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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War Leaves Little Hope for START II

After letting the START II arms control treaty languish for six years, Russia's skeptical parliament twice appeared on the verge of ratifying the agreement in recent months.

But with uncanny timing, the United States and its allies launched airstrikes just prior to both parliamentary sessions - first hitting Iraq in December and then hammering Yugoslavia in March.

Outraged by the bombings, Russian lawmakers scrapped both sessions and now appear unlikely to act until after a new parliament is elected December, according to Russian legislators and analysts.

"In practical terms, START II is finished for now and for some period into the future,'' said Alexander Pikayev, a military analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"It would be too risky [for Russian politicians] to move forward now,'' he said of the 1993 treaty, which would limit each side to 3,000 to 3,500 strategic warheads, half the current levels.

Weren't nuclear arms agreements supposed to become easier in the post-Cold War world? Wasn't the U.S.-Russian partnership supposed to mean an easing of tensions and a decreased reliance on the nuclear deterrent?

No one is predicting nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States. But arms control has become even more complicated in some ways, and U.S.-Russian frictions over Yugoslavia and other issues are likely to delay breakthroughs that once seemed close at hand.

Meanwhile, Russia is growing more, not less, reliant on its nuclear arsenal. The country's conventional forces are in deep decline, NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe has left Moscow feeling vulnerable, and NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia prompted an outpouring of Russian frustration and anger.

The heated rhetoric probably precludes any new agreements for now, but the two countries are quietly pressing ahead with existing deals, such as START I.

With Russia hurting for money, the United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to help Russia meet its START I obligations. Nuclear weapons tend to degrade and become unreliable over time, and many of those currently deployed will have to be decommissioned within a few years as they reach the end of their expected service lifetime, the Russian military says.

Yeltsin has used this argument in lobbying lawmakers to ratify START II and to open negotiations on START III.

Communists and other hard-liners in parliament's lower house, the State Duma, remain deeply suspicious of the United States. But they appeared to be moving toward ratification until the two recent U.S.-led bombing raids.

"The Duma was ready to ratify START II,'' said Vladimir Lukin, a liberal lawmaker who has been pushing for approval as head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee. "Honestly, it's to our advantage to ratify, but in the current situation it's impossible. There is no trust in the United States.''