On April 17, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to examine the motivations and ramifications of the Russian Duma's April 14 approval of START II. The treaty, which was originally signed in 1993 and then updated in 1997, reduces the number of deployed strategic warheads in the U.S. and Russian arsenals to 3,000-3,500 each. (See news story.)
Panelists for the discussion were Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., president and executive director of the Arms Control Association; Jack Mendelsohn, vice president and executive director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security; Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security; and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers.
The following is an edited transcript of their remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.
Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.
We thought it would be useful to have a general discussion of the significance of the Duma's approval of START II, the opportunities that it presents, and the problems that remain in bringing it into force.
START II was negotiated under President Bush and signed on January 3, 1993, as one of his last acts as president. It was hailed at the time, correctly I believe, as a major and far-sighted achievement. START II, in its most general terms, cuts in half the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads that were permitted under START I and also outlaws multiple warheads on land-based missiles, which were correctly considered a major threat to strategic stability.
After this, things stopped moving for some time. Russia had its hands full with domestic developments and the problems of repatriating nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, and there was no real pressure in the United States for action. The Senate did not ratify START II until January 1996, and, as you all know, the Duma took more than seven years to do so.
The reasons for Russia's long delay will be the subject of many books, but from early on, ratification was opposed in large part because of hostility to President Yeltsin and his regime from the Duma, which was dominated by communist and nationalist forces. But there also was a general feeling among non-military critics that Russia had gotten a bad deal in START II-that the treaty favored the United States. Those critics pointed to what they saw as inequities in the treaty that were very restrictive on Russian land-based forces, which were a large part of Russian power, but that were in many ways quite permissive about U.S. sea-based forces. On top of this, in due course, came the question of NATO expansion, which was received with great hostility by the Duma as a clear attempt to take advantage of a weakened Russia and threaten it from a long-term perspective. Nevertheless, the senior active military personnel in Russia have supported START II pretty consistently.
To facilitate Duma approval, a number of changes were made in March 1997 at the Helsinki summit, including an agreement to negotiate a START III accord with lower levels, and those and other agreements were formalized in New York in September 1997. The Duma subsequently came close to ratifying on a number of occasions, two of which were particularly significant. The first was Christmas Day of December 1998, when the Duma was scheduled to vote on ratification and appeared likely to approve it. But the week before the vote, the United States began bombing Iraq and the Duma shelved action. The Duma scheduled another effort on ratification for April 2 of last year, but it too was shelved when the United States and NATO began their military campaign against Yugoslavia the week before.
At that point, many analysts and commentators said START II is never going to be ratified, it is essentially a dead issue. So, ratification must come as quite a surprise to those people who said it was unlikely that START II would ever be ratified. Now, some of those same people have minimized the significance of the event as being something that looks back at history and not forward. I think these observers are wrong on both accounts. Clearly, they've been proved wrong on Russian ratification.
Putin surprised a lot of people by making ratification one of his first major acts after becoming president. I think the message here is that he has a willingness to work with the United States on matters of mutual interest, including arms control. However, he has also made clear that the United States can have START II and continue beyond that to START III, but it can't have that and a national missile defense [NMD] involving significant changes to the ABM Treaty. I think it's also important to note that by being able to put this forward expeditiously and receive a substantial majority, he has demonstrated to the West that he is in a position to complete significant actions with a cooperative Duma. This is a total change from the situation under Yeltsin. Whether this is just a very short Russian honeymoon remains to be seen. But I think the evidence is that he is in a position to take dramatic actions if he wishes.
I must call attention, however, to the fact that while this is a major breakthrough in the arms reduction process, the actual implementation of START II has serious barriers to overcome. The Duma law ratifying START II made some very strong and explicit conditions. The most important is in Article 9 of the resolution of ratification, which states that the instruments of ratification will only be exchanged with the United States when the United States-Senate, in this case-carries out a number of actions. One is that the United States must also update the START II that the Senate originally ratified. The treaty was significantly changed in the Helsinki accords, which extended the implementation of START II by five years.
But more importantly, the resolution also calls on the United States to implement the famous memorandum of understanding [MOU] on succession of the parties to the ABM Treaty, which in addition to Russia now includes Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, as well as two protocols defining the demarcation line between permitted theater missile defenses [TMD] and ballistic missile defenses covered by the ABM Treaty. Article 2 of their ratification also contains a provision specifically stating that U.S. withdrawal from or violation of the ABM Treaty would constitute grounds for Russia to withdraw from START II.
