Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 55

Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday denounced a U.S. Senate vote which advanced the United States farther down the path toward deploying a national missile defense system. On March 17 senators voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation committing the United States to build a system which would defend the country against limited long-range missile attacks from rogue states such as North Korea or Iran, or accidental launches from Russia or China. The White House and congressional Democrats had long opposed this legislation, but ceased their objections following the adoption of two amendments, one of which said that efforts to develop the missile defense system must be consistent with policies to reduce Russia’s nuclear stockpile (New York Times, March 18).

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday suggested that Moscow is putting little stock in that last condition. Russia reiterated its argument that the U.S. move toward developing a national missile defense system would undermine the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and endanger strategic arms control in general. “We are talking here,” the statement said, “of a serious threat to the whole process of limiting nuclear weapons and to the stability of a strategic situation which has taken decades of international agreements to build up.” It said also that the ABM treaty and the START [strategic arms reduction] treaties are two component parts of one whole” (Reuters, Russian agencies, March 18). Russian leaders have long made it clear that they view the ABM treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability.

The March 17 Senate vote comes amid a new push by the Russian government–this time with the apparent support of leading Russian lawmakers–to win parliamentary ratification of the START II treaty. Moscow has consistently linked START II approval to U.S. compliance with the ABM treaty, however, and a START II treaty ratification bill drafted by Russian lawmakers makes that a condition of Moscow’s observance of the treaty. The Senate vote is likely to ensure that such issues will occupy a prominent place on the discussion agenda during Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s visit to Washington next week.