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Dr. Alexei G. Arbatov

The next steps in arms control: a Russian perspective

May 16, 2000
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Putin can control the Russian domestic environment and he can provide consistency for arms control agreements, which Russia may engage in with other countries. Neither of these two characteristics were true of the Yeltsin Regime, during the 1990s. That is good news and certainly a very important change. But there is bad news, and let me talk about it in much greater detail.

The bad news is that ratification of START II and part of CTBT in Russia was motivated by interest and arguments and commitments that may not be very encouraging for the United States, and that may be objected to by many people in institutions in the United States. The future process may entail great new difficulties, which the two countries will have to overcome. There are three principal aspects of the "bad news" with respect to START II.

Let me start with the substance of this issue. It is an absolute fact, and a very deplorable fact, that START II was ratified in Russia by the Russian Parliament not because Russians think that the threat is lower, not because Russians think that nuclear weapons are less relevant, nor because the Russian Parliament and public opinion thinks that the United States will be a partner for cooperation and security. It’s is the other way around. START II was primarily ratified because Russian public and political elite thinks that the nuclear threat is great and that the United States is keen on achieving superiority. And that nuclear weapons are still as relevant as ever for Russian security and U.S.-Russian relations. The principal argument in favor of START II, which proved so instrumental, was that without START II Russians forces, with a shortage of funding, would go down in ten years to 1,000 warheads on their own. This is because old systems would be withdrawn and new systems would be introduced at a very low rate and in very small numbers. At the same time, the United States can easily afford to maintain the present level of its strategic forces. In this way, if there is no further arms control agreement, in ten years the United States may, inadvertently, acquire nuclear forces that are five or six times over that of Russia – basically free, without spending additional money. They may achieve the goal that proved to be impossible for them to achieve over five decades of Cold War.

That was the principal argument that persuaded many members of Parliament to vote for START II. These figures were officially given, many times in closed hearings and, eventually, during open sessions of parliament held by President Putin for the ratification of START II.

If Russia were to preserve its forces at the level of START I, which is six to seven thousand nuclear warheads, then during 10 years Russian would have to spend about $33 billion only on strategic nuclear forces and C3I systems. That is 950 billion rubles. It would mean spending 65% of its total defense budget yearly only on strategic nuclear forces. If Russia were to keep its forces at the level of START II, which is about 3,000 weapons, then it would have to spend $26 billion during the next ten years, which would annually account for about 50% of its overall defense budget. If Russia was to maintain its forces at the level agreed in the START III agreement, which is around 2,000 weapons, then we would have to spend $14 billion in the next ten years – which would be about 27% of our present budget.

That was the first time in an open hearing at a high official level that some description of the dynamic model of strategic balance -- which is basically a model of strategic exchange -- was revealed by President Putin. In particular, he said that under the first scenario, if the United States keeps its forces at the level of START I and Russia goes down because of shortage of funding, then in 10 years the American deterrent capability, that is a second strike capability, would be 15 times bigger than Russia’s second strike capability. At the level of START II the United States would have triple the superiority of Russia in the remaining delayed second strike retaliatory capability. Under START III there would be approximate parity between the two sides, which implies that for Russia, the ratification of START II, is primarily a way to reduce the American nuclear threat. Secondly, to maintain parity at lower costs than would otherwise be the case. Thirdly, to open the door to START III to preserve parity, not just in numbers of warheads, but in dynamic measures of strategic balance, of which, one of the measures is the ratio of secondary strike retaliatory capability. That was very persuasive for members of Parliament, making a big impressionon them.

The fear of American nuclear superiority and the fear of the United States was the principal motive for many members of Parliament to vote for START II. I want to make a very important reservation. Of course, 33 billion rubles spent only on strategic forces during the next 10 years, is an enormous sum of money for Russia. Spending 65% of the budget means that nothing will be left for the conventional forces and for all other functions for Russia armed forces.

However, the situation is not completely hopeless. For instance, if need be, Russia could still maintain strategic parity, even at the level of START I. To do this it would be necessary for Russia to raise its defense budget from the present 2.8% of GNP to 3.5% of GNP. This was actually implied in the Presidential directive that was signed three years ago, but which was never fulfilled in the real planning for the Russian defense budget. 3.5% this year would mean an additional 40 billion rubles, which is about $1.5 billion of the Russian defense budget, which now stands at 146 billion rubles. In addition to that Russia would need to reduce the numbers of its forces further -- primarily its conventional forces. If it reduces its forces by 30% from 1.2 million men to 80, 000 men it could save about 30% on maintenance and transfer that money to research and development, procurement and construction.