This presents the administration with a serious problem, if not a dilemma, as to what to do next because the administration has obligated itself to submit this package of agreements to the Senate once Russia ratified START II, which it now has. The Senate-or at least the right-wing Republicans-has made it abundantly clear that they are not about to approve the memorandum of understanding on succession-assuming that the Senate's approval is necessary, but they assume it is-because they want to eliminate the ABM Treaty, not to institutionalize it.
Nor do the real missile defense enthusiasts in the Senate support the protocols on demarcation-even though you might think a defense enthusiast would welcome them because they essentially permit all current U.S. theater missile defense activities-because they don't want any restrictions on missile defense. In fact, they don't want any ABM Treaty. Again, they see these agreements as institutionalizing a treaty they want to abolish.
So, does the administration submit these agreements to the Senate and run the risk-I would say run the certainty-that they would be rejected by the Senate, which follows pretty clearly from the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]; or does the administration simply sit on them and take whatever criticism this entails abroad and domestically that it is impotent and obsolete when it comes to implementing arms control agreements?
The other problem is with START III. One of the big accomplishments of START II, in addition to cutting in half the number of weapons permitted under START I, is that it was agreed at Helsinki in 1997 that as soon as Russia ratified START II, START III negotiations would begin. It was agreed that the reduction of the 3,000-3,500 warheads in START II would be further reduced to 2,000-2,500. Russia has clearly indicated it would like even lower numbers. In fact, Putin has now formally stated Russia would like 1,500.
In addition to lower numbers, Helsinki called for a much broader negotiation that involved transparency in the handling of nuclear weapons and efforts to control the nuclear warheads themselves, not just the associated delivery vehicles. It also opened up the problem of dealing with theater nuclear weapons and the whole spectrum of nuclear weapons. The administration is going to have to make a decision: whether START III is going to be a very simple treaty that just goes to lower numbers, or whether they're going to initiate a very elaborate negotiation, which cannot possibly be completed in this administration and may take many years.
So, with these caveats as to the problems that face us, I think there's no question that even though it's old news in one sense, the fact that the Duma has agreed to START II and more or less given Putin a free hand to pursue these issues is a major step forward. We shouldn't open the last bottle of champagne, however, because there's a lot of work yet to be done. But now most of the problems are in the United States-how we're going to deal with agreements that have already been made and endorsed by Russia, and how we're going to exploit the potential for substantial further progress in START III. [Back to top]
I could have entitled this discussion "Linkages." It's about the interrelationship among START II and START III, theater missile defense, national missile defense, and the future.
START II does four important things. First, it reduces the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia to 3,000-3,500 warheads-that's more than a 50 percent cut from where START I is going to bring us. Second, START II eliminates land-based, multiple-warhead missile systems. Third, it specifically eliminates the Russian heavy SS-18 missile-the elimination of that missile system has been a special target for the United States since the beginning of strategic arms talks. Fourth, an interesting point that is often ignored, it changes the counting rules to actual deployed warhead numbers rather than the current system of indirectly counting or discounting warheads that prevailed during SALT and START I-indirect counting because we were counting launchers in the beginning, discounting because in START I we gave bombers leeway in the number of weapons they could carry. In START II, one warhead deployed counts as one warhead against your limit.
Those are the four major parts of START II. The amendments to START II were signed in September 1997 along with an agreement-in-principle on START III and a packet of documents on theater missile defense. All of these were designed to help obtain Duma approval of START II. However, that approval took from September 1997 until April of this year for a number of reasons, including the conflict and distrust between the executive and the legislative branches in Moscow and the fact that Yeltsin was basically unable to lead the Duma in any meaningful way.
Now, the amendment to START II, its associated documents, the START III agreement-in-principle, and the TMD documentation together did five important things. First of all, the amendment extended the deadline for the elimination of weapons under START II to December 31, 2007, which is five years beyond the original January 2003 deadline. That was important for Moscow because Russia won't have the money or the time to destroy, restructure, and replace its strategic forces by the original 2003 date. Because of the delay in implementing all of the treaties that are involved here, that 2003 date would have actually come no more than a year after the end of START I reductions. When START II was signed, 2003 was 10 years off, so the deadline looked reasonable at the time. But the longer it takes to approve it, the less time you have to implement it. Also, I think the Russians were quite clearly seeking a little breathing room to evaluate, during this extension, the impact that the U.S. theater missile defense program, national missile defense program, and NATO expansion would have on Russia's national security interests.
