Russia Ratifies START II, Extension Protocol; ABM-Related Agreements Also Approved

May 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

More than seven years after signing the treaty, Russia ratified START II on May 4, also approving a package of agreements that extend the treaty's deadline and clarify issues concerning the 1972 ABM Treaty. The ratification puts additional pressure on the United States at a sensitive time for U.S.-Russian relations as Washington tries to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of a limited national missile defense. The ratification has also eased criticism of Russia at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference for the nuclear-weapon states' lack of progress on disarmament.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's outspoken support for the treaty and the more politically moderate composition of the newly elected Duma were decisive factors in the parliament's approval of the accord. The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed a resolution of ratification April 14 by a vote of 288-131 with four abstentions. The upper house of parliament followed suit April 19, voting 122-15 in favor of the resolution. On May 4, Putin signed the resolution, officially ratifying the treaty. (See the full text of the resolution.)

Following Duma approval of the treaty, which was widely heralded as a demonstration of the newly elected president's strength and apparent commitment to arms control, Putin said that "for Russia, the conclusion of the START II treaty opens the possibility to ensure its security on a parity basis with the U.S.A." In an April 15 telephone conversation with Putin, President Bill Clinton called the Duma's action "an important step towards the reduction of nuclear arms."

Signed in January 1993 by Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin, START II reduces the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals to 3,000-3,500 deployed warheads each, eliminates multiple warheads on land-based missiles, and limits warheads deployed on submarine- launched ballistic missiles. The deadline for treaty implementation was originally January 1, 2003.

Bush submitted the agreement to the Senate shortly after it was signed, and the Senate approved it in 1996. Yeltsin submitted the treaty to the Duma in 1995, but the original agreement was never brought to a vote due to insufficient support, based in part on the perception that Russia had made too many concessions in the treaty.

To encourage Russian ratification of the treaty, an agreement to update START II was reached at the U.S.-Russian summit held in Helsinki in March 1997. In September 1997, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a protocol to START II extending the deadline for completing reductions by five years, to December 31, 2007. Albright and Primakov also agreed that the United States would have more time to remove warheads from its Minuteman III ICBMs, as required by the treaty, and that both states would deactivate by December 31, 2003, all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II (the U.S. MX missile and the Russian SS-18 and SS-24).

At the same time, the United States and Russia, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) designating Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine as successor states to the Soviet Union for the purposes of the ABM Treaty. The five states also signed agreements clarifying the demarcation line between strategic missile defenses, which are limited by the treaty, and theater missile defenses, which are not.

Although the extension protocol was negotiated to facilitate Russian approval of START II, the Duma repeatedly postponed scheduled votes on the treaty. Two postponements followed the initiation of U.S. airstrikes—first against Iraq in December 1998, and then against Yugoslavia in March 1999—which undermined Russian support for the treaty.


Entry Into Force Unlikely Soon

The treaty's entry into force now technically depends on the U.S. Senate's approval of the 1997 START II protocol, but Russia has complicated the situation by linking the protocol to the 1997 ABM agreements. Article 9 of the Russian resolution of ratification specifically makes exchange of the instruments of ratification, the final step required to bring the treaty into force, contingent on Senate approval of all the 1997 agreements.

The Clinton administration has yet to submit the 1997 agreements to the Senate largely because Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated that the ABM-related agreements will be rejected. Helms, along with many other conservative Republicans, believes that the ABM Treaty inappropriately constrains U.S. missile defense development and deployment efforts and that it is no longer in effect without Senate approval of the MOU on succession.

The Duma's ratification legislation also reaffirms what Russian officials have repeatedly stated in recent months: if the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty to deploy a limited national missile defense, Russia retains the option to withdraw from START II. Putin emphasized this point in his speech to the Duma prior to the START II vote, stating that if "the United States decides to destroy the 1972 ABM Treaty…we will withdraw not only from the START II treaty but also the whole system of treaties on limitation and control of strategic and conventional weapons."

According to State Department spokesman James Rubin, the administration has not made a final decision on when to submit the 1997 package. In recent weeks, Rubin has repeatedly emphasized that the administration will continue to "consult with Congress" on the 1997 documents and related issues.


START III Negotiations Expected

The United States had been unwilling to pursue negotiations on START III until Russia ratified START II, agreeing only to hold "discussions" on the topic, but Russia's ratification has opened the door for formal talks on further strategic reductions. In his April 14 press briefing, Rubin said, "Now we can move in an accelerated way to negotiations on START III." In a statement following the Duma vote, Putin stated that "ratification of the START II treaty opens a way to the start of official talks on further reduction of strategic arsenals of Russia and the U.S.A. in the framework of a START III treaty."

Putin went on to call for reducing deployed nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads, instead of the 2,000-2,500 level agreed to by Clinton and Yeltsin in Helsinki. In response to repeated Russian calls for deeper cuts in recent months, U.S. officials have maintained that they are still only seeking reductions to 2,000-2,500 warheads, but some senior administration officials have indicated that the United States may be prepared to negotiate deeper cuts in exchange for Russian concessions on ABM Treaty modification. On April 25, after meeting with Clinton at the White House, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reiterated Russia's call for maintenance of the ABM Treaty but also said, "We are ready to listen to any suggestions."

During a joint briefing to journalists two days later, both Ivanov and Albright highlighted the upcoming summit meeting between Clinton and Putin, currently scheduled to take place June 4-5 in Moscow. According to David Stockwell, a spokesman for the National Security Council, the summit will allow the presidents "to have intensive conversations about and seize opportunities on arms control…and non-proliferation." White House spokesman Joe Lockhart emphasized at an April 28 press briefing that while a breakthrough is unlikely, issues relating to the ABM Treaty, missile defense, and the START process are "certainly high on the agenda."