Senate Finally Approves START II; Prospects for Duma Vote Uncertain

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, February 1996 | Go to article overview
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Senate Finally Approves START II; Prospects for Duma Vote Uncertain


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


THREE YEARS after the signing of the treaty by then-President George Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution of ratification of START II on January 26 by a vote of 87-4. (See p. 30.) Before START II can enter into force, both bodies of the Russian Parliament, the Council of Federation (the upper house) and the Duma (the lower house), must approve the treaty by simple majority votes.

Although the Council of Federation is expected to approve the treaty, the prospects for ratification in the Duma are less certain. The initial judgement of many informed observers was that there was little chance that Russia would ratify START II this year. Some recent developments, however, indicate that the prospects for Russian ratification sometime this year may be improving.

Under the treaty, the United States and Russia must reduce their arsenals by 2003 to no more than 3,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads-more than a 50 percent reduction from START I levels. In addition, START II eliminates multiple-warhead ICBMs, including all Russian SS-18s; limits warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to 1,700 to 1,750; counts heavy bombers as "actually equipped" rather than discounting the number of warheads they can deliver as in START I; and liberalizes the START I provisions on "downloading" (removal of warheads from missiles) to meet the reduced ceilings under START II.

Senate action on the treaty had been delayed since early August 1995 by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), who had suspended committee business as a result of a dispute with the Clinton administration over the reorganization of the executive branch's foreign affairs agencies. After a compromise was reached on the reorganization issue in early December, the committee unanimously approved the ratification resolution on December 12, clearing the way for the floor vote.

In the final vote, only Helms, John Ashcroft (R-MO), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Robert Smith (R-NH) voted against the resolution.

The Difficult Road Ahead

Russian ratification of START II is likely to be an uphill battle. Whereas the delay over ratification in the U.S. Senate was primarily caused by unrelated domestic political factors, members of the Duma have expressed concern over terms of the treaty that they find disadvantageous to Russia. Although the Russian military appears to recognize the benefits of maintaining strategic parity with the United States with a substantially reduced force structure, Duma members have noted that Moscow will assume substantial implementation costs and unequal reconstitution capabilities. For instance, because START II bans multiple-warhead ICBMs, which represent 50 percent of Russia's current arsenal, Moscow will have to eliminate these systems and then build a substantial number of new single-warhead ICBMs to achieve numerical parity with U.S. strategic forces.

Moreover, although Yeltsin submitted START II to the Duma for ratification on June 22,1995, the Russian government has not yet submitted a report, requested by the Duma and equivalent to the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, outlining the costs and benefits of maintaining Russian forces at START II levels. Nevertheless, on February 19, a special Duma commission began closed hearings on the treaty and is expected to submit a report to the full chamber before a ratification vote occurs.

A more serious issue influencing the prospects for Russian ratification of START II is Moscow's continued concern about U.S. efforts to abrogate or undermine the 1972 ABM Treaty. In particular, Russia is concerned about interest in the U.S. Congress in developing and deploying a multiple-site national missile defense (NMD) by 2003, a move that would clearly violate the ABM Treaty. The fact that the dates for NMD deployment and the completion of START II force reductions coincide heightens Russian fears that U.

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