Arms Control Adrift? Prospects for 1999

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Before its annual membership meeting and luncheon on March 26, the Arms Control Association (ACA) presented a panel discussion on the arms control issues facing the Clinton administration in 1999, including national missile defense and the ABM Treaty, "loose nukes" in Russia, the inspections stalemate with Iraq, and efforts to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Panelists included Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., ACA president and executive director; John B. Rhinelander, ACA vice-chairman

and former legal advisor to the U.S. SALT I delegation that negotiated the ABM Treaty; Matthew Bunn, assistant director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at Harvard University; David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security; and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. Below is an edited version of the panelists' remarks and the question and answer session that followed.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.:

It is generally a good idea not to discuss controversial on-going events while they are in mid-course; however, I think that before turning to a discussion of the events of the last year something must be said about Kosovo, which comes at a most difficult time. The past year has been a bad one for arms control. There is little progress and some retrogression to report. We meet today in the shadow of NATO bombings over Kosovo. Whatever one's view of the wisdom and legitimacy of this action, I think one thing is clear: the casualties of these events will include arms control progress, and U.S.Russian relations, at least in the short term.

Administration experts assure us that they are confident that the Russian economy is in such a disastrous state that Russia will quickly overcome any misgivings or bitterness about the current event in order to obtain U.S. and international financial support. I believe, however, that the planning of the strike to coincide with Primakov's long-scheduled U.S. visit to discuss arms control matters is an unprecedented, insensitive and contemptuous action on the part of the United States and NATO. I think the image of Primakov turning his plane around over the Atlantic, having talked with the Vice President and failing to obtain assurances that the strikes would not begin during his visit, and the image of Yeltsin pleading with Clinton for half an hour just before the strikes began, not to undertake them, will live a long time in the Russian mind and influence the course of events in a negative fashion. Unless the administration takes some really heroic steps to reassure Russia, and Russia shows a forbearance that is most uncommon among national states whose advice has been ignored, the prospects for Duma ratification of START II-and further progress in strategic reductions-during the final two years of the Clinton administration are very poor indeed.

Now, let me turn briefly to the area of strategic arms. The tragedy of the past year has been a series of U.S. actions that seem almost calculated to dissuade the Duma from ratifying START II. Under Primakov, the Russian government accelerated its efforts to build Duma support for START II and made really a major effort that appeared to be successful. By the end of 1998, the Duma appeared to be prepared to move ahead on ratification, despite their concerns about NATO and frustration with their own military problems. In fact, on December 25th, the Duma was scheduled to vote approval of the treaty. However, the U.S. massive bombing against Iraq resulted in the postponement of this action. Nonetheless, the Russian government's effort was sufficiently strong that despite this development, clearly undertaken contrary to Russian advice, the Duma still seemed prepared to ratify START II. At this point Secretary Cohen made his statements that could only be interpreted by an observer as indicating that the United States had essentially made the decision to deploy an ABM system subject only to the checking out of the technical availability of the hardware. …