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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hope Yet for START II

At first glance it may seem that the chances for ratification in the State Duma of the Russian-American START II treaty are close to nil. No sooner had the U.S. Senate approved this agreement than faction leaders in the Russian parliament began expressing serious doubts as to whether they would be able to do the same. All of this is essentially posturing as usual. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- which requires the United States and Russia to cut arsenals by almost two thirds, to 3,500 nuclear warheads -- gives everyone fighting for power in Russia the chance to prove what true patriots they are. One can play on the fact that implementation of this treaty would probably allow Washington to have several hundred more nuclear warheads than Moscow. Moreover, Russia would have to scrap missiles with multiple warheads -- in other words, the very missiles that so frightened American strategists and which comprised a cornerstone of the Soviet Union's nuclear potential.

Still, the huffing and puffing in the Duma so far has more to do with the natural resistance to any treaty to reduce Russian arsenals. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov has linked START II to the prospect of NATO enlargement. Undeniably, NATO's plans to expand would not improve Russia's security. But it is hard to imagine how one could oppose NATO once one had refused to cut nuclear arsenals that cannot be used for containment on the European continent. Evidently, the Duma deputies were simply unprepared for the fact that the U.S. Senate would ratify the treaty.

On the other hand, the fact that deputies are now at least talking about the need to study the treaty in greater detail gives hope. As U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering remarked recently to journalists from Krasnaya Zvezda, the paradox of START II is that it allows U.S. hardliners as well to complain about unwarranted concessions to Moscow. This is because this treaty is as advantageous to the United States as it is to Russia.

At a time when Russia clearly does not have the means to maintain its nuclear arsenal, the United States has agreed to reduce warheads on sea- and land-based missiles, and limit the development of strategic bombers. MX missiles would be scrapped along with four Trident nuclear submarines and 30 B-52 bombers. Washington has unilaterally decided to reduce U.S. cruise missiles. Meanwhile, Russian missiles earmarked for destruction have mostly served out their time limit and were produced in Ukraine. So even if START II is not ratified, Russia will have to part with some of its armaments, while the United States will be left with its entire nuclear potential intact.

If our parliamentarians take the trouble to understand this then they may find that one of the real obstacles to ratification has been removed. The Clinton administration has managed to convince the Congress to suspend work at least through 1996 on antiballistic missile systems (ABM) on the continental United States.

Plans like these cause apprehension not only in the Duma but in the Russian military. Because the agreement to limit antiballistic missile systems -- which has existed for over 20 years -- is the basis for all treaties to reduce strategic armaments. After all, one can cut nuclear arsenals only when there is strategic stability. And this stability, like it or not, is based on the fact that each of the two countries is capable of doing unacceptable damage to the other. The development of ABM systems would undermine this stability.

This said, Russian experts say the ABM system now on the drawing board would not be able to intercept more than 20 or 30 missiles. But an infrastructure is being created which could be developed. And this is just what worries Russian analysts. Especially since they assume that the next U.S. administration will not necessarily adhere to the views of the current one. In the opinion of Ambassador Yury Nazarkin, head of the Soviet delegation during START I negotiations , the solution here may be to ratify the treaty and simultaneously pass a resolution reserving the right for Russia to get out of the treaty if the United States undertakes projects that would seriously damage the current strategic stability and parity.

Another genuine problem, as opposed to an invented one, is how to finance the gigantic reductions in nuclear armaments stipulated in the treaty. These reductions, including the destruction or conversion of missile shafts and the destruction of nuclear warheads and missile launchers, will require trillions of rubles. Moreover, the technology for the utilization of the fuel oil in Russian missiles is only now being developed. In order to make a decision on START II, the deputies in the Duma will have to know where the money to implement the treaty will come from. Judging from media reports, even the implementation of the START I treaty, long since in force, has received less than half the financing anticipated. Given the real state of the Russian economy, the U.S. Congress should think about passing something like the Nunn-Lugar bill which earmarked funding for implementation of START I.

For now, it is hard to say what fate awaits START II in the Duma. Of course, the competing factions may try to use it to their advantage in the run-up to the election. However, the fact that the Communists favored Russia's joining the Council of Europe shows that this party, feeling sure of its victory at the polls, is already working to create a positive image in the West. And ratification of START II might be just the ticket to prove the Communist Party's respectability.

I well remember the histrionics with which the deputies in the previous Duma invariably kicked off disarmament debates, only to settle down afterwards to a sensible discussion. I suspect their successors will settle down too.

Alexander Golz is a political commentator for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.