Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 15

Two announcements yesterday threw more water on flickering hopes that the State Duma might ratify the 1993 START II nuclear arms reduction treaty. The first was a statement by former general, Krasnoyarsk governor and presidential hopeful Aleksandr Lebed that ratification of the treaty would cause “irreparable damage” to Russia’s national security (Russian media, January 21). The second was the revelation that President Bill Clinton had written a letter to President Yeltsin proposing that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty be renegotiated (New York Times, January 21).

Of the two, the second is the most serious. Russians of all political stripes have long held the ABM treaty sacrosanct. It is regarded as the cornerstone of all subsequent nuclear limitation and reduction pacts. Attempting to significantly tamper with it, they say, would bring the entire edifice down. Legislators in the State Duma will surely want to wait until the status of the treaty is clarified before considering START II again.

Lebed called for bypassing that treaty and proceeding to the even more radical reduction of weapons which had been envisioned for START III. At their 1997 Helsinki summit, Yeltsin and Clinton agreed on a ceiling of 2,000–2,500 warheads for the new treaty. Lebed would like to see that number lowered to 1,500-1,700. He also expressed particular concern about the air and naval components of Russia’s nuclear triad, and suggested that each country should be able to apportion its warheads among its components as it saw fit. Many Russian politicians agree with Lebed’s concern that the START II limits are too high, but the United States has shown no willingness to move on to further cuts until the 1993 treaty is ratified. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev yesterday again urged the State Duma to ratify the treaty quickly, calling it “necessary and beneficial” (Russian media, January 21).