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Problems of START-2 Treaty ratification in Russia.

Is START-3 possible?

Eugene Miasnikov(1)

This paper was published by "INESAP Information Bulletin" No 10, August 1996, and by "Nezavisimaya Gazeta"(in Russian) on September 12, 1996..

1. History of START-2.

It is well known that START-2, which is intended to reduce deployed Russian and US strategic arms down to a level of 3000-3500 warheads was signed by the US and Russian presidents in January 1993. After three years, in January 1996, it was ratified by the US Senate. Now, in order to put the Treaty into force, it must be ratified by the Russian parliament.

It should be noted that, from the Russian side the initiative to reach the START-2 agreement in essence, belonged to president Yeltsin and his administration. The Treaty was prepared in a rush and only a very small circle of Russian experts took part in the preparation. The Russian side signed the Treaty without any concept of the future development of its strategic forces and without any estimates of financial spending required to support the strategic arsenal at START-2 levels after 2003. Immediately after the framework agreement had been reached between Bush and Yeltsin in June 1992, it was strongly criticized by various political parties and social movements in Russia, which were in opposition to president Yeltsin. It became clear during the hearings at the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation (this branch of power was dissolved by president Yeltsin in the fall of 1993), that START-2 would not be approved by law makers. The make-up of the next parliament, which was elected in December of 1993, was also not cause for any optimism regarding ratification. Moreover, the president's administration made no strong efforts to promote prompt approval of the Treaty by the parliament. It was even slow in submitting the document to the parliament, and finally did so in the summer of 1995, two and a half years after signing the Treaty, and one and a half years after election of the new parliament. However, against the background of the December 1995 parliamentary and June 1996 presidential elections in Russia, and the deterioration of the US-Russian relations, during the whole period from the summer of 1995 until now, the political atmosphere in Russia was unsuitable for a successful discussion and ratification of the Treaty. As a result, the question of START-2 ratification was not put to a vote in the parliament.

The current parliament, which was elected in Russia last December, is considered to be much more in opposition to president Boris Yeltsin than the previous one. Therefore, as a rule, experts conclude that START-2 will not be ratified in the near future.

2. Basic reasons for START-2 criticism in Russia.

In Russia, criticism of START-2 has many aspects. At least several dozen arguments against the Treaty have been raised in public debates. It should be noted that some of the arguments are in fact constructive. Some critics approve of START-2, in general, as a compromise which is beneficial both to the US and Russia. However, they also formulate conditions which they see as necessary or favorable for Treaty ratification.

The opposite view is widely shared as well. Supporters of this view claim that START-2 breaks the strategic balance in a way unfavorable to Russia and that the Treaty implementation undermines Russia's national security. Some of the arguments of START-2 opponents are clearly wrong, and some are a product of "cold war" thinking. Nevertheless, several weighty arguments exist which are hard to ignore. In particular, opponents point out the following disadvantages of and problems with START-2:

1. Russia makes more significant concessions than the US in committing itself to the Treaty provisions. By 2003, Russia must eliminate many land-based missiles which could be kept in service for several years more. Unlike the US, Russia will have to build new strategic systems in order to maintain the level of forces, permitted by START-2 after 2003. In particular, Russia would have to deploy nearly 1000 new land-based missiles. Moreover, after START-2 reductions, the US will retain a considerably larger breakout capability than Russia.(2)

2. Russia has to make substantial financial expenditures in order to destroy the strategic missiles and other platforms which must be eliminated under the START-2 reductions. This level of spending is not within the power of Russia's current economy unless the time frames of the Treaty implementation are extended.

3. Before START-2 can be ratified, policies regarding the concept of national security, the future development of the strategic forces, and the implementation of START-2 taking into account financial, technical and environmental aspects, need to be discussed and adopted.

4. In spite of the warming of the international climate, during the last three and half years since START-2 was signed, the external political situation has greatly changed in a direction unfavorable to Russia. For instance, there are now trends, indicating that the US may unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Observance of the ABM Treaty is well known to have been the basic condition for all previous strategic arms limitation agreements. In addition, real prospects exist for NATO expansion and the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the territories of potential new members of NATO. The balance of conventional weapons in Europe has also become less favorable to Russia. For instance, Russia's failure to become an adequate counterpoise to NATO in working out the international community's policy on the Balkans turned out to be another example of Russia's position in the international arena being ignored.

3. Does real prospective of START-2 ratification in Russia exist?

The Russian parliament consists of two parts -- Russia's State Duma (an analog of the House of Representatives of the US Congress) and the Council of Federation (an analog of the US Senate). According to Russia's current constitution, a simple majority of votes in both

branches of the parliament is needed for START-2 approval. The current situation is such that the Treaty might only get support from the Council of Federation, the cast of which in fact was appointed by president Yeltsin. If the question of ratification was put to a vote today in the State Duma, the outcome would most likely be negative.

Four of the most influential parties in Russia account for seventy percent of the votes in the State Duma.(3)

The positions of the main political parties towards START-2 differ considerably. At present, it is likely that only the "Our home is Russia" movement (12.2% of the votes in the Duma), which represents the party of the government, would vote for START-2.

The faction of "Yabloko" and deputies of other democratic parties (14.2% of the votes) are in constructive opposition to the Treaty. The democrats require firm guarantees of Russia's security, including preservation of the ABM Treaty, as an indispensable condition for START-2 approval. In addition, they insist that the government produce national programs for the future development of and for the implementation of the START-2 reductions.

