Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 191

Russia yesterday joined in the cascade of condemnations emanating from capitals around the world over the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin described the vote as a “serious blow to the entire system of agreements in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.”

Coming from Moscow, that critical assessment of the Senate move was no surprise. But it was matched by similar rhetoric from government leaders elsewhere, including in countries closely allied to the United States. In Europe, the governments of Britain, France and Germany were reported to be especially upset over the Senate vote. Last week Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany had issued a joint appeal to U.S. lawmakers to ratify the CTBT. They were reportedly stung by the Senate’s failure to consider their wishes.

For Moscow, the Senate vote provides a nice boost to long-developing Russian efforts aimed at depicting the United States as an irresponsible world leader, one contemptuous of the security concerns of other countries. As could have been expected, Rakhmanin yesterday also linked the Senate’s repudiation of the CTBT both to U.S. moves to develop a national missile defense system–and thus violate the 1972 ABM treaty–and to Washington’s frequent leveling of sanctions threats in the area of export controls.” In Russia’s case, that latter charge refers primarily to much resented U.S. moves aimed at punishing Russian companies and government organizations for their defense dealings with Iran.

Rakhmanin suggested that all of these activities are indications of American arrogance on the world stage, and that they are contributing to a destabilization of international relations. Russian Defense Ministry sources took up much the same cry, saying that the Senate vote has created a “dangerous precedent with far-reaching consequences.” The sources also suggested that the vote could further undermine Kremlin efforts to win ratification of the START II treaty by Russian lawmakers.

It is unclear what the other practical consequences of the Senate vote will be for Russian policymakers. Like the United States and China, Russia has signed the CTBT but has not ratified the accord. It was assumed that Moscow and Beijing would follow Washington in ratifying the treaty. The other two declared nuclear powers, Britain and France, have signed and ratified the document. A government spokesman in Moscow said yesterday that President Boris Yeltsin had indeed given orders to prepare the treaty documents for speedy ratification. But the Senate’s rejection of the CTBT could yet give the Kremlin pause, and it would not be a surprise if the U.S. Senate’s move leads Russian lawmakers to put off considering the treaty. Russia, meanwhile, does seem likely to continue its voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing (Russian agencies, Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, October 14; International Herald Tribune, October 15).

Yesterday’s overwhelmingly negative international reaction to the Senate vote suggests that, if nothing else, it will provide more fertile ground for Moscow to rail against U.S. “unilateralism.” The treaty rejection comes at an awkward moment in that regard. Justified or not, U.S. diplomatic and military dominance of the post-Cold War international system had already generated concerns in many foreign capitals. Those concerns–expressed in Moscow and elsewhere as discomfort with a “unipolar” world–grew more pronounced as NATO launched its U.S.-led air campaign against Yugoslavia and as Washington moved forward with ballistic missile defense plans. It seems likely that the Russian government will try to make the United States pay diplomatically for these moves. With even U.S. allies unsettled over the Senate’s CTBT rejection, Moscow’s scope for mischief-making appears to have increased.