TO observers of superpower arms control, the ouster of Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev brings a sensation of d vu.
In late 1979, it was the scene of Soviet tanks rolling into
Afghanistan that dealt the death blow to President Carter's
strategic arms limitation treaty, or SALT II. The United States
Senate could not countenance endorsing a treaty with such a lawless
Now, only three weeks after the US and Soviet governments have
signed a new strategic arms accord, it too has been thrown into
limbo by the egregious actions of senior Soviet officials.
No one is ready to write the obituary yet for START. But all of a
sudden, what looked set to be a fairly straightforward ratification
process this fall is now cast in doubt.
President Bush has indicated that he won't call into question
superpower arms agreements. The group of Soviet officials claiming
authority tried to assuage concerns about START and other accords in
its address Aug. 19 to the Soviet people: "We are a peace-loving
country and shall undeviatingly honor all our commitments. We have
no claims to make against anybody."
But members of the Senate, which was also slated to ratify this
fall the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty providing for
the pullout of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe, left their options
"I expect that the US will continue to act in its own best
interest, including the implementation of arms control agreements,"
Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine said in a
statement. "I will continue to monitor these events and consult with
others to determine if they warrant changes in Senate
START benefits US
For those who supported START in the first place, the question of
US interests is the key difference between START and
most-favored-nation trade status for the Soviets, which the Bush
administration had just approved.
MFN was seen as a reward to the Gorbachev regime for good
behavior, while START, its proponents argue, benefits the US on its
own merits. The treaty provides for a 35 percent cut in Soviet
strategic weapons and a 25 percent reduction in the US arsenal.
Before the Aug. 19 coup, START faced objections from "about two
dozen" of the Senate's 100 members, says a Democratic congressional
arms-control expert. The overthrow of Gorbachev does not of itself
mean the Senate will now reject the treaty. Much depends on how
events unfold in the next days and weeks, says the aide. …