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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

US-Russia Preliminary Discussions on START III/ABM Treaty

US-Russia discussions on strategic nuclear arms control and ballistic missile defence issues, Moscow, 17-19 August 1999

Editor's Summary

The preliminary discussions, arranged by the US-Russia Joint Commission in July (see above), were widely reported as having failed to surmount two major obstacles: a gulf between US and Russian objectives for any START (Strategic Arms Reduction) III Treaty; and US insistence on 'minor' modifications to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The START II Treaty - ratified by the US Senate in January 1996 but still languishing in the Russian Duma - would take the ceiling for each side's strategic warheads down to 3,500, down from the 6,000 maximum specified by START I. Reports now suggest that Russia would like START III to embody a ceiling of 1,500 or even 1,000, whereas the American side appears greatly to prefer a maximum ranging between 2,000-2,500. Unnamed Russian diplomatic sources told the Interfax news agency on 19 August that levels of between 1,500 or lower "are sufficient for the continuation of mutual stable deterrence." The same sources told the agency that Russia would like any START III negotiation to tackle the issue of sea-launched cruise missiles, an area the US has not identified as a priority. One source was quoted as saying that "Russia favours a ban on such missiles as they are extremely destabilizing both in the nuclear and non-nuclear senses." (Russia proposes sharper cut under START III, Xinhua, 20 August.)

With regard to the ABM issue, Russia has said it is prepared to discuss the US desire to modify the treaty to open the possibility of deploying new ABM defences designed to guard against a limited ballistic missile attack; however, the extent of the modifications the US envisages as necessary is clearly too drastic for Moscow to countenance. Without assurances on the continuing, basic solidity of the ABM Treaty, neither ratification of, nor progress beyond, START II currently seems realistic.

The US delegation to the talks was led by John Holum, designate Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. The Russian delegation was led by Grigory Berdennikov, Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Security and Disarmament Department.

More talks are scheduled, at a lower level, in Washington in September. The START/ABM complex of issues is also expected to feature prominently in mid-September when US Defense Secretary William Cohen meets his counterpart Igor Sergeyev in Moscow.

Statements and Reaction

Joint Statement

Joint Statement released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US Embassy in Moscow, 19 August

"[The ABM Treaty] is the cornerstone of strategic stability... The sides presented their approaches to the ABM Treaty and to continuing efforts to strengthen it to ensure its viability in the future. Specific proposals were not discussed in the course of the consultations."

Sources: Moscow bitter on US missile system plans, Reuters, 19 August; Moscow proposes extensive arms cuts, Washington Post, 20 August.


Grigori Berdennikov, 19 August: "The arms race could now leap to outer space... We do not see any variant which would allow the US to deploy a national anti-missile defence system and at the same time maintain the ABM Treaty. If this takes place, talks on a START III Treaty will be ruined, as well as the existing START I and START II agreements... Russia will be forced to raise the effectiveness of its strategic nuclear arms forces and carry out several other military and political steps to guarantee its national security..."

Sources: Moscow bitter on US missile system plans, Reuters, 19 August; US, Russia wrap up arms talks, Associated Press, 19 August.

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defence Ministry's International Cooperation Division, 20 August: "Perhaps the Foreign Ministry would put it more gently, but there were no results from these talks... The ABM Treaty is the basis on which all subsequent arms control agreements have been built. To destroy this would destroy the entire process."

Source: Russia official says US dooming arms talks, Reuters, 20 August.

Vladimir Lukin, Chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, 19 August: "The Russian side made it plain that [START II] can be ratified only if there is a mutually acceptable stand [on the ABM Treaty]..."

Source: US, Russia wrap up arms talks, Associated Press, 19 August.

Roman Popkovich, Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, 23 August: "[The US is] trying to portray us as a country unwilling to divest itself of nuclear arms, a kind of nuclear monster that does not want to disarm. ... The military aspect of the problem boils down to the fact that Russia needs START II more than the US does... The expiration date for our missiles will have been reached by 2007-2007, while it will be 2020-2025 in the case of America's... They understand very well that if we do not ratify the treaty and do not achieve a simultaneous reduction of the maximum number of warheads, their nuclear strength will be four to six times greater than ours by 2008-2010. ...

[The US is] putting obstacles in the way of our ratifying the START II Treaty by violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty... The argument that the [US] continental ABM system would be created to counter possible acts of terrorism from third world countries that possess nuclear weapons does not stand up to criticism... [I]f the US decides to set up a continental ABM system, Russia should work on the creation of new striking means - missiles with multiple warheads, that is, a new kind of weapon that will be a weapon of nuclear deterrence. ... Appropriate changes need to be made to Russia's military doctrine, including considering the possibility of war, the use of armed forces, and most importantly, reconsidering who are our friends and adversaries..."

Source: Lawmaker - US blocking START II ratification, Xinhua, 23 August.

James Rubin, State Department spokesperson, 19 August: "They were preliminary discussions. We have long wanted to be able to get together with Russia, to spell out our vision of how we can have the ABM Treaty modified and still move forward with deep reductions in nuclear arms. We believe we can make minor modifications to that treaty in such a way as to permit any necessary, limited national missile defense, while still ensuring that the basic principle of the treaty is upheld."

Source: State Department Noon Briefing, 19 August; State Department transcript.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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