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Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Ratification of START II Does Not Make Sense

by Pavel Podvig

This paper was published in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, (N 3, January 28 - February 3, 2000). The author is the leading expert of our Center.

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As the date of the State Duma session comes close, the chances that the START II treaty will be ratified are growing day by day. Most probably the vote on the treaty will take place as soon as the organization questions are solved and all necessary formalities are settled. Arguments of supporters and opponents of the Treaty are well known, the lines are drawn, no new international crisis is expected. Everybody is awaiting the vote, which most likely is going to be positive for the Treaty.

Actually, START II treaty has already ceased to be just an agreement about reductions of arms. For its seven years history the treaty played different roles, in particular, the means, with the help of which Russia expressed its disagreement with U.S. policy on different occasions. Today the ratification of START II treaty serves to show that the new Russiaís governing body doesnít want to worsen ties with the United States. And since Russia practically doesnít have any other ďfriendlyĒ steps in reserve, one can be sure that the government will push for new Duma ratification of the treaty at last.

Meanwhile, one canít help notice, that ratification of START II treaty canít solve any problems today. The ratification will mean neither treatyís coming into force nor a beginning of negotiations on START III treaty, nor the United States giving up their plans on creation anti-missile defense.

Besides, there is no guarantee that the United States will interpret the ratification of START II as a ďfriendlyĒ gesture. The United States realized a long time ago that Russian strategic forces would be reducing independently of whether the treaty would come into effect or not and accordingly the question of ratification of START II interests the United States far less then, for example, questions of creating anti-missile defense.

If we will disregard the effect of ďreconciliation with AmericaĒ(which is by no means guaranteed), what will Russia get with ratification of START II? According to common understanding, the treaty admits of a profit to Russia because it reduces the U.S. arsenal. Russia will have to implement (and, in fact, is implementing now) the provisions of the treaty just because of its economic situation. At the same time, START IIís coming into force is supposed to open the way for START III negotiations, which are expected to correct the START II drawbacks.

These considerations, which form the cornerstone of governmentís position with respect to START II, are potent arguments in favour of its ratification. Or rather they were. Two or three years ago such a position was the only reasonable and possible. But how it often happens, the circumstances change and what seemed to be a road to the end of a tunnel turns out a dead end today.

As a matter of fact, START II today still remains a treaty that will reduce the U.S. strategic forces. But to make these reductions happen the treaty must come into effect. And, how paradoxically it will sound, the ratification of START II in the current circumstances wonít get us close to this goal. As for START III, Russia still remains interested in concluding this treaty. And again, the ratification of START II wonít help to begin the negotiations, quite the contrary, it will bring them to halt.

There are many different reasons of such a state of affairs, but the main reason is a disagreement on the question about anti-missile defense, which became apparent a year ago, when the U.S. administration declared its intentions to achieve changes on ABM Treaty of 1972. It is these disagreements, which will make impossible the START II treaty coming into effect and to achieve any progress in negotiations on START III.

To understand why it will happen, letís turn, for example, to the text of the START II ratification law drafted by the Duma. According to the law, the exchange of instruments of ratification, and therefore, START II coming into effect, is possible only after the U.S. ratification of agreement package, signed in September 1997 in New York. Among these agreements are the Memorandum of Understanding on Succession of ABM Treaty and several Standing Consultative Commission protocols that form the so-called demarcation agreement.

Now it isnít important how justified was the signing of the demarcation agreement and if the Memorandum of Understanding on Succession was really so necessary for Russia. What is important is that START II treatyís coming into effect (and therefore the beginning of START III negotiations) depends on ratification of these agreements by the United States. But these agreements have already faced a strong opposition in the United States and no one can guarantee, that they will be approved by the Senate. The demarcation protocols will almost certainly be rejected by the Senate. The same destiny most probably awaits the Memorandum of Understanding on Succession.

As a result, START II treaty will be approved by legislators of both countries as such, but it wonít come into force, because it will be expecting an approval of the agreement package to ABM Treaty by the U.S. Senate. So there is no point to expect that Duma ratification of START II will bring us closer to itís coming into force.

The future of START III negotiations doesnít give any reasons for optimism either. Negotiations will be started, but it is not clear how they could produce results. The acquaintance with the proposals of the parties, which will most probably underlie in the negotiation positions, points out that there is a little room for a compromise. In addition, the sides will be already bound by provisions of START II, what will mean the reduction of strategic forces to Russia to 1000-1500 warheads independently on the result of negotiations on START III. The United States wonít be interested in concluding the treaty that will reduce their offensive weapons to the number of less than the START II 3500 warheads.

In this situation, the USA will strongly link the progress in negotiations on START III with concessions in the question about changing ABM Treaty. In that way, Russia will face an alternative: either to agree with changing ABM Treaty or to break down the negotiation process and lose any hope to save parity with the USA in strategic offensive weapons.

There is no reason to doubt that Russia will choose the second variant. Of course, we will make the United States bear the responsibility for the breakdown of talks and to console oneself that the absence of parity as such has no importance since we can cause unacceptable damage to the United States. But it is necessary to remember, that Soviet Union had to pay a great price for reaching the parity and, if we lose the parity once, we risk to lose it forever.

Once START II is ratified, it isnít clear how can Russia negotiate the START III treaty without making serious concessions in the essence of the treaty or in the anti-missile defense. START II coming into effect is also under a great question. So, it isnít clear why the Duma should vote for ratification of START II. There are no arguments that work in favour of this treaty today. Of course, the ratification will allow to improve the relationship with the United States somewhat, but only for a while, until the depth of contradictions in the positions of the United States and Russia about START III and, especially, about the ABM Treaty fully show themselves.

There is an alternative to ratification of START II. It is an agreement with the U.S. administration that would withdraw the START II treaty from the Duma and the Senate, the concluding of the framework agreement about provisions of the new treaty about the reduction of offensive weapons without delay. The framework agreement must be based upon the START I treaty, and not on the START II, to provide the reduction of strategic arsenals to the amount of 1000-1500 warheads, liquidation of the U.S. breakout potential, an agreement about liquidation of warheads removed from dismantled or downloaded launchers. Negotiations about a new treaty must be started without delay and replace ďconsultationsĒ on START III, carrying on now, which has become the hostage of START II hopeless process and have no chances of success. There is no need to be afraid that a proposal about terminating the START II ratification will cause negative reaction of the United States. The room for a compromise still exists today and if this proposal will be a part of a well thought-out plan, the United States could accept it.

The realization of such or any other alternative to START II ratification will require resolute actions. But Russia and the United States have already exhausted the limit of indecision and conformism in the question of nuclear disarmament. Russia, in contrast to the United States, cannot allow itself to make mistakes, such as the ratification of START II, that would inevitably lead to breakdown of all disarmament process. Thatís why Russia must take initiative to find a way out of the deadlock in which the process of reduction of strategic arms has found itself.

© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 2000

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