Administration, Congress Continue Debate over Membership, Future of ABM Treaty

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Administration, Congress Continue Debate over Membership, Future of ABM Treaty


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


DURING THE past year, a dispute has been quietly, simmering between the Clinton administration and Congress over the issue of which states are currently parties to the ABM Treaty pending entry into force of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on succession, an agreement signed in September 1997 that defines Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as the successor states to the former Soviet Union under the treaty. (See ACT, September 1997.) In a May 21 letter to House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), President Clinton stated that the United States and Russia are "clearly" parties to the ABM Treaty today and that "a strong case can be made" that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are also parties to the treaty "even without the MOU."

The Clinton letter is likely to draw a sharp response from certain conservative Republicans, who maintain that if the Senate can defeat the MOU on succession then the ABM Treaty will become null and void. Senator Helms plans to conduct hearings on the ABM Treaty in the coming weeks, during which the MOU is certain to be strongly challenged. The Clinton administration has stated that once Russia ratifies START II, it will submit the MOU on succession (along with the START II extension protocol and the ABM-TMD "demarcation" agreements) to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. The outcome of this debate has the potential to shape the future of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agenda.

The Exchange of Letters

In a June 16, 1997 letter to Clinton, Gilman posed a series of questions concerning the status of the ABM Treaty and the administration's efforts to include Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as treaty partners. Most significant, Gilman asked what countries in addition to the United States were parties to the ABM Treaty and what countries would be parties to the treaty in the event that the Senate either failed to act on or rejected the MOU on succession.

Clinton explained the rationale for the MOU in his November 21,1997 response to Gilman. Clinton stated that, in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became necessary to determine which of the former Soviet republics would collectively assume the rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty. In making this determination, he said a key U.S. objective has been to "preserve the substance of the original treaty regime as closely as possible." To this end, Clinton noted that the MOU on succession collectively limits Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the terms of the ABM Treaty: no more than 100 ABM interceptors at a single site.

Moreover, Clinton pointed out that ABM Treaty membership was an important issue for certain key successor states of the former Soviet Union, especially Ukraine. If the United States did not include these successor states into various arms control agreements (such as the START, INF and ABM treaties), "it is unlikely that we would have achieved the kind of comprehensive resolution of issues related to the disposition of strategic assets that has been achieved," he said. …

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Administration, Congress Continue Debate over Membership, Future of ABM Treaty
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