The attitude of the major bloc in the State Duma - the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), which is currently in firm opposition to START-2 - will be the decisive factor in START-2 ratification. Deputies of the Agrarian Party and perhaps other pro-Communist movements will likely vote in alliance with the CPRF (in total 43.6% of the votes). Nevertheless, there is a chance that the attitude of this bloc may change. There are uncompromising opponents of START-2 among the communists, but there are also proponents of a more balanced approach. Alexei Arbatov (currently, Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Defense of the State Duma), a representative of the democratic faction "Yabloko" called on the government to start an active dialog with the CPRF on START-2 ratification last summer.(4)

The liberal-democratic party (LDPR) of Vladimir Zhirinovski (11.3% of the votes), which is also currently in firm opposition to the Treaty, is known to hold no principles and to be capable of compromise in exchange for strengthening its position in the executive branch of the government. In particular, the LDPR has already acted in alliance with "Our Home is Russia" several times this year.

Currently, the majority of independent deputies as well as the deputies of numerous small parties (nearly 20% of the votes) are also likely among the opposition to START-2. However, their position is hardly firm. These votes may play the decisive role, if it becomes impossible to enlist the support of the communists and two of the three other major blocs.

It is quite apparent that, after Boris Yeltsin was elected for his second presidential term, the prospects for START-2 approval strongly depended on the ability of the president to establish constructive relations with the major factions in the parliament. In exchange for their votes, the parliamentarians will likely demand that their powers be broadened and the implementation of a firmer and clearer Russian administration political line with the West. Thus, the main condition for successful ratification of START-2 in Russia is the achievement of a compromise among the major political powers.

Another important factor is the West's position on ensuring the continuation of strategic parity with Russia. The main problems here are the future of the ABM Treaty and Russian - NATO relations.

It is very likely that adoption of several modifications to the existing START-2 document will be a condition for ratifying the Treaty. For example, it was already pointed out that START-2 establishes a very tight schedule of arms dismantlement procedures, which will be hard for Russia to accomplish. It is important to note that a softer position by the West on problems such those discussed above would "disarm" opponents of START-2 in Russia and, in general, promote the creation of a more favorable situation for the Treaty ratification.

4. START-3 and related issues.

The question of deeper cuts in strategic arms is well known to have been raised by the Russian delegation during START-2 negotiations. The Russian proposal was to reach a level of 2000-2500 strategic warheads. Several times thereafter president Boris Yeltsin has suggested that the US and Russian delegation start negotiating deeper cuts, but he has not gotten an adequate response from the US side. Though some arms control analysts in the US have discussed the possibility of reaching a START-3 agreement, the official US administration publicly requires the ratification of START-2 by Russia as a necessary step to initiate such negotiations. The US official position is unlikely to change before the November 1996 presidential elections in the US. However, with favorable circumstances, a START-3 dialog could begin early next year.

It may seem surprising, but the beginning of US-Russian negotiations on deeper strategic arms reduction could promote START-2 ratification by the Russian parliament. Reaching START-3 agreement would be desirable in many aspects to Russia. In particular, such an agreement would give Russia a chance to retain a strategic parity with the US and, to some extent, compensate for the concessions to the US which Russia made by signing START-2. According to many independent experts in the US a START-3 agreement, which would diminish the level of potential confrontation with Russia, would be beneficial to the US as well.(5)

If such negotiations began, it is hard to predict exactly what lower level of strategic arms, for example, 1500-2000 warheads, would be achieved. However, it would be a major breakthrough if delegations solved, for instance, problems such as that of the irreversibility of strategic arms reduction. It needs to be arranged not only on irreversible technical measures to re-equip strategic bombers or eliminate other breakout capabilities, but also to get rid of nuclear warheads, which are currently placed in storage.

A logical step would be to begin negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons parallel to START-3 negotiations. Signing of the START-1 Treaty is well known to have been preceded by the Intermediate and Short Range Ballistic Missiles Elimination Treaty. In a similar way, it seems feasible to reduce tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Russia. The last step would also require revision of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which became obsolete after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

Finally, a guarantee of that the ABM Treaty will be preserved must be an indispensable condition. Keeping this Treaty will be crucial not only for START-3, but for further arms reduction agreements between nuclear powers as well.

As the analysis presented here shows, START-3 negotiations, if begun, will likely raise a considerably broader set of problems compared to START-2. However, such an approach seems to be the only way to ensure stability not only for US-Russian relations, but also for the whole world, in the foreseeable future.


1. Eugene Miasnikov is a research associate of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Contact address: 9, Institutski per., Dolgoprudny, Moscow, Russia, 141700. Phone: + 011-095-4086381, fax: +011-095-4084477, e-mail: [email protected], [email protected]

2. Under the START-2 Treaty provisions, the US is going to download 2 of 3 warheads on each of 500 Minutemen ICBMs, 3 of 8 warheads on each of 336 Trident SLBMs and convert a major part of its strategic bombers for non-strategic roles. However, the downloaded warheads will not be destroyed. Therefore, after START-2 implementation, the US will retain a "hedge" capability to deploy relatively cheaply and quickly nearly 3500 strategic nuclear weapons in addition to the ones permitted by the Treaty. In contrast to the US, Russia must eliminate almost all MIRVed ICBMs and their associated silos and mobile platforms except 105 SS-19 ICBMs which can carry 6 warheads each. In addition, Russia is not going to convert strategic bombers, and, assuming that 120 SS-N-20 SLBMs will be downloaded from 10 to 8 warheads to meet the Treaty requirements, Russia's total breakout capability will not exceed 800 warheads.

3. The account of the results of December 1995 elections to the State Duma can be found, in particular, in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, January 6, 1996.

4. Alexei Arbatov, START-2 Treaty Ratification in Russia: Issues and Prospects, paper presented at the Conference of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 31, 1995, Moscow.

5. See, for example, a report by the Henry L. Stimson Center, An evolving US Nuclear Posture, December 1995, Washington D.C., USA.