NATO Strikes against Yugoslavia Cloud U.S.-Russian Arms Control

Article excerpt

DRAMATICALLY underscoring Russian anger at NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov turned his plane around over the Atlantic and canceled a March 23-25 visit with Vice President Al Gore in Washington to discuss a broad range of issues, including arms control. Yet the degree to which the air strikes, which began March 24, will impede U.S.-Russian progress on arms control remains unclear, as setbacks on START II and "Y2K" cooperation were balanced by progress on the highly enriched uranium (HEU) purchase agreement and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. (See p. 28.)

START II Delayed-Again

Primakov, recognizing that the NATO air strikes had poisoned the political climate for START II ratification, asked the Duma on March 26 to postpone its consideration of the treaty. The next day, the Duma overwhelmingly adopted a 16-point resolution condemning NATO's military action and recommending that the Russian government "temporarily revoke" the draft START II resolution of ratification submitted by President Boris Yeltsin only days earlier.

On March 16, the START II ratification process-sidetracked by the U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq in December (see ACT, November/December 1998)-had resumed when the Duma forwarded to Yeltsin the resolution of ratification produced by International Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin and Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich. Under Russian legislative procedures, only the president can submit ratification bills to the Duma.

Also on March 16, Primakov warned on national television that if Russia failed to ratify START II, the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, creating the possibility of a new arms race.

On March 17, the Duma almost unanimously approved the first "reading" (an initial step in the legislative process) of a separate bill guaranteeing funding for Russia's strategic nuclear forces through 2010. Popkovich had argued that resolving such financial issues was necessary for ratification of START II. Two days after the vote, the Duma announced that it would debate START II ratification on April 2.

Yeltsin submitted the Lukin-Popkovich bill to the Duma on March 22, clearing the way for its approval. When NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia began on March 24, however, momentum for START II ground to a halt.

Despite their opposition to the NATO action, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev defended START II during the special March 27 Duma session on the Balkan crisis. During his sixth annual address to the nation on March 30, Yeltsin also expressed Russia's continuing support for the START process.

Y2K Cooperation on Hold

On March 26, an official from the Russian Ministry of Defense told Interfax that in response to the NATO air strikes, it would cease cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department on the so-called "Y2K" problem, whereby computers mistakenly interpret the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000. Malfunctions caused by this problem could have serious consequences in areas such as early warning.

During a February 18-19 meeting of the Defense Consultative Group-a regular forum for discussions between the Defense Department and Ministry of Defense the United States had proposed creating a temporary joint early-warning center in Colorado Springs to help monitor foreign ballistic missile launches during the transition to the new millennium (roughly mid-December 1999 through mid-January 2000). …