Second, an associated document to START II proposes that the sides establish an interim date of the end of 2003 for deactivating all the weapons scheduled for elimination under START II. The Russian side, however, made that deactivation contingent on a START III agreement being achieved and entering into force well before that deactivation deadline. So there's already a hook, or a linkage if you will, within this documentation relating to START II, driving us toward getting a START III agreement.
Third, the START III agreement-in-principle lowered the aggregate level of weapons from 3,000-3,500 in START II to 2,000-2,500 by the same ending date as START II. So START III has lower levels, but it also ends at the same time, so in practical terms you're just lowering the START II levels. Now this lowering of the levels to 2,000-2,500 was intended-it didn't totally succeed-to help overcome Russian concerns that they would have to reduce their MIRVed land-based missile forces under START II, build up single-warhead forces, and then reduce them later if there was a START III somewhere off in the future. This way they got a picture of what was coming sooner.
However, almost immediately after the START III agreement-in-principle, Russia began to suggest the levels of 2,000-2,500 were too high and that 1,500 might be more appropriate. Now Putin has said it officially.
The START III agreement-in-principle called not only for lower levels, but also for extensive transparency measures relating to strategic inventories (stockpiles) and warhead destruction, as well as other measures to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions, including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads. That's a not-so-masked reference to the fact that the United States has a greater opportunity to increase the size of its reduced arsenal under START III because it's going to achieve lower levels by "downloading," or simply taking warheads off, multiple-warhead systems that will remain in the strategic forces.
Fourth, the sides also agreed that in the context of START III they would explore, as separate issues, measures relating to sea-launched cruise missiles, which are of interest to the Russians, and tactical nuclear systems, which the United States is very interested in. This would include appropriate confidence-building and transparency measures. I should point out that there was no mention of levels. The United States has levels in mind on tactical nuclear weapons, but it's not in the agreement-in-principle.
And finally, the United States and Russia concluded a series of ABM Treaty-related documents clarifying the demarcation line between strategic and theater missile defenses, formalizing the succession status of the former Soviet republics, outlining confidence-building measures in the TMD program, and addressing future U.S. TMD plans.
So that's where we were as a result of the documentation that came out of Helsinki as regards the future of START III, TMD, and the amendments to START II. In ratifying START II, the Duma reaffirmed a number of important linkages. First, it linked Russia's continued adherence to START II to U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty. Second, it linked adherence to START II to concerns about the buildup of strategic nuclear weaponry in third countries-it's a standard Soviet, now Russian, reference to the other nuclear powers: China, France, Britain-to make sure that increases in their forces don't get out of hand in terms of Russia's interests or Russia's concerns. Third, it linked adherence to no deployment of nuclear weapons in the new member states of NATO. Fourth, it linked its own commitment to START II deactivation to the completion by the end of 2003 of START III. And finally, it linked entry into force of START II to U.S. ratification of the TMD documentation on demarcation, succession, and confidence-building measures.
Summing it up, for Russia at least, implementation of START II is linked to the preservation of the ABM Treaty, to approval of the TMD documents, and to an eventual START III. Remember START II at 3,500 is not an interesting treaty for Russia. At 2,500 they're saying START III is not interesting. And they're even saying at 2,000 it's not interesting. Let's talk about 1,500. So they are linking START II to an eventual START III.
As President Putin said after the Duma ratification, the ball is now clearly in the U.S. court. The Senate must now act on the amendments to START II, which in themselves should not be objectionable. The U.S. Senate has never said the START II documentation was a particular problem, and it probably would approve those alone. But they've insisted that they be submitted along with the TMD documentation, which is highly objectionable to the conservative, anti-ABM Treaty members of that chamber.
So, what do we do now? The administration has three options. Option one: It can submit the START amendments and the TMD documentation, which the Senate has insisted upon, and risk almost certain defeat of the latter. This would block the exchange of instruments of ratification and keep START II from coming into force. Not terribly attractive. Option two: It can hold the amendments and documentation until the next Congress and next administration. It's unclear whether chances would improve for approval, but they couldn't be any worse since you can't get the approval now. And the third option, which may not be a real-world one, is to attempt to strike a deal in the near term with the Russians on START III and ABM modifications-the so-called grand bargain. That was mentioned in the reporting that came out after the ratification. The administration under this option would then try to win approval of the larger package with its combination of START reductions, no meaningful constraints on TMD, and easement of restrictions on NMD deployments in Alaska. This could supposedly satisfy the conservative elements of Congress.
