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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

Russia Stresses Nuclear Weapons as START II Languishes

On 29 April, Russia's Security Council held a special meeting with President Yeltsin dedicated to the issue of Russian nuclear policy. According to Council Secretary Vladimir Putin the meeting reaffirmed nuclear weapons as a "key element" of Russian security and vowed to continue to maintain and develop, including through sub-critical testing, the strategic arsenal.

The same day, the Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, Roman Popkovich, urged the explicit adoption of a policy of potential first-use of nuclear weapons. "We must," he argued, "definitely include in our doctrine [a provision] to the effect that Russia reserves the right to deliver a first or pre-emptive nuclear strike."

According to reports, Yeltsin's statement to the Council did not refer to the Strategic Arms Reduction (START II) Treaty which the Russian Duma appeared to be close to ratifying when the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia began. There now seems little prospect of START ratification in the foreseeable future. According to the Chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, prominent arms control advocate Vladimir Lukin, speaking on 5 May: "The Duma was ready to ratify START II. Honestly, it's to our advantage to ratify, but in the current situation it's impossible. There is no trust in the United States."

The stalling of START II has a number of serious implication for both Russian and US nuclear force disposition and planning. On 12 May, it was reported that the Senate Armed Services Committee was moving towards accepting proposals from the Navy to reduce its Trident strategic nuclear submarine fleet from 18 to 14. Currently, Congressional legislation requires the US maintain its Trident force at the START I specified level of 18. The Navy is arguing that 4 of the submarines would be better deployed in a non-nuclear capacity.

Reports: Russia wants nuclear arms upgrade, Associated Press, 29 April; US, Russia in nuclear stalemate, Associated Press, 5 May; Senate panel to lower Trident levels, Associated Press, 12 May.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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