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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

Duma seemingly unswayed by Perry START II appeal

On 17 October, US Defense Secretary William Perry addressed the Lower House of Russia's Parliament, the Duma, urging it to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II (see last issue's Documents and Sources). There were no indications from reports that he succeeded in significantly reducing the Duma's reluctance to ratify - a reluctance born of fears of the strategic superiority the treaty - reducing long-range warheads to 3,500 per side - could hand the United States in the context of an expanding NATO and persistent uncertainty over the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see below).

Numerous Russian politicians and commentators stressed the need to move speedily beyond START II into START III negotiations. Such a prospect does seem to be becoming an increasingly important factor in the ratification equation, although the suspended animation of START II - ratified by the US Senate in January 1996 - may be making it difficult for the US to show, or even feel, enthusiasm for follow-on negotiations. This caution was expressed on 8 November by the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), John Holum:

"I think it would be unwise to commence formal negotiations, or try to complete a START III agreement or a follow-on agreement, prior to ratification of START II because you'd get into a situation of renegotiating or amending that treaty, as distinct from taking the next step."

The Duma seems to regard START II as so flawed - both in itself and in the emerging strategic context - that such caution may itself be risky. Speaking after meeting Perry on 17 October, the Chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, Vladimir Lukin, a former Ambassador to Washington, argued that "Russians are disappointed with tendencies emerging in America, and it would be difficult to convince the Russian public that the United States is friendly and has peaceful intentions towards Russia." On 21 October, Lukin called for "negotiations to amend the treaty so that ratification can move forward."

Also after meeting Perry on 17 October, the Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, Lev Rokhlin, remained adamant that "ratification of START II is quite problematic"; it is also, he added, "not in the interest of the Russian side."

The Russian government remains committed to START II. Defence Minister Igor Rodionov, speaking on 16 October, expressed his support for the treaty not, or not solely, for its own merits, but for the opening it would create for a follow-on accord: "I not only favour it, I favour the next treaty, the START III treaty, that would continue the reduction of atomic weapons."

Perhaps the clearest case for using the prospect of START III talks to secure START II ratification was put on 20 October by Ivan Rybkin, the replacement for the dismissed Alexander Lebed as Head of Russia's Security Council:

"In principle, START II is already starting to be out of date in some ways. We need to start talking about START III. If we immediately begin working on the concept of START III, then we can ratify START II."

Despite official Russian support for speedy ratification, an unnamed Defence Ministry official was quoted (18 October) by the Interfax [ITALICS] news agency as claiming that "the leadership of the Defence Ministry considers that the deadline for fulfilling the START II treaty is not possible for Moscow and suggests putting it off by five years - to 2008." Such a proposal would presumably have to be made prior to Russian ratification, and may throw the status of US ratification into doubt. It is also at least possible that such a proposal would not be acceptable to the Clinton administration.

Perry himself, flying home on 18 October, was optimistic "that when the decision time comes for this, which is probably several months from now, that START II will be ratified in Russia... I would be willing to make a little side bet with any of you on that... I think we're going to pull...through." Perry could possibly have his bet with his spokesperson, Kenneth Bacon, who said on 17 October:

"I have to say there's a lot of suspicion. This is going to be an uphill fight, no doubt about it."

Perry was accompanied on his visit by senior US politicians, including Senator Richard Lugar (Republican - Indiana), a leading figure in the establishment of the US's Co-operative Threat Reduction scheme to assist the denuclearisation of former Soviet republics and help secure the security and safety of nuclear weapons and materials in Russia. Returning from Moscow, Lugar unveiled (30 October) a five-point plan envisaged as an important step on the road to no less an objective than the elimination of nuclear weapons. The five-points are:

1. Securing Russian ratification of START II (which Lugar claimed was in part being held back by Russian concerns about the costs of implementing the accord - concerns which, he argued, prompt US financial assistance could allay).

2. Increasing US assistance for Russian dismantlement of nuclear weapons, with a view to implementing START II ahead of schedule (the treaty envisages a completion date of no later than 2003).

3. Opening discussions on the scope of a START III agreement as soon as START II is ratified.

4. US ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) before the end of March 1997, with maximum friendly persuasion deployed to secure Russian ratification as soon as possible.

5. Reaching agreement with Russia on its relationship to an expanded NATO.

Speaking at a 30 October press conference, Lugar said that the time was ripe to drive the levels of nuclear weapons down, hard and fast: "with this window of opportunity we ought to press very hard to get rid of all of them [nuclear weapons], or pull it down as far as you can."

A programme such as Senator Lugar's might perhaps find a warmer response in the Duma than the argument deployed on 17 October by Robert Bell, a member of the National Security Council, that Russia would have to ratify to avoid the ignominy of "strategic inferiority". Bell reportedly claimed that Russia could not afford to maintain a strategic nuclear force in excess of 2,500 warheads - 1,000 fewer than the START II ceiling.

Reports: Perry, Russians discuss further arms reductions, AP Datastream International News Wire, 16 October; Russian defence Minister says backs arms treaty, Reuter News Reports, 16 October; Russian Defence Minister urges START II ratification, Agence France-Presse International News, 16 October; Perry faces hostility over START-2 in Russia, Reuter News Reports, 17 October; Russia would opt for 'inferiority' if it turns down START II - US aide, Aerospace Daily, 18 October; Russia pushes for five-year delay to START II nuclear treaty, Agence France-Presse International News, 18 Treaty; US Defense Secretary predicts Russian ratification of START II, Agence France-Presse International News, 19 October; Russia wants START III accord - Security Council chief, Agence France-Presse International News, 20 October; Duma still dissatisfied with START II, OMRI Daily Digest, No. 205, Part I, 22 October; More US aid for Russia nuclear arms cuts urged, Agence France-Presse International News, 30 October; Washington insider Lugar offers plan to get rid of nuclear weapons, BMD Monitor, 1 November; ACDA Chief says START II ratification must precede START III, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 12 November.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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