There are at least two problems with the third option. Not to put too fine a point on it, the problems are time and substance. There's almost certainly not enough time to work out START III in the detail originally called for-that is, dealing with levels and with stockpile and warhead destruction transparency and irreversibility. A levels agreement alone-that is, one substituting 1,500-2,000 warheads for the current 2,000-2,500 proposed for START III-is one night's work. Agreeing to transparency measures and irreversibility rules, however, would almost certainly take some time.
There's another linkage here with transparency measures and irreversibility measures in that the lower the levels go, the more interested the sides are in making certain that they understand the size of the stockpile and the limits on reversing or building up or breaking out-so you've got a big problem there. There may also be other problems with the substance of the grand bargain. According to [Deputy Chair of the Duma Defense Committee] Alexei Arbatov, Russia may be willing to accept an Alaska-site NMD deployment-i.e., Phase I, one site, no space sensors, etc. That's the essential grand bargain. That is all the United States is actually seeking in the negotiations at this time-amendments to permit Phase I to go ahead. But many, including the Russians, believe that much more grandiose plans are in the works. For their part, the conservative members of the Senate, hoping to nip this one in the bud, are already saying they will not approve any minor adjustments to the ABM Treaty. So, if you did get the grand bargain that just slightly changed the ABM Treaty to permit an Alaska deployment, they're saying they're not interested in that. They want the ABM Treaty gutted and gutted good. And if the ABM Treaty is gutted, Russia will clearly want to revise the START III settlement, if there ever is one. So, we're back where we started. Everything is linked to everything else. [Back to top]
Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr.
The Duma's approval of START II is a positive occasion, but it's only one small step for mankind. On January 3, 1993, I held the book for President Bush to sign START II in Moscow. At that time, I never imagined it would be seven years before both legislatures had backed this treaty. And it's still not in force. The Duma action certainly is a positive step, but entry into force is probably a long way off.
As has been said, the amendments to START II have to go to our Senate to be approved before entry into force can take place, and the Russians have said in their resolution of ratification that they will not exchange instruments of ratification bringing START II into force until the U.S. Senate approves these START II amendments, as well as the 1997 ABM documents clarifying succession and establishing the demarcation between strategic and theater ballistic missile defense systems. Those are the main parts of the 1997 package.
In late 1997, in connection with the ratification of the flank agreement to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe [CFE] Treaty, the administration committed itself to submitting the 1997 ABM documents to the Senate when it submitted the START II amendments. So both sides have linked the ABM documents to the approval of the amendments to START II, which are necessary to bring it into force.
I might add that although the 1997 CFE agreement did not have to go to the Senate for approval, it was sent anyway. The ABM Treaty succession document of 1997 definitely does not have to go to the Senate. So, in a treaty that didn't have to go to the Senate, the administration pledged to send another treaty document that doesn't have to go to the Senate. That doesn't seem to me to be the pinnacle of successful management of congressional relations.
The 1997 documents are very controversial, meaning that it is going to be very difficult to bring START II into force anytime soon. The demarcation agreement establishes the speed and range of targets against which TMD interceptors can be tested and remain exempt from ABM Treaty limits. This was designed to permit the THAAD [Theater High Altitude Area Defense] system, which in the mid-1990s was the system of choice of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, and the other TMD systems that are under development. So, we got what we wanted in the 1997 documents. We got all that we asked for.
However, there are those in our body politic who don't think that this is enough, and a number of them sit in the Senate. Basically, they want a full-scale national missile defense resembling the Strategic Defense Initiative, and so they are going to try to defeat the demarcation amendment in the Senate. I'm not sure how many votes they have. Undoubtedly, if the 1997 documents are sent to the Senate, it will precipitate a major debate in the Senate on the future of national missile defense, but the outcome would be hard to predict. I don't think the vote count would be as bad as it was with the CTBT, but it would be uncertain whether it would get the necessary two-thirds vote.
I think the succession agreement, which simply states that for the purposes of the ABM Treaty, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine are the successors to the Soviet Union, could get a better vote because there is no need for that to be approved by the Senate. Any Senate action on it is essentially irrelevant in the law, despite what some of the conservative members in the Senate assert.
I participated in a debate on this subject at the Council on Foreign Relations in October 1998, and since the succession agreement is an important question, I thought I might read to you a couple of paragraphs from the statement that I made:
"Determination of succession to treaties is part of the foreign policy power of the president. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties does provide that a state may withdraw from a treaty on, among other grounds, fundamental change of circumstance or impossibility of performance, and the ABM Treaty has a withdrawal clause permitting a party to withdraw on six months notice if it believes that its supreme interests are threatened. But treaties just do not vanish or go away. A party must declare that it is withdrawing or that it regards itself as no longer bound for one of the above reasons or some other legitimate reason. It is the head of state or of its government that makes this decision and declaration-in our case, the president.
