Russia’s legislature says the New START nuclear arms treaty ratified last month by the U.S. Senate restricts the U.S. from building and operating missile defenses against nuclear attacks. President Obama says the opposite: that the treaty “places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs.”
There may never have been such a huge dispute on such a fundamental
aspect of a high profile treaty between two major world powers. As reported by the Voice of Russia on Monday, Russia’s Duma, the lower house of parliament, “plans to confirm the link between the reduction of the strategic offensive arms and the restriction of antimissile defense systems’ deployment in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START),” according to the lawmaking body’s foreign policy chief.
The Russian news agency quoted the chairman of the Duma Committee on
International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, who was apparently sneering that U.S. negotiators had been tricked. Kosachev claimed, “our American colleagues do not recognize the legal force of the treaty’s preamble. The preamble sets a link between strategic offensive arms and defensive arms.”
The text of New Start’s preamble recognizes an “interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms” which it declares “will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced.” And while the introductory portion of the pact adds that “current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties,” it gives no license for future defensive systems.
According to Kosachev, the U.S. belief “that the link between strategic offensive armed forces and antimissile defense systems is not juridically binding for the parties” because “this link was fixed only in the preamble of the document” is an attempt on the part of theUnited States “to find an option to build up its strategic potential”– and the foreign policy committee chairman warns, “the Russian lawmakers cannot agree with this.”
Interestingly, Voice of Russia also quotes Alexei Arbatov,scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center and a leader of Russia’s liberal democratic Yabloko party, accusing U.S. senators of false “unilateral interpretations” of the treaty.
But the Carnegie Endowment’s website features an April, 2010 video interview with Arbatov in which he seems to share the Obama Administration’s opinion that New Start, “in mentioning the interaction of offensive and defense arms, in no way legally limits the United States in their development of various ballistic missile defense systems.”
According to Arbatov’s commentary at that time, “American ballistic missile defense in the future can, or would be able to, degrade Russian second strike retaliatory capability.”
When asked by ABC News on Monday if the Russians were right about New START squashing future missile defense breakthroughs, White House
spokesman Tommy Vietor replied: “The President sent a letter to the Senate on December 18th that said: ‘The New Start Treaty places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs.’ That remains the case.”
But as ABC News pointed out back in April on the eve of the signing of the New START treaty, Russian officials have been saying all along that the agreement restricts U.S. efforts toward building missile defenses.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the time said, “linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legallybinding.” And Sergei Prikhodko, senior foreign policy adviser to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in April issued a written statement claiming that “the negotiators had to insert the inextricable connection between strategic offensive and strategic defensive armaments (i.e. missile defense) into the treaty.”
Prikhodko stated, “This was successfully fulfilled and the importance of this connection when reducing strategic offensive armaments will be included in the treaty and be legally binding.”
He added: “Besides, the United States has already agreed not torefurnish or use ICBM and SLBM launchers for interceptor missile deployment and vice versa.” New START’s provisions “take into account the presence of strategic defensive systems capable of neutralizing strategic offensive armaments. This interconnection has been legally stipulated,” the Medvedev senior adviser stated in April.
In a letter to Republican senators encouraging them to vote for New START, President Obama pledged, “As long as I am President, and as long as the Congress provides the necessary funding, the United States will continue to develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect the United States, our deployed forces, and our allies and partners.”
As long ago as last March, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised
that “missile defense is not constrained by this treaty.” But as Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey asked on Wednesday, “if Obama wanted to protect missile defense, why allow it to be mentioned at all? Doesn’t the existence of the at-least confusing language in the preamble have any meaning, and if it didn’t, why even bother to have a preamble?”
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