The Prague Treaty Has Been Ratified: Now What?

Vladimir Yevseyev (Russia)

On January 26, 2011, the Federation Council of Russia’s Federal Assembly ratified the New Russian-American Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). It shows that the “restart” of relations between our countries is on track. The US Senate consented to the Treaty in December. Now, only formalities remain to be done in order for it to take effect: get the signatures of the two presidents and exchange ratification instruments. Given the obvious interest of the Russian and American leadership in the rapidest possible completion of the necessary formalities, we can assume that the ratification instruments will be exchanged in early February at the International Conference on Security Policy in Munich. The fact that President Dmitry Medvedev signed the bill on ratification of New START so quickly (on January 28) supports that view.

The treaty was developed over the course of a single year. It would have taken much longer in Soviet times. Three years elapsed from the time agreement was reached about the general features of the future START I treaty before it was signed. Also, no serious Russian-American negotiations on strategic offensive arms were held between 1993 and 2008, and that meant the previous group of professional negotiators and experts was no longer available. The group had to the reconstituted under strict time limits imposed by the December 5, 2009 expiration date of the underlying START I treaty (the START treaty signed in Moscow on May 24, 2002 was a framework agreement and contained no intrinsic mechanism for monitoring its implementation).

The New START ratification process in the U.S. Senate was made quite difficult by the worsening of the political in-fighting between Democrats and Republicans and by US unwillingness to restrict its ability to deploy a global antiballistic missile (ABM) system. The treaty was submitted to the Senate for consideration in May 2010. At that time, the Senate was made up of 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans and two independent members who usually supported the Democratic Party. Support by 67 senators was required for ratification, and that number could only be reached if eight Republican senators voted with the Democrats. The Obama administration had to make serious concessions: it agreed to allocate $85 billion over a 10-year period for modernization of nuclear weapons and pledged that the United States would not abandon plans to deploy a powerful and effective ABM system in Europe. The concessions were documented in the form of two unilateral clauses that did not affect the content of New START. As a result of this and individual efforts by administration members with each Republican Senator, 71 senators voted to ratify the Treaty on December 22.

Russia’s Federal Assembly watched the ratification process of this treaty in the U.S. Senate very closely. The recall by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the State Duma on November 3, 2010 of its previous recommendation to ratify New START is evidence of that. The review of the Treaty in the country’s lawmaking body lasted about a month and resulted in the adoption of a Russian resolution that contained the following:

– The necessity of developing, testing, producing and deploying new types of strategic offensive arms capable of overcoming missile defenses;

– An obligation to maintain the combat capability of the Strategic Nuclear Forces regardless of the international situation by retaining and developing the necessary scientific research (research and development) base and the appropriate industrial capacities;

– The possibility of Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty should the United States of America substantially violate its terms in such a way as to create a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation, and should the United States or any other state or group of states deploy an ABM system capable of significantly reducing the effectiveness of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Federation.

On the whole, New START is balanced and takes Russian interests into account. However, implementation may encounter serious problems, the most important one resulting from American ABM plans, primarily on the European continent. Complete clarity is lacking on the following issues: what ABM systems will be deployed, how many, when, and where? We can assume that SM-3 interceptor missiles of the land-based Aegis missile control system will be deployed in Romania over the next few years. But that system is already in the US inventory (for now, only its naval version is operational). The THAAD ground ABM system is being considered as an alternative. It can also employ the SM-3 interceptors. Currently, neither missile defense system can intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles, and they therefore present no danger to the land-based and naval components of Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces (Soviet ballistic missiles having ranges from 500 to 5500 km were destroyed under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of December 8, 1987). However, their capabilities will improve in the future, and Poland is once again being considered as a location for future deployment of ABM systems—which is difficult to explain as a necessity for defending Europe against Iranian ballistic missiles. The planned deployment date (2018) coincides with the end of the period for reductions under New START; reductions must be completed within seven years after ratification. All of this not only presents a potential threat for our Strategic Nuclear Forces, it may also cause a serious crisis in Russian-American relations. Under those circumstances, Russia could unilaterally withdraw from New START.

Interceptor missile guidance radars could present a significant danger to Russia’s national security. Bulgaria and Turkey are currently being considered as locations for those radars. Their deployment will allow tracking of objects in flight over southern Russia as an additional intelligence collection mission. Considering the high degree of precision with which such radars determine the location of targets (they operate in the X band) and their range of at least 2000 km, we can agree that the threat must not be underestimated. The plan is to deploy a similar radar in the Czech Republic by 2018, which will extend coverage to European Russia.

The following problems may also hinder implementation of New START.

1. One of the clauses inserted by the U.S. Senate charges the President to initiate negotiations with Russia to reduce tactical nuclear weapons. The need for the negotiations arises from American fears that Russia has a significant advantage in tactical nuclear weapons. However, Moscow believes that the United States must first bring the nuclear warheads deployed in Europe back to its own territory. The United States cannot do that in the near future because of obligations to its NATO allies. Russia, which seriously lags NATO in conventional arms and has a very volatile situation relatively close to its southern borders and a populous neighboring state suffering from a lack of natural resources, is uninterested in pursuing negotiations to reduce tactical nuclear weapons. The more so since those weapons have dual-purpose delivery vehicles (they can deliver both nuclear and conventional warheads) and are in strategic storage for nuclear warheads.

2. New START in no way limits the number of American precision-guided sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM), which can be used as strategic weapons under some circumstances. Even worse, four Ohio class ballistic missile nuclear submarines have already been reconfigured to carry non-nuclear Tomahawk SLCMs. Similar steps are being taken with strategic bombers. As a result, the huge American capability in non-nuclear precision-guided weapons is substantially increasing. That trend will continue under New Treaty because the United States currently has 846 strategic delivery vehicles, which exceeds the maximum for delivery vehicles (the United States does not plan to destroy those systems).

3. Under the Treaty, telemetry is to be provided on a voluntary and mutual basis. But the data exchange mechanism is unclear because the United States has not produced new missile systems for quite a long time and rarely launches ballistic missiles. A mutual exchange of telemetry from developmental Russian offensive and American defensive systems is theoretically possible. But in all likelihood Washington is not yet ready for that degree of transparency.

Thus, we can already anticipate some problems that may hamper implementation of New START. And the future of the global nuclear disarmament regime may depend on the extent to which we can overcome them. After all, we need to move ahead and think about reducing the number of deployed warheads on strategic delivery vehicles to 1000-1200.That is achievable in view of the gradual reconfiguration of our strategic delivery systems to carry out non-nuclear missions and the extremely low probability of a mutual nuclear exchange. But it will necessarily require that Great Britain, France and China gradually become involved in the nuclear disarmament process, and it will also require agreements in the field of missile defense.

Vladimir Yevseyev is Director of the Center for Social and Political Studies.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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