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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

START II: More Doubt Than Clout

Few people would contest the idea that reducing the number of nuclear weapons on the planet is a good thing. In this sense, the signing of START II by presidents Boris Yeltsin and George Bush must be saluted. But amid the congratulatory hoopla, serious doubts remain.


It is far from certain whether this new strategic arms reduction treaty can be implemented as foreseen. Indeed, it is highly uncertain whether Russia's truculent parliament will ratify the document. Add to that the hesitations of Belarus, Kazakhstan and, especially Ukraine, and the result is less a recipe for disarmament than a nuclear cocktail of unknown ingredients.


START II was conceived, drafted and signed in record time. It took nine years to negotiate START I, which was signed in Moscow in July 1991. In contrast, this pact was ready in less than nine months.


With Bush leaving office and Yeltsin under attack at home, the element of political expediency is obvious. Bush, who has been criticized for failing to take the collapse of the Soviet Union seriously enough, could justifiably argue that regardless of political considerations he was right to seize the time and get the treaty signed. There is little chance that, unlike previous arms pacts with Moscow, it will run into ratification problems in the Senate.


But what about Yeltsin? Was he right to rush this text into print? In contrast to Bush, he is certain to face a damaging battle when START II comes before the Supreme Soviet for ratification.


Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, are already under attack by Russian hardliners for advocating a foreign policy that allegedly has sold out too much to the West. Rumblings from those quarters have now started about the new treaty, which Yeltsin's opponents contend favors the United States at Russia's expense.


If these rumblings erupt when the parliament reconvenes in mid-January, it could well cost Kozyrev his job. and if that happened, Yeltsin would have reaped a serious foreign policy defeat instead of the success he was seeking to counterbalance his troubles on the domestic policy front.


Then there is the problem of the other three nuclear republics which, despite their agreement to do so, have yet to ratify the first START. Ukraine in particular is looking more and more likely to use its possession of nuclear weapons as leverage with Russia and the West -- and this despite its population's abhorrence of things nuclear following the Chernobyl accident.


START II, therefore, is for the moment largely a symbolic document. We can only hope that, unlike other deals struck here, it will prove to be more than empty words.