegations to the START I talks
and participated in the preparation of START II.

Both are senior advisers to the Moscow-based START II Program
of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

FTER MONTHS of delay, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved last week to bring the START II treaty up for a vote on the Senate floor. The pact would reduce U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons to 70 percent of Cold War levels and also eliminate land-based multiple-warhead missiles, the most threatening of Russia's weapons. Unfortunately, while a favorable Senate vote on the treaty is virtually assured, ratification of the pact by Russia has become increasingly uncertain in recent months. As Russians go to the polls today, many will be voting for politicians who question whether START II is still in Russia's best interest.

The prime cause of Russian second thoughts, according to parliamentarians and defense experts in Moscow, is the Republican-led effort that began this summer to mandate the deployment of a multi-site strategic anti-ballistic missile, or ABM, system by the year 2003. This system was called for originally in the Senate version of the defense authorization bill and endorsed last week by a House-Senate conference committee. Yet is would violate the 1972 ABM Treaty, which for more than two decades has helped curtail a costly buildup of defensive nuclear weapons and countervailing offensive weapons.

It first became clear that START II was in serious trouble last month when parliamentary leaders in Moscow who had supported START II hearings in July concluded that a ratification vote in the waning months of 1995 would fail. To avoid a foreign policy crisis over a negative vote, they postponed further action on the treaty.

Regrettably, the prospect for unconditional Russian ratification of START II next year is no more promising. Following today's election, the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, is expected to be even more critical of START II and of the United States than its predecessor. Russian political parties and factions opposed to the treaty will probably gain seats at the expense of the reformist and democratic parties that generally support it. President Boris Yeltsin's poor health and the growth of assertive nationalism in Russia further clouds START II's chances.

ven the Russian military leadership, which had steadfastly supported START II, shows signs of cooling toward the treaty in the wake of U.S. congressional action threatening the ABM Treaty. The Russian military fears the United States' real intent is to gain strategic superiority over Russia. The Russian military dismisses as preposterous U.S. assertions that the legislation is aimed at protecting American soil from the threat of a handful of long-range missiles from North Korea and other small countries. In effect, Russian military leaders argue, the United States would be deploying new defensive missiles just as Russia was completing the reduction of its offensive missiles under START II's requirements. Russia would be more vulnerable and the United States less so.

Ivan Rybkin, the Duma speaker, expressed the growing disenchantment with START II in the newspaper Nezavissimaya Gazeta on Nov. 5: "We cannot be bothered any longer, given this situation that propels plans for NATO enlargement and revels our U.S. congressional colleagues' intentions to begin a process that threatens the ABM Treaty--the cornerstone of the existing arms control regime."

Russian misgivings about START II haven't come overnight. Initially Yeltsin and the Russian military leadership firmly believed that START II was in Russia's interest. They recognized benefits for Russia--the fact that START II's deep reductions would enhance stability, reduce future defense costs, ensure formal strategic parity with the United States and contribute to long-term cooperation between the two powers. The Clinton administration also worked to alleviate Russian uneasiness over U.S. national missile defense activities. But the ABM developments of the late have changed Russian feelings toward START II.

If Clinton vetoes the defense authorization bill as he has promised, a direct conflict over the ABM Treaty will be avoided. Congressional direction of the U.S. military might then be provided exclusively in the defense appropriations bill. That legislation, which the president approved earlier this month, says nothing about deploying an ABM system.

This silence, however, is unlikely to assuage Russian concerns, since Russia must worry that the ABM issue will return in the next congressional session. Moreover, the appropriations bill mandates completion of the Navy's "Upper Tier" system, a defense initiative to produce shorter-range missiles that Russia also finds objectionable because of its potential for use against long-range weapons.

Russian arms control experts are also troubled by the thinking of some U.S. lawmakers who believe that the ABM Treaty is an obsolete Cold War measure. The Russians point out that if the ABM Treaty is to be revised in light of the post-Cold War situation, they see it as equally reasonable to amend and adapt the START treaties. After all, they argue, the cumbersome and intrusive START verification provisions were elaborated in a a climate of mutual suspicion and mistrust and were based on worst-case scenarios about the other side's intentions.

These Russian critics suggest that Moscow's obligations under START II are largely irrelevant to current realities. The Russians are required by the treaty to alter the structure of their strategic triad by 2003. This will entail sizable expenditures both to eliminate all multiple-warhead land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and to replace them with single warhead missiles. Given the current U.S.-Russian partnership, Russian START II critics argue, such measures are not essential to the strategic security of both nations and should be open to revision.

The Russians are completely uninterested in negotiating amendments to fundamental provisions of the ABM Treaty. This apparently was well understood by those pushing the antiballistic missile initiative in Congress, for they also included the possible alternative of U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Russia might consider changes to the ABM Treaty--but only along with parallel changes in START II.

Would this be acceptable to U.S. officials, legislators and 1996 Republican presidential candidates? Renegotiating current nuclear treaties with the purpose of adapting them to new realities--as instruments for regulating the nuclear forces of both nations--would mean embarking on a long and formidable process.

If the United States is not prepared to enter such a process, yet withdraws from the ABM Treaty or takes steps in that direction, it would mean the end of START II--the end of real, dramatic reductions in the numbers of the world's most destructive weapons.

s it still possible to resuscitate START II in Russia? Right now, it seems unlikely. If Clinton vetoes the defense authorization, with its ABM mandate, the prospects for saving START II would improve, but only slightly.

Russian opponents of START II may now insist on delaying Russian ratification until the results of the 1996 U.S. presidential (and congressional) elections can be evaluated. Repairing the growing damage to U.S.-Russian relations and U.S. interests in nuclear threat reduction will become steadily more difficult unless Congress revives the tradition of bipartisan statesmanship on nuclear weapons issues that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War.