"Thus, the ABM Treaty remains in force, and neither action nor inaction by the U.S. Senate on the memorandum on succession signed in New York in September of 1997, nor a declaration by the Senate or the Congress that the ABM Treaty is null and void, will affect the legal standing of the treaty. Continued U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty is a matter of national policy; absent a decision by the president to withdraw from the treaty, our obligation is to abide by its provisions.
"Succession under international law is a question of fact and agreement, and the United States on the one hand, and Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan on the other, have agreed that the latter four states are the duly constituted successors to the Soviet Union for the ABM Treaty. Signature of the MOU in September 1997 by the president's authorized representative reflected the fact that succession had occurred for the ABM Treaty as a matter of law. For the United States, this is a presidential function which does not involve the Senate as it is not a question of a new treaty, rather it is a continuation of the old treaty."
So, whatever the vote is on the succession agreement, from a legal point of view it is completely irrelevant. Politics are another matter, but as far as the law is concerned, it has no effect. But there will be a huge debate over this issue, and undoubtedly a number of members of the conservative wing of the Senate will try to defeat both agreements.
The question of whether or not to send these documents to the Senate at this time certainly is a valid one. Jack Mendelsohn laid out the options quite clearly. In my own mind, I recognize the perils that lie ahead, but I just don't think that we have any choice but to send them forward. That is what we have always said we would do. The Russians have now put us on the spot.
I don't think the option of waiting for the next administration is much more attractive. If it's a Gore administration, you're going to have the same result, and a Bush administration may not want to send them forward or may want to change them. The idea of trying to strike this so-called grand bargain first and then getting these other documents approved suffers from the fact that a number of members of the Senate may not approve the grand bargain because they want a full-scale national defense along the lines of what was contemplated in the 1980s.
I think the best course of action, although I recognize it is perilous, is to send the 1997 agreements to the Senate reasonably promptly and argue that negotiations are underway to try to strike a grand bargain and that a negative Senate vote on these documents would severely cripple the negotiations. Therefore, you urge the Senate to act on these documents or, if a positive vote is not in the cards in the short term, to put them on the shelf. I don't know how many legislative days are left this year. There may not even be time to get these documents through. They do have to go through committee. But we can be sure that there will be a major debate in the Senate on the subject of national missile defense if these documents do arrive.
Perhaps it would be a good thing to have a debate on national missile defense. I think it's better than just going ahead with national missile defense without a debate. I would further say that I cannot imagine anything more destructive right now to the foreign policy interests of the United States and to the cause of non-proliferation and disarmament than to go forward on national missile defense unilaterally without at least the understanding of the Russians, the Europeans, and the Chinese. It is a recipe for a rekindling of the nuclear arms race, for a disastrous relationship with our allies, Russia, and China, and for a more dangerous and less secure world.
With respect to the review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], which starts next week, I'm sure all of you are aware that the treaty is in trouble. The commitments that were made in 1995 in connection with making the NPT a permanent treaty largely have not been met by the nuclear-weapon states. Russia's ratification of START II essentially puts the United States on the wrong side, or at least it puts the ball in the U.S. court, to quote President Putin. We have senior French officials-as well as Russian, Chinese, German, and British officials-coming here, lecturing us, saying, "We've done our part. When are you going to do yours, in terms of carrying out your international obligations?"
If we are not able to move forward to bring START II into force, we will be on the wrong side of that issue, as we already are with respect to the CTBT. We're obviously not on the right side of the ABM/NMD issue as far as the international community is concerned. And there is also the question of the debate over doctrine that has been going on in NATO. Many of our NATO allies want NATO to consider changing its nuclear doctrine, so as not to retain the option of using nuclear weapons first, especially the option of using them against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. Jack Mendelsohn and I have been to most NATO countries in the last year and a half, and I can say with some confidence that all of our allies would welcome such a change. It is only the United States that is holding back.