Under such circumstances, Russia would be able to maintain even the present level of forces of five to six thousand warheads, which is the level of START I. However, certainly nobody wants to do this. Some people, in particular the armed forces and the Minister of Defense, do not want further reductions in personnel, while the Minister of Finance does not want a further increase in the defense budget. Democrats and liberals, like myself, would like both. However we would like to spend the money not on nuclear forces, which are to never be used, but rather to transform Russia into an all volunteer army, to improve the standard of living and to support the most advance branches of the defense industry . This is possible but certainly not desirable and that was the principal motive for many members of Parliament to vote for START II.

The second motive, which may also not be greeted very enthusiastically here in the United States, is that Russian considers START II to be an additional guarantee of the viability and validity of the ABM Treaty of 1972. Under START II the linkage between START and the ABM Treaty is much more stringent and unequivocal than under START I. Besides, Putin made a very strong commitment, which is on record, that if the United States unilaterally withdrew form the ABM Treaty, Russia will withdraw from START II, and will go in for new MIRVed ICBM’s. And he also said, and I can quote him, that Russia will withdraw from all the regimes of arms control, including conventional arms control.

That is the substance of the matter and the motives for ratification as far as the START II is concerned. The second point is about the legal aspect of it. We have ratified many treaties by adopting a law on ratification, not by just making unilateral reservations and statements. There was a law that was adopted on the ratification of START II, which consists of nine articles. Some of them may be of particular interest to you and once again may not be met with great enthusiasm here in the United States.

In article 2 of this law it is stated clearly that America withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will be considered the threat to supreme national interest, which will imply Russian withdrawal from START II.

Article 4, clearly states that if agreement on START III, the next treaty, is not reached by December 31, 2003, once again Russia will consider withdrawal from START II Treaty. I should remind you that this a very important date because the year after that, by December 31, 2004, the second stage of reduction under START II will begin. By that time Russia will not have completed its reduction, it will only have reached the level of 4,000 weapons all together, 2,000 weapons of submarines, 1,200 MIRVed ICBM’s and 650 heavy MIRVed ICBM’s. So Russia will see if progress on START III is good enough and then decide whether she will go to the next stage, which implies further reductions and complete elimination of MIRVed ICBM’s and of heavymissiles.

Finally, article 9 of that law, the most technical and most unpleasant, states that Russia will not actually start to implement the treaty, and will not exchange ratification documents with the United States until the United States ratifies the 1997 documents that were signed in New York. These documents deal with the five-year extension of the START II implementation. Most important is the delineation between strategic and tactical ballistic missile defenses. President Clinton at that time made an open and clear commitment to bring those documents for ratification as soon as Russia ratifies the Basic Treaty. Now the time has come. That is the linkage which basically will put START II on hold until the United States takes steps towards ratifying those two protocols. Without the two protocols it is impossible to start implementing START II because the time frame in the Basic Treaty that was ratified by the United States and that in the treaty that Russia is going to implement is very different. The difference is as big as 5 years.

The final point about the "bad news" is the way in which the Russia Duma ratified this treaty and the way in which the ratification of START II reflects Russian domestic public opinion with respect to arms control and the United States.

The Russia Duma ratified documents, which were signed in 1997, in particular, the memorandum on delineation between strategic and tactical ballistic missile defenses. A vast majority of 92% voted in favor. And Russia ratified START II with a majority of 64% in favor. It was still a pretty solid majority, and I actually did not expect it to be that big – I expected the margin to be smaller. As you know we need 226 votes to ratify a treaty, simple majority, and START II received 288. I expected the margin to be, at most, 20 or 30 votes. Why and how was the margin bigger? This is a very important issue. Among the factions in the Russian parliament, those who would vote in favor of START II under any circumstances are the Yabloko faction, the Fatherland Party, Union of Right Forces and Russia’s Regions, which all together make up precisely 123 votes. Those who voted against START II, and would vote against START II under any circumstances, are the Communists and the Agrarians, and they account for 121 votes. Approximately equal. The decisive package, which resolved the destiny of START II, 155 votes came from Unity faction, People’s Deputy and Zhirinovsky’s party. And even the name implies that certainly those people voted for START II, not because they want arms control, not because they approve of the United States policy, not because they want further progress and cooperation on security issues. If left to their own judgement, I know most of the people in those parties -- I’m absolutely sure that 70% of them -- would vote against START II. But they are disciplined parties, governmental parties that were created by the government and by the President and they voted in favor of START II because the Kremlin told them to do so. Otherwise, 30% of them would vote again, and against START II and it would never be ratified. This reflects very clearly the approximate spectrum of the public opinion towards arms control, toward cooperation with the United States and towards relations toward the United States in general. About 130 in favor, 130 against, and 155 who are in the middle, but who would follow what the government tells them.

