Russia Postpones START II Vote Again

The Russian Duma again postponed consideration of START II on December 8. The treaty, which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1996, has been repeatedly withdrawn at the last minute due to insufficient support, first as a result of U.S.-British airstrikes against Iraq in December 1998 and then because of NATO's airwar against Yugoslavia last spring. The Communist Party, which held 35 percent of the Duma's seats in early December, opposes the treaty, arguing that it undermines Russian national security.

The legislation currently before the Duma makes exchange of the instruments of ratification (the final step required to bring the treaty into force) contingent on U.S. ratification of the 1997 amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which name Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union and clarify distinctions between theater missile defenses, which are not prohibited by the treaty, and national missile defenses, which are. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an outspoken opponent of the ABM Treaty, has indicated that the amendments will be rejected if submitted to the Senate.

The legislation also links START II ratification to U.S. non-abrogation of the ABM Treaty, stating that "extraordinary events giving the Russian Federation the right to withdraw from the Treaty...[include]...the United States of America's withdrawal from the Treaty between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems...."

Ratification of START II by the Duma would thus provide additional disincentives for U.S. deployment of a limited national missile defense, which would either require amending the treaty—an idea the Russians have resisted—or withdrawal from the treaty altogether. Ratification would also allow for negotiation of deeper strategic reductions through START III, which the United States has insisted must await Russian ratification of START II.