Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 15

Russian and U.S. arms control negotiators wound up a second day of talks in Geneva yesterday and were expected to meet for a third day today. The talks, which according to at least one source had not been previously announced, were apparently being conducted away from public scrutiny on the margins of the sixty-six-nation Conference on Disarmament. The conference opened its first ten-week session for the year 2000 on January 18, but apparently has not gotten underway in earnest due to the Russian-U.S. talks taking place at a separate sight in Geneva.

Meanwhile, John Holum and Yuri Kapralov, the chief U.S. and Russian negotiators, were apparently hoping to break the logjam which has long stymied efforts by the two countries to move forward on key arms control and missile defense issues (AP, Reuters, January 20). Details of the current talks were not made public, but in the course of numerous talks over the past year the two sides have stumbled over the Russian parliament’s failure to ratify the START II strategic arms reduction treaty and, perhaps of greater import, deepening differences between Moscow and Washington on the subjects of missile defense and the 1972 ABM treaty. Moscow has repeatedly rebuffed U.S. efforts to revise the 1972 accord while simultaneously denouncing U.S. plans to move forward on the development and deployment of a limited national antimissile defense system.

Previous negotiations on these issues have ended with terse announcements saying that the two sides had failed to make any progress, and there is little reason to believe that a breakthrough of any significance is likely this week. Indeed, a notorious Russian Defense Ministry hardliner–Colonel General Leonid Ivashov–restated Moscow’s criticism of U.S. missile defense plans in remarks to reporters on January 19. Ivashov, who was responding to a failed U.S. anti-missile test one day earlier, said that the test was seen by Moscow as a step toward dismantling the ABM treaty. He reiterated Moscow’s argument both that the ABM accord remains a cornerstone of nuclear deterrence between the two countries and that a U.S. drive to develop a national missile defense could lead to a new Russian-U.S. Cold War (Reuters, UPI, January 19). Despite the missile test failure this week and continued Russian objections, many observers believe that the Clinton Administration could still decide this summer to proceed with construction of the limited missile defense system.

Another development which bodes ill for a Russian-U.S. arms control breakthrough was a statement by the recently reelected speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament. Communist lawmaker Gennady Seleznev said on January 19 that the Duma could ultimately ratify START II. But he also suggested that approval of the treaty was not likely to come any time soon. “No one has initiated this question and it has not been discussed in any way yet,” Seleznev told a Russian radio station (AP, Itar-Tass, January 19).

The Geneva Conference on Disarmament itself, finally, may provide some disincentive for Moscow to compromise with the United States on the related issues of missile defense and the ABM treaty. During an address read out to the conference earlier this week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hinted at his own discomfort with U.S. missile defense plans by joining Moscow in calling the ABM treaty a “cornerstone of strategic stability” (Reuters, January 18). And, indeed, that is a view shared by many countries around the world, including some of Washington’s closest European allies. Given the broad international support for Moscow’s position on these particular issues, and the resentment felt by many nations over both U.S. missile defense plans and the U.S. Senate’s recent rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Moscow seems to have little reason at present to make significant concessions to Washington.