This is a more of a manipulated and regulated democracy than we had during the previous Duma. It is very fortunate that the government and president were in favor of arms control.

That is why this manipulated democracy supported them. If Putin were against some agreements, the vast majority of the Duma -- 70% -- would support Putin. If Putin doesn’t agree with the compromise on START III, or if Putin decides to retaliate against American withdrawal from the ABM treaty 70%-80% of the Duma would support him. This would correspond not only to their way of behaving and being obedient to the President, but in many respects would reflect their inner instincts and political preferences.

Now let me say a few words about CTBT. It was passed in the Duma much more smoothly, without such a great debate, and without such great attention. However, the arguments in favor of CTBT were also not necessarily very encouraging either for the American government, – the Executive Branch -- which is in favor of CTBT, or for the American arms control community. The first and principal argument in favor of CTBT was that it will not enter into force, anyway, before the United States and a number of other countries ratify it. It was largely seen as a symbolic gesture.

The second consideration was that Russia is not going to violate the moratorium on nuclear tests anyway. And if the United States or some other country does that, then Russia will be able to do the same and the CTBT will not be an obstacle.

Finally, since Russia is not going to violate the moratorium on nuclear tests, it has to maintain stewardship of its nuclear arsenal without natural tests. That needs additional funding, which is very difficult to obtain in the absence of the CTBT Treaty. CTBT was linked directly with additional funding for the stewardship of Russia’s strategic arsenal.

In conclusion, let me say that there were times in the history of Russian-American relations in arms control, when the political environment was very favorable towards progress in arms control, but technical issues proved to be an obstacle. That was true, in particular, in 1963 when the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed instead of a comprehensive test ban treaty, because some technical obstacles prevented countries from going for the larger treaty.

It was the same in 1972 when after limiting ballistic missile defenses, the sides they were unable to stop or ban MIRV systems, because technical issues prevented reliable verification – and at that time neither side was willing to go into such intrusive verification models, such as we are using now.

This time it is different. I think that, talking about the next steps for arms control, it is possible to give a set of steps that technically, would not be very difficult and would bring us real progress. First of all, the US Senate has to ratify the 1997 documents, then both sides have to agree on the START III Treaty, going down to 1000-1,500 warheads. And may be we can revise the protocol to the ABM treaty, so that the United States may develop its desired ABM deployment area in Alaska. Also the United States needs to ratify CTBT, so that we can move on to a more stringent non-proliferation regime, and bring India and Pakistan into the CTBT as well. These are technical steps, which, from a technical point of view, are not very difficult. However, in contrast to some times in the past, the political environment is quite hostile to such progress in arms control.

First of all domestically, in the United States and in Russia, the moods are not very conducive to flexibility, or to making compromise on important national security issues. I have described the moods in Russia and you may tell me about the mood in the United States, although I have a general impression about what the US Congress thinks, and about what US public opinion thinks about the issue.

International environment is also not very conducive because we have entered the period of numerous contradictions on various issues of international security. Nonetheless, the ball is now in the American court; it is up to the United States to make further steps. Whatever criticism may be made against Russia, and I am one of those who criticizes Russian conduct and Russian policy quite regularly, certainly it is up to the United States to make a wise next step. If it is done we may achieve a real breakthrough in arms control, which will make it easier for us to come to an accommodation on European affairs, on Iran, on China, and many other issues of international security. However, if that does not happen, the new deadlock of arms control, and maybe even the disintegration of the arms control system will greatly aggravate the contradictions that we have in the world at large. That will be extremely detrimental to international security and the to the security of Russia, and the United States as well. Let me finish on that optimistic note!

See also: http://www.ceip.org/programs/npp/arbatov051600.htm

May 16, 2000
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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