So, in my judgment, this move by Russia is positive, but it squarely puts the onus on the United States with respect to reductions, with respect to the CTBT, with respect to the ABM Treaty, and with respect to the doctrine issue, although Russia shares the wrong side of that latter issue with us. There is also a strong rumor that Putin may ask the Duma to ratify the CTBT as well, which would add to the U.S. isolation. [The Duma approved the CTBT April 21. See p. 43.] It is important that our government come to grips with these issues and try to set our policy on a new course that will strengthen our security, strengthen the NPT regime, and make for a more peaceable and secure world for the next century. [Back to top]
I agree with the others that START II approval by the Duma is a welcome and long-overdue step, and that Russian action puts the onus squarely on the president and Congress now to follow through. If the president and Congress don't follow through and don't cooperate, we could have another CTBT-like political meltdown that could create a severe international security crisis, especially, as Ambassador Graham said, in the context of the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference coming up this month.
I hope that the president and the Congress can work together to get the 1997 START II and ABM amendments through so that START II can finally be implemented, but the early signs are not good. One specific example: Last Friday in an interview with CNN, Senator Thad Cochran [R-MS] questioned the value of nuclear arms reductions with Russia if it means limiting U.S. missile defense options by approving the 1997 agreements. This is not a hopeful sign from a senator who is generally considered to be one of the more reasonable Republicans on these questions.
Now, there's been some discussion about what the president should do in terms of transmitting or not transmitting the 1997 agreements. I would differ with Tom Graham on this. Given that there is clear opposition from people like Senator Cochran to the 1997 agreements, and given that other senators, like Senator Jon Kyl [R-AZ]-who might be called the head of the Dr. Strangelove caucus-oppose this grand bargain agreement that might come about, it is pretty clear that many pro-missile defense senators are going to do what they can to scuttle these talks over the next several months. If the Clinton administration does transmit the 1997 START and ABM agreements, I think the opportunity for mischief is going to be far too great for some of these senators to resist.
It is important to note that the president did agree to transmit these agreements in the context of the CFE flank agreement approval, but he did not say when he would transmit them after START II approval by the Duma. If the U.S. Senate is not going to be cooperative on this subject, there is no reason why the president should forward these agreements. Doing so could lead to a debate that might be good for some reasons, but that could be catastrophic in terms of preventing a START III agreement that could lead to further meaningful reductions and in terms of working around the ABM conundrum that the United States and Russia are now in.
Compounding the problems on START II implementation is one other important factor. In the last three years in the defense authorization bill, Congress approved legislation that bars reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal below START I levels-that is, around 6,000 deployed warheads-and that bars changes in the alert posture of the U.S. nuclear arsenal until and unless START II is implemented. If these arms control agreements cannot be implemented and pursued, that legislation essentially bars the president from pursuing the alternative approach-that is, unilateral, reciprocal measures. This legislation just does not make any sense, especially when you consider the fact that the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal is right now probably below 6,000 deployed warheads. It's estimated to be around 5,900.
The thing we need to keep in mind with START II is that even after this very important agreement is implemented, the United States and Russia will still retain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, poised for mass attack, with decision-makers having just minutes to decide whether to launch their thousands of nuclear-armed missiles. The U.S. arsenal, even after START II, is still going to include about 1,000 tactical nuclear weapons, the 3,500 strategic weapons allowed by START II, 500 strategic spares, then another 2,500 nuclear weapons held in reserve as a hedge against a renewed nuclear arms race.
So, START II is helpful, but we have to acknowledge that the Cold War nuclear doomsday machine is still going to be online well after 2007, the scheduled completion date for START II. So, what seems to me to be the most significant and helpful aspect of the Russian Duma approval of START II is the opportunity for deeper, more meaningful, and irreversible cuts through START III. Each side has exchanged positions on START III, and there are various issues that divide the two sides. Russia is believed to favor the elimination of submarine-launched cruise missiles. They are interested in restrictions on activities in anti-submarine warfare zones where strategic nuclear submarines patrol, and there are some other issues.
But perhaps there is no issue more pivotal than the warhead level that both sides might negotiate. As has been said several times before, Russia is willing to go down to 1,500 strategic nuclear weapons, but the Clinton administration continues to insist on the START III framework number of 2,000-2,500 agreed at Helsinki. Quite simply, if the president expects to reach an agreement with Russia on START III and, at the same time, achieve some agreement or understanding about modifications to the ABM Treaty that would allow for the limited missile defense system he is pursuing, he should be prepared to lock in reductions with Russia, as low as Russia will be able to accept and verify.
Some Pentagon leaders recognize the absurdity of keeping such large warhead levels but say that the U.S. position on the warhead levels cannot be changed until the president issues new guidance establishing new criteria for post-Cold War nuclear deterrence. One of these military leaders is former head of U.S. Strategic Command Eugene Habinger, who said on 60 Minutes earlier this year that "the fact that we have not been able to get down to lower and lower levels of nuclear weapons is troubling to me, and it should be troubling to you."
