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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West Stokes New Arms Race

The framework of arms-control treaties and agreements that ended the East-West Cold War arms race in the late '80s and early '90s came under increasing strain in 1995. Strong lobbies agitating for increased defense spending are becoming more vocal and influential on both sides of the Atlantic. If these special interests prevail, the U.S.-Russian arms-limitation framework could disintegrate as early as 1997, and the century could witness a new unlimited nuclear arms race.

Today, the main threat clearly comes from Washington. Russia is too weak economically to start another arms race, although the managers of many idle military factories as well as millions of jobless defense industry workers and engineers in Siberia and the Urals are undoubtedly interested in new large defense orders. The rhetoric of Russian communists and nationalists may be extremely anti-American, but their bark in no way matches their bite. The Russian defense ministry, since 1994, has pleaded for more money from the Communist- and nationalist-dominated Duma with very little effect. The Republican-dominated Congress, on the other hand, has recently allocated more funds for 1996 than the Pentagon asked for or really wants.

The U.S. Congress also voted in funds for the development of a nationwide anti-ballistic defense system. This is obviously in complete violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). President Bill Clinton vetoed the proposed military budget in December 1995, explaining that he was against destroying the anti-ballistic treaty.

But this year the Republicans have a chance of winning the presidency, especially if the tremendous gamble Clinton took, sending U.S. forces into Bosnia, backfires as badly as the earlier operation to "restore hope" to Somalia. A Republican president can then go ahead with an anti-ballistic defense, which would unravel all other existing U.S.-Russian nuclear arms-control deals.

But even if responsible Democrat and Republican politicians in Washington manage to control the explicit desire of many American legislators to challenge Russia by building a nationwide strategic defense system, the ABM treaty can still be effectively compromised by the deployment of so-called Theater Missile Defenses (TMD). The U.S. is already developing a sea-based upper-tier system and an air-launched interceptor capable of intercepting strategic missiles. Moscow will hardly accept that these systems are in accordance with the ABM treaty. However, the U.S. administration -- under pressure from Congress to continue with development and deployment of increasingly sophisticated anti-ballistic weapons -- is in no position to make substantial concessions on TMD. In December 1995, the American Senate finally ratified the START II agreement which had been signed three years ago. The Russian State Duma will hardly follow its example. In October 1995, the well-known U.S. arms-control negotiator Lindon Brooks came to Moscow to persuade the Russian parliament to ratify START II. But after many meetings with high-level Russian officials, Brooks told me that he was convinced that the Duma would not ratify the agreement. He nonetheless expressed the hope that after the elections the situation could change. But after the parliamentary elections in December 1995, START II ratification prospects seem even less encouraging.

Under START II, the United States intends to retain a reserve nuclear stockpile that will permit a rapid reconstitution of some 4,000 nuclear warheads on existing delivery systems (so-called upload), if relations with Russia should change for the worse. The Russian upload capacity under START II will be much smaller and this makes the implementation of START II, from the not particularly wortwhile for Russia.

Recently published Cold War documents reveal that is was the United States which time and again accelerated the strategic arms race by introducing new weapons, in the hope that Russia could not match them. The U.S. Republicans may also believe that breaking the ABM treaty will bring only diplomatic protests from Moscow. This may be a grave miscalculation -- during the '80s, Russian communist leaders, terrified by Ronald Reagan's Star Wars propaganda, developed the capability of mass-producing cheap, new ballistic missiles, a capability that still exists today. So the beginning of the next century could become a period of new "detente," after a new costly race.

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and security editor for Segodnya.