So far the most tangible outcome of notorious ‘Reset’ of the US-Russian relations (or perezagruzka, another Russian word of the global outreach) announced by foreign ministers last year was the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START III). As a reminder it limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty as well as 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The text was inked by the presidents in April and now is waiting for approval by both parliaments. In Russia the ruling party United Russia enjoys a constitutional majority in the Russian State Duma and thus the ratification in Moscow is guaranteed once happens on the Capitol Hill. So the ball is certainly on the US side. However, as the Congressional elections this week are expected to shift the balance in the Senate to Republican’s favor, the perspective of successful ratification is notably fading out. The conservative skepticism about this particular Treaty and overall Reset with Russia is increasing although lacks any fresh argumentation or reasonable basis.
If we look through the recent memo on the matter by a prominent American analyst or an earlier Fact Sheet by the same think tank, there is a standard set of accusations and suspicions towards Russian Bear that can be easily challenged by any insightful reader.
First, Russia is blamed for ‘repeatedly violating the 1991 START all the way to its expiration in December 2009’. The supporting argument is the ‘testing of intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple individually targeted re-entry vehicles’. Obviously this thesis refers to the new RS-24 (Yars) ballistic missile tested in Russia in May 2007 to replace outdated Topol-M rocket. It is true that the secret R&D on RS-24 was initiated well before the expiration of the START I (although RS-24 was put in service only after the term of the treaty expired in December last year). But what triggered that decision? Was it motivated by ‘rising imperial ambitions’ of Russia and ‘aspiration for restoring its past influence’? Did it secure a critical one-side advantage for Moscow in nuclear parity with the USA? Hardly. For Russians it was just the only way to level the misbalanced parity after the United States unilaterally left Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and for 7 years were pressuring Eastern Europeans to approve the US anti-missile shield installations against non-existent ‘Iranian nuclear threat’. It is only logical that the system of ‘nuclear’ treaties between Russia and USA should be considered as a single whole providing a fine balance of security and vulnerability for both parties. Once defense on one side is increased for another party there is no choice but augment offensive capability. By the way, the START I Treaty was negotiated in 1991 with ABM Treaty 1972 in force and it would not be concluded without ABM restrictions.
At the same time the United States cannot be considered as a saint lamb either in following START I provisions. During the last years the Russian inspectors have detected 12 serious violations on the US nuclear facilities to say nothing about well-known circumventions like stockpiling of dismantled warheads instead of their physical liquidation as Russians do. Maybe the United States needs a return Nunn-Lugar Program – Russian edition? That would be an affordable venture taking current Russian budgetary conditions. There are also several technical, but never confirmed assumptions, e.g. on the quantity of warheads on the US Minuteman 3 missiles capable to carry three, but counted as one for Treaty purpose. No Russian inspector has ever been allowed an access under the cover of Minuteman 3 missile to check it. Russian Defense Ministry prefers keeping the reports on inspections confidential and holds negotiations with the US officials in private at the Joint Commission on Inspections and Compliance meetings in Geneva. Maybe it’s time for the Russians to abandon this saving-face-of-the-partner practice and start issuing public reports on detected violations like Americans do?
To complete the picture it would not be redundant to recall that well before the formal withdrawal from the ABM Treaty the United States had clearly violated the latter when the anti-ballistic radar Globus II was activated in Norway in 2001.
Anyway, seeking other’s nuclear skeletons might be an exciting exercise for professional Bear-chasers. A clinical mistrust might be a well-paid job when the interests of enormous military complex are involved. The party of war-mongers is chattering again only two years after the tactical withdrawal from the White House.
START III was envisaged as a first serious step towards Nuclear-Free World. Now the decision apparently depends on lame-duck session of the US Senate. Obviously the matrix of the US-Russian relations is much more complex and reaching far beyond securing strategic nuclear balance. The train of mutual mistrust and misunderstanding burdens the way forward. But somebody should make this step. Why not we?