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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 34, February 1999

Key Russian Parliamentarian Suggests New Nuclear Legislation Before START II Ratification

Although the ratification of the START (Strategic Arms Reduction) II Treaty remains on the agenda of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, the December bombardment of Iraq by US and UK forces appears to have removed all prospect of a vote being taken in the foreseeable future (see last issue for parliamentary reaction to the bombing). A combination of negative factors - the bombardment itself; US missile defense plans and eagerness to redraw the boundaries of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; NATO expansion; and the imposition of American sanctions on Russian entities for allegedly assisting Iranian proliferation efforts - also seem to be mitigating against either early action, or a pro-ratification majority when the vote is taken. There are two major additional problems: the financial burden of ratification; and the acceptability to the US of probable clauses in the ratification legislation allowing for withdrawal from the Treaty in the advent of any unilateral redefinition of the ABM Treaty, any deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members, or other (to quote Article 2 of the draft ratification legislation drawn up in December) "extraordinary events of economic or technical origin".

In the meantime, Russia is left with the severe financial and logistical problem of trying to maintain its strategic nuclear forces at current levels, or those envisaged by START I (6,000 warheads per head compared to 3,500 warheads per side under START II). For this reason, Major-General Roman Popkovich, the Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, proposed on 2 February that, before a decision is made on ratification, the Duma adopts a law guaranteeing a financially-realistic level of strategic deployment until 2010. According to Popovich, after adopting such a law, "we will be able to return to the ratification" issue. Popkovich added:

"It is necessary to understand a simple thing: Russia is unable to finance the essentially new areas and designs and maintain the existent nuclear missile arsenal under the current conditions... Specialists have assessed the cost of the annual maintenance of heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. The opponents of the Treaty know that [cost] - 70 billion roubles every year. Naturally, the State does not have such money and there is nowhere to take it from. ... We still have enough time to take decisions. At least till 2003-2005 we will fulfill the commitments on START I. Over that period Russia has the possibility to ratify START II and react [by withdrawing from the Treaty under the terms of the ratification legislation] to US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty or a unilateral revision of its clauses..."

Reports: Bill on the START II ratification is not the remedy for all the problems, PIR Arms Control Letters, Letter of January 1999; MP offers to pass nuclear force fund law, return to START-2, Itar-Tass, 2 February.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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