Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 210

In their most recent remarks, both U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocombe and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were attempting not only to break the diplomatic logjam with Moscow over the ABM treaty, but also to counter broader international uneasiness over what is perceived to be Washington’s attack on the ABM accord and its intention to proceed with the development of a missile defense system. That many other governments buy Moscow’s argument that these U.S. policies threaten international stability was evidenced–even if only symbolically–by a November 5 vote in the UN General Assembly’s committee on disarmament. A Russian-sponsored resolution demanding strict compliance with the ABM treaty was approved by a 54 to 4 vote, with 73 abstentions. All European Union members reportedly either voted in favor of the resolution, or chose to abstain (AP, November 8).

Indeed, key U.S. allies are reported to be concerned that Washington’s plans to develop a missile defense system could ultimately undermine ties between the United States and its European allies while weakening NATO and triggering an arms race with Russia and China (Washington Post, November 6). Moscow, not surprisingly, has moved in recent weeks to exploit precisely these concerns and developing divisions in the Western alliance.

The Russian government, meanwhile, shows no sign of relenting in its refusal to negotiate changes in the ABM treaty. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday rebuked the United States for voting against the Russian-sponsored UN resolution calling for compliance with the ABM treaty. It also warned that U.S. insistence on amending the ABM accord could lead Moscow to scrap arms control talks with the United States altogether. A high-ranking ministry also reiterated Moscow’s readiness–in the event of a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty–to respond to the move with a series of military counter-measures. He did not spell them out, but Russian defense officials have said that Moscow would beef up its own nuclear forces in response (Russian agencies, November 10).

The degree to which the Russian-U.S. arms control talks have become deadlocked over the ABM treaty was summed up by a series of contradictory news agency reports out of Moscow and Washington yesterday. Russian agencies quoted the country’s Foreign Ministry as saying that a round of arms control negotiations scheduled for November 16 had been canceled at Washington’s request. However, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin denied the Russian report, saying that the November 16 negotiating date had never been finalized (Reuters, Russian agencies, November 10). The dispute was probably academic. All the Russian-U.S. arms negotiation sessions held in recent months have ended with terse announcements indicating that no significant progress of any sort had been achieved.