Russia is warning that a missile defense shield would force the country to withdraw from a pending nuclear arms treaty with the United States.
The Russian parliament made progress Friday in advancing towards ratification of New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by “amending domestic legislation to stress that Moscow could withdraw from the pact if it felt threatened by the West,” Reuters reported.
New START, if jointly agreed upon, would limit both the United States and Russia to a nuclear arsenal of 1,550 warheads each, to be implemented within seven years.
Russia has signaled that the decision to withdraw from the treaty would be invoked if the United States so much as commits to a troop deployment seen as threatening.
Perhaps more importantly, Russia has suggested that the implementation of a U.S. missile defense shield would also provoke a withdrawal, affirming a long-held warning by New START critics within the United States.
Baker Spring, a national security analyst at the Heritage Foundation, suggested in late December that the Russian parliament would likely reject the U.S. Senate’s interpretation that missile defense not be tied to warhead limits:
Such an action by the Duma[, the lower house of parliament,] would confirm the suspicions of a number of Senators, led by John McCain (R–AZ), that the Russian government would point to language in New START’s preamble as a means of limiting U.S. missile defense options. This language re-establishes the ‘link’ between strategic offensive arms and missile defenses that was broken by President George W. Bush in 2002, when the U.S. withdrew from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which imposed severe restrictions on the U.S. missile defense program. Accordingly, McCain offered an amendment to New START in the Senate to delete this language in the preamble. The amendment was defeated on the basis that the language in the preamble is not legally binding.
As a weaker alternative to the McCain amendment, Senators McCain, Bob Corker (R–TN), and Joe Lieberman (I–CT) attached an understanding on December 22 that specifically rejects the Russian claim that the language in the preamble is legally binding. Apparently, the understanding the Duma will consider will clearly and unequivocally reject the understanding attached by the Senate.
Russia’s Friday move indeed represents a warning shot by its parliament that the United States overstepped its interpretation of the treaty.
Reuters reports that final Russian approval may be completed by as soon as the end of January, which is the final step before the two countries commit to New START.