Russian Duma Threats Race Should Not Deter Due Diligence on New START

Ariel Cohen /

Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said on Saturday that if the U.S. Senate moves to amend the text of New START, a strategic offensive arms treaty between the two countries, the Duma will also be ready to make amendments to the text of the treaty. Gryzlov could also be referring to reservations or understandings attached to the instrument of ratification, just as Senate Foreign Relations Committee did. This comes atop the Duma’s International Affairs Committee delay last month to consider the legislation that would authorize the ratification of New START by the full Duma.

The Duma’s actions raise questions the Obama Administration should answer before the Senate considers the treaty. What remains unclear are the commitments the Obama Administration negotiators made to the Russians that apparently Duma members feel may not be honored. The most significant example is the potential limitations on ballistic missile defense options contained in the Preamble, the body, the protocol, and annexes of New START.

These limitations were recognized by treaty supporters when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to report New START to the full Senate on September 16. The committee adopted a resolution of ratification that includes conditions, an understanding, and declarations that were designed to protect the U.S. missile defense options against limitations imposed by the treaty.

These amendments must be significantly strengthened to avoid misinterpretations regarding the U.S. ability to develop and deploy all options for missile defense, including space-based defenses.

Also of great concern are reports of a secret side agreement that would supposedly restrict the U.S. ability to pursue a robust missile defense. It is clear that the Senate needs full access to the New START negotiating record to determine what U.S. negotiators stated during negotiations with the Russians relating to the Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement talks. The Senate needs to get to the bottom of the confusion created by today’s fact sheet from the State Department and the earlier U.S. unilateral statement regarding missile defenses. This is impossible to do in the current lame duck Senate because of the lack of time. Moreover, no major treaties were ever ratified by in lame duck session.

In addition, Russian leaders appear to be using the good old Cold War approach of intimidation to force the U.S. Senate to act. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reiterated the threat of a renewed arms race if the Senate does not ratify New START in an interview with Larry King last Wednesday. This challenge comes in the midst of Moscow denying reports that it moved its nuclear weapons closer to NATO borders because of the threat it perceives from U.S. and NATO missile defense plans.

Russian intimidating rhetoric and action should not have an effect on Senatorial deliberations on New START. It is imperative that the Obama Administration make all U.S. and Russian commitments under New START transparent to the U.S. Senate. Negotiating records should be released, and the Senate should be allowed time to review them carefully. Finally, the Senate should allow itself to take time for diligence inherent in its constitutional role. The safety and security of the American people demand just that.