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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

START II: Behind the Landmark Agreement

Folklore advises "More speed, less haste", but George Bush and Boris Yeltsin - both of them smarting from political defeats at home - have rammed the START II agreement through in record time.


For Bush the clock has been ticking fast ever since he lost his bid for reelection as president to Democrat Bill Clinton last November. START II was a last chance for Bush to ensure that he goes down in history as an effective foreign policy president. Yet the initia-tive for closing the treaty early appears to have come from Yeltsin.


Days after losing his bid to keep acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar at his post during the turbulent Decem-ber session of the Congress of People's Deputies, Yeltsin stunned the White House by saying that a time and place had been set to sign START II.


Yeltsin was trying to recapture the political initiative from conservative opponents after his humiliation at the Congress. He desperately needs to rebuild popular support to carry him through a battle for control over the country that has only just begun.


The question remains, however, as to whether signing START II will do him any good. The Congress, elected under rules favorable to Communist apparatchiks, is a hangover from the Soviet era. But it follows the prevailing wind in Russia, which is toward isolationism and suspicion of the West.


Already conservatives have argued that START II offers the United States far too much by eliminating two classes of weapons altogether - "heavy" strategic missiles, and land-based weapons with multiple warheads.


The reason for eliminating these two classes of weapons is admirable. For by their power and static position-ing, they tempt the other side to make a pre-emptive strike, aiming to elimi-nate the nuclear behemoths before they can be launched.


But only the Russians have missiles that are classified as "heavy", -- the 154 SS-18s that form the centerpiece of Russia's nuclear strategy along with other land-based strategic missiles.


U. S. nuclear strategy, by contrast, is built around its fleets of nuclear sub-marines and long-range bombers, both of which will be reduced in size but remain intact. and as the submarines are not land-based, they will be allowed to keep their multiple warheads. Of the 3, 000-3, 500 warheads that each side will be able to keep under the treaty, up to 1, 750 can be on submarines.


Lawrence Eagleburger, the U. S. secretary of state, made someconcessions while negotiating the final treaty in Geneva after Christmas.


First he allowed the Russian side unprecedented access to American bombers in order to check that they are not armed. He also allowed them to convert some SS-18 silos for use by hitherto mobile SS-25s. and he increased the number of multiple war-head missiles that can be converted for use with a single warhead.


Yeltsin argued Sunday that Russia would remain secure and unchal-lenged under START II, because no other country, besides the United States, would have a nuclear arsenal that approaches Russia's in size.


Given the U. S. advantage built into START II, Yeltsin is clearly separated from his opponents by an assumption that America is no a threat.


The treaty also has advantage for both sides, signalling a final end to the war-fighting strategy that replaced simple deterrence, the so-called MAD theory of mutual assured destruction, in the 1980s.


It was the war-fighting theory - that nuclear planning should be made on the assumption that a war can be fought and won - that lead to the pro-duction of vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons sufficient to destroy both countries several times over.


The economic strain of the arms race that resulted helped cause the final collapse of the Soviet Union. Nei-ther country, especially Russia, wants that Cold War strategy to continue.