As has also been mentioned, Senator Kyl and others are opposing any sort of agreement for limited modifications to the ABM Treaty, which would just allow for the system that the administration is pursuing. What Senator Kyl and others who consider themselves disciples of President Reagan should remember is that START II was a mere stepping stone in the nuclear reduction process envisioned and begun by Reagan and Gorbachev. Of course, in the intervening years, leaders of both countries have failed to show the statesmanship and vision of their predecessors. While it is true that Reagan did instigate a move toward ballistic missile defenses, Washington has also forgotten that part of his vision was to use defenses as a means for the Soviet Union and the United States to cooperate in getting rid of offensive nuclear weapons.
Reagan rejected the mutually assured destruction [MAD] doctrine that we use today, and I think he was right in recognizing the inherent dangers there. But the current approaches that Senator Kyl and others in Congress and even the Clinton administration are pursuing ignore the linkage that Reagan saw between missile defense and offensive reductions. What Kyl and others are doing by continuing to preserve the MAD nuclear posture and trying to add defenses to it will only cause instability, especially if the United States pursues ballistic missile defenses unilaterally.
Finally, it is important to remember that the American public has been largely absent from this debate over the last several years because of the perception that the Cold War has led to the elimination of these nuclear arsenals by the United States and Russia. The public still does back deep reductions in nuclear arsenals, and a nationwide poll that was conducted April 7-9 by the Mellman Group for my organization found that 68 percent of Americans believe that the reduction or the elimination of nuclear weapons should be the goal of U.S. policy. Forty percent said that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons should be the U.S. goal, and 28 percent said reductions of these weapons should be the goal. So, I think that in the public support for this there is perhaps some room for optimism. [Back to top]
Questions and Answers
Question: What do you perceive Clinton's game plan to be? I get the impression that there is none.
Keeny: I think that Clinton's advisers believe that if they keep pushing a proposal to amend the ABM Treaty, the Russians will agree. But ultimately this is going to be the president's decision. Most people feel that the decision is almost predetermined, that he is going to decide on deployment. I don't agree with that because I see the arguments against it as so overwhelming and because Clinton's own political situation is such that I don't believe he would decide to deploy if it meant withdrawing from the treaty.
The one missing piece of this puzzle is what the president really intends to do, or if he has really made up his own mind. He's clearly being pushed continuously by his own lieutenants to a decision to deploy-by their arguments on the extreme urgency of the deployment and their efforts to cover up the total lack of appropriate development progress to justify a normal deployment decision.
I do think that the administration was really surprised that the START II ratification went through so quickly. For Putin to move so quickly and for the Duma to be so supportive of the relationship to take on this hot potato came as a surprise. My impression is that they are struggling with what their tactics are, much less their strategy.
Kimball: One way to summarize the Clinton administration's strategy over the last three years is that this is the ultimate triangulation strategy. In 1997, they put together this package of agreements with the Russians in the hope that Russia would ratify START II sooner, but they're getting caught in a vise because they can neither really satisfy the Russians nor can they satisfy 67 senators. So, their hope right now, as far as I can tell, is that they will have six more months to work out this agreement on offenses and defenses, but as we said, there are big hurdles in the way.
If they do conclude that agreement, the issue is what the Senate and the next president are going to do with it. I don't believe they have any strategy whatsoever for that phase, so they are trying to work this through, but even if they do, the chances are low. We do need to keep open the option for unilateral reciprocal reductions. It makes sense for both countries. This legislation saying that we cannot go below START I levels until START II is implemented has to be eliminated, and I hope that the Republicans will see the reasoning behind that.
Graham: I don't think there is a game plan that's carefully thought through. A substantial motivator for all of what the Clinton administration does in this area is domestic politics and the election, and the highest priority is the election of the vice president. So, they see what is best to do to obtain that objective.
In my judgment, the grand bargain may well not be negotiable. Why would Russia make a deal with this president if it's going to go down the chutes when the next administration comes along? It is at least possible that if an attempt is not made with the 1997 documents, we can probably forget about the grand bargain as well. With respect to unilateral reciprocal reductions, they won't happen either if a unilateral ABM abrogation is a prospect.
Mendelsohn: What the administration would like to do is to make a deployment decision and not withdraw from the ABM Treaty. What they would like to work out is something short of a grand bargain. They would like to get the Russians to say that they are willing to discuss the future of the ABM Treaty, and then they could say, "We are going to deploy, but because we are discussing the treaty we are not going to withdraw. The discussions will catch up with us at some point."
