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Vremya Novostei, March 20, 2003

Alexei Arbatov: United States Will Ask Russia, Europe and the UN for Help

Interview with Alexei Arbatov

The inevitability of the US military operation against Iraq provoked heated debates among Russian political scientists regarding the viability of Russia's policy towards Saddam Hussein's regime. Vremya Novostei correspondent Katerina Labetskaya asked a prominent expert in strategic stability and Deputy Head of the State Duma Defence Committee Alexei Arbatov (YABLOKO faction) to comment on Russia's position in the context of the Iraqi crisis.

Arbatov: It's too late to change anything now. We should have understood last autumn that Saddam Hussein's regime would not survive, and started looking for other solutions to the problem of weapons of mass destruction and replacing the regime, without a war. We should have suggested an alternative: say, inspections with international contingents protecting and accompanying the inspectors.

Question: What should Russia do if war broke out?

Arbatov: Wait. If the Americans do a quick job (and that is almost certain), some serious problems will arise in and around Iraq. Most probably, the Americans will ask Russia, Europe, and the UN for help. If, on the other hand, the Americans take over without undermining moderate Islamic regions or inciting a war of terrorism worldwide, if they prevent a clash in Iraq itself among the Kurds, Iraqis, and Turks, we will have to admit: "Yes, you did it. Let us proceed with our cooperation now..." And go on with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, with trade, etc. Provided the Americans agree. After all, they expected more from Russia, as we depend on them and are vulnerable. Even our budget cuts down some items without American financial assistance (dismantling of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear submarines).

Question: But the Duma postponed ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty because of Iraq.

Arbatov: I do not consider that document to be a treaty. This is a gentleman's agreement lacking what is expected of a treaty - definition of the subject, rules of calculation, oversight mechanisms and inspections, procedures for disarmament, or a schedule. The document states that each signatory should possess 1,700 to 2,000 warheads; however, not a word is said on how they should be counted. So it would be possible not to cut anything until the deadline, December 31, 2012.

Question: Do you mean that the postponement doesn't have anything to do with the Iraqi crisis?

Arbatov: The connection is purely symbolic. This document is not so valuable because of the effect it has on the strategic situation. It is valuable as a symbol of warm Russian-American relations. Russia wanted a new treaty with the United States; the United States did not want anything. After September 11, 2001, Russia supported the United States in Afghanistan and in other matters, and Washington made this concession and signed the treaty. In fact, the Americans were reluctant to call it a treaty or forward it for ratification. Russia persuaded them, appealing to feelings of friendship and counter-terrorism solidarity. The Americans signed it with certain reservations and the document became a symbol of our new relationship. Some forces in the Duma decided exploit this fact and place ratification on the March 21 agenda in order to subsequently remove it from the agenda in an emphatic manner. However, other factions, including our Yabloko faction, prevented the issue from being included on the agenda in the first place.

Question: Do you think the ratification will be a protracted process?

Arbatov: It took the Duma seven years to ratify START II. History may repeat itself. There is, however, an interesting detail: the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty doesn't impose any limitations on us. Financial difficulties will suffice to reduce our strategic nuclear arsenals to a level below the specified one. American strategic arsenals may remain at their present level of about 6,000 warheads - they do not have any financial problems, after all. The joke is that it is a treaty to reduce the American nuclear arsenal, and we deliberately postpone it because of Iraq - essentially enabling the Americans not to cut their nuclear arsenal. The United States has ratified the treaty, but it will not come into effect. A decade from now, the United States will have five nuclear warheads for each one that Russia has, without spending a single cent.

Question: Do you mean that we need ratification?

Arbatov: Speaking as a specialist in strategic arms limitations, this document - which cannot be called a treaty - is an insult to my intelligence. As a politician, however, I think it is necessary to ratify it when the time is ripe. We may disagree with the United States on Iraq, but it is not worth spoiling bilateral relations over this issue. Iraq is just a narrow sector of our relationship. It would be even more stupid to tear up a treaty that imposes certain obligations on the Americans, but not on us. It would have been logical perhaps to postpone ratification had we expected to build up our nuclear arsenal to 6,000 warheads a decade from now. But we do not expect to do so, right?

Question: What lessons might other countries, such as North Korea, learn from the Iraq situation?

Arbatov: Everyone's attention is glued to Iraq now, and the chances of influencing North Korea have diminished to some extent. North Korea now has a reason to produce its own weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles v to avoid becoming the next target. North Korea already has missiles, and may come up with long-range ones. It may even have nuclear weapons. There are rumours that it may have a warhead or two. All this puts the whole problem in an entirely different light. North Korea knows that if it obtains these weapons, Washington will start talking to it in a different tone. I still remember the Americans' mumbled response to the statement of North Korean leaders to the effect that they possessed nuclear weapons. The Americans said that they preferred a political solution to the problem and that military force was the last resort only.

Question: The Iraqi crisis is leading observers to speak about a collapse of the international security framework.

Arbatov: That's an exaggeration. This is not the first war to be started despite the UN Security Council. The problem is indeed serious, but the Iraqi crisis plainly shows the importance of the UN.

The United States threatened to topple Saddam Hussein's regime by force in September. Remember the battles fought in the UN Security Council? Seeing the futility of their efforts, the Americans have only now opted to use their military might. However, their efforts indicate that the UN Security Council wields considerable influence. The American unilateral action will not benefit the UN or its Security Council, of course, but I am sure that Washington will once again raise the issue of UN involvement soon. We should be pragmatic. We may even find ourselves forced to participate in the war - whether we agree with it or not - because of our political or economic interests.

See also:

Situation Around Iraq

Vremya Novostei, March 20, 2003

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