Foreign Policy Blogs

Deconstructing New START

As the Duma, Russia’s Parliament, debates New START ratification, one thing is clear: the treaty doesn’t legally restrict U.S. missile defense options.  Another thing is clear: Russia will probably withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. deploys a missile defense system that significantly reduces the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic deterrent.  As Kostantin Kosachyev, head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, Russia “will withdraw from it if America breaks its obligations or develops new anti-missile systems which break the balance between offensive and defensive kinds of weapons.”

Missile defense was, of course, a significant concern in the U.S. debate over ratification.  Senator Jim DeMint, for example, wrote that the Russians “believe that New START forbids further development of missile defense.”  But Kosachyev’s statement indicates otherwise.  U.S. missile defense development would not constitute a treaty violation, according to Kosachyev, but would constitute a development that would justify Russian withdrawal from the treaty.  New START critics in the U.S. feared this line in the treaty’s preamble:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties…

But the more relevant portion of the treaty, it seems, is Article XIV(3):

Each Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other Party. Such notice shall contain a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.  This Treaty shall terminate three months from the date of  receipt by the other Party of the aforementioned notice, unless the notice specifies a later date.

Could Russia legitimately argue that a new U.S. missile defense system deployment would constitute an “extraordinary [event] related to the subject matter of this Treaty” that “jeopardized its supreme interests”?  Sure.  And certainly the line in the preamble would bolster this claim by solidifying that missile defense is “related to the subject matter of the Treaty.”  But, it seems, missile defense and strategically deployed nuclear weapons are not linked because the treaty links them. They are linked because they are linked.  Because Russia, in order to remain a party to the treaty, must believe that New START leaves Russia with a significant deterrent.