Question: Would the administration then tell Congress that that should be good enough for it to act on the 1997 agreements?
Mendelsohn: I'm not sure what they're going to do with the existing documentation. That's a tough decision for them. What they're saying right now is that they want to wait until they have more.
Graham: I think Jack [Mendelsohn] may well be right, but that only gets you a short-term gain. It's going to catch up with you come spring. That just gets them into the next administration.
Question: To what extent, if any, does the Republican right in the Senate pick up even more ammunition from Russia's embrace of this new national security concept, which, at least nominally and ambiguously, lowers the nuclear threshold? Does that give the Kyls and the Cochrans even more ammunition and make life even harder, or are the problems you've already described so substantial that the national security concept is essentially irrelevant?
Mendelsohn: Others may not agree with me, but I think it is primarily a rhetorical issue. If you want to beat up on the Russians, you have a whole list of things, and then, by the way, they changed their doctrine. I don't think that is the compelling element in the debate that's going on in the United States. We pursued START II, and they had that doctrine, so I don't think that is a determining aspect of it. There is something more profound there: the desire of the Republican right essentially to dismantle all of strategic arms control across the board.
Graham: I differ slightly with Jack [Mendelsohn]. I think it could be an additional argument for Senator Kyl and others, who could say, "Well, the Russians are going to develop a new generation of small tactical nuclear weapons to counteract NATO. Therefore, we should do the same and start testing again."
Question: Is it conceivable, with all that's at stake, that the administration could persuade the Russians to allow some tinkering with the ABM Treaty by suggesting some notion of sharing?
Graham: Well, I don't think that we'll ever convince the Russians that Chicago is under imminent threat from North Korea, but something along the lines of what the Bush administration was talking about, the GPALs [Global Protection Against Limited Strikes] concept. If we were really willing to share, and that's a big if, that might make a difference.
Question: But we're not even willing to share high technology with our European allies in many instances, so how are you going to get GPALs?
Mendelsohn: The technology-sharing idea is the last refuge of conservative scoundrels on this issue. Can you imagine this Congress approving the sharing of sensitive sensor technology with the Russians? It boggles the mind. It's absurd.
Keeny: The Russian policy people who are working on this are quite aware that switching a site from North Dakota to Alaska is not going to affect their strategic deterrent. They are very explicit, privately and publicly, that their problem is that this is a slippery slope. And they know that it is a very slippery slope because [Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott, in pursuing the first phase, says that we'll be back to work out the details of the second and third phases. And by the third phase, the Russians are saying that you'll have lots of X-band radars, you're going to have space sensors, you're going to begin to establish the base of what could rapidly become a serious national missile defense.
And then they hear Senator Kyl and all of his associates saying that a limited defense is not what we really have in mind. What we really want is a layered defense, which is really directed at China initially and then Russia. The Russians look on this as a matter of principle-if they make the first step, how do they argue that you don't make the second, the third, the fourth step. That is their problem. Maybe the Russians would accept some minimal first step, but I think that would be overwhelmingly opposed by the national missile defense movement in Congress, and it would be made an issue in this election year. I think it's really going to prove to be a non-starter.
Question: You mentioned the NPT review conference. How far can we go before the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty dissolves, given the lack of progress on strategic issues by the nuclear powers and the lack of inclusion of Israel, India, and Pakistan?
Graham: There are four states outside of the NPT that disregard its provisions-India, Pakistan, Israel, and Cuba-and there are five nuclear-weapon states within the treaty that to some extent have disregarded its provisions and related undertakings. How long can this last? I would say that if policies don't change, if CTBT is not brought into force, if deep reductions are not pursued, if the first-use option is not given up, if legally binding negative security assurances are not agreed to, and if national missile defenses are deployed-unless deployed with the understanding of Russia, China, and Europe-then I'd say five to 10 years. And then, we will have a much bigger problem than we have today.
Once the treaty starts to dissolve, it will never be possible to put it back together. Just a few straws in the wind: senior Japanese officials have told quite a few people now that when they signed up for the NPT, they signed up for five nuclear-weapon states, not seven, and if there is going to be an eighth, and the name of it is North Korea, then there will be a ninth, and it will be Japan, and there will be a 10th, South Korea. And there could be an 11th and 12th in Taiwan and Indonesia. And that is just one region. There's also Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria, and who knows what will happen in South Africa. But I think we have five to 10 years to change our policies and get this regime where it should be: a strong, vibrant regime that clearly works and will be there indefinitely to protect our security in the 21st century.