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  •   Arms Control Damaged by Kosovo War

    By David Hoffman
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Sunday, May 23, 1999; Page A1

    MOSCOW The NATO strikes against Yugoslavia and resulting tensions with Russia and China have created serious new threats to nuclear arms reduction measures and other global arms control efforts, many of which were already faltering, according to policymakers and specialists.

    Russia's anger over the assault on Yugoslavia has created complications with the United States that jeopardize the long-delayed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), which aims at slashing both countries' long-range nuclear weapons. Also at risk are efforts to control the thousands of short-range, or tactical, nuclear weapons that were never covered by a treaty.

    The worsening in U.S.-Russian relations threatens the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction, revisions on a treaty on troops and conventional arms in Europe, and plans for joint early-warning cooperation to avoid an accidental missile attack.

    "What will happen in the next two years is the total collapse of arms control" unless U.S. relations with Russia are repaired, said Sergei Rogov, director of the USA/Canada Institute here.

    "We may be looking at the end of bilateral, negotiated arms control," said Joseph Cirincione director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "This is not too radical to contemplate. It is possible [President] Clinton will leave office without ever negotiating and signing a strategic arms reduction agreement."

    The problems were aggravated by the accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade May 6. China announced suspension of current top-level military and arms control contacts with the United States. China has been a key focus of U.S. efforts to prevent the proliferation or spread of missiles and nuclear materials to Iran and Pakistan, among other places.

    "All of the principal nonproliferation regimes are under siege," said William C. Potter, director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. "Without a concerted effort in Washington and Moscow to revive cooperation of the past, the regimes run the risk of major defections and collapse."

    Moreover, the troubles on arms control and proliferation come at a time when other regions are provoking fresh worries. In South Asia, a year after India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests, both countries have embarked on a new missile race. In Iraq, the United Nations' effort to root out weapons of mass destruction appears to have ended. Iran continues to pursue a ballistic missile program, as does North Korea.

    When the bombing of Yugoslavia began in March, Russia reacted with sharp criticism and suspended all military links to NATO. Russia is friendly with Yugoslavia, a fellow Slavic and Eastern Orthodox country. The existing bilateral U.S.-Russian nuclear and chemical disarmament programs, for which Russia is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars, so far have not been seriously hampered.

    Since the bombing began, Russia also has sought a role as a mediator between NATO and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Although this has put Russia in a less confrontational approach than in the early weeks of the crisis, specialists said, the negative reaction to the NATO airstrikes in parliament and among the Russian political and military elite has seriously clouded future arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

    The first major casualty of the NATO strikes was the START II strategic arms treaty, signed in 1993 by Presidents Bush and Boris Yeltsin and ratified by the Senate in 1996 but never ratified by the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament. The treaty was close to approval before the Kosovo crisis.

    The treaty would slash both sides' nuclear arsenals from 6,000 warheads each under the START I treaty, signed in 1972, to between 3,000 to 3,500 each, although experts say Russia cannot financially support such an arsenal. Moreover, ratification would open the way to negotiations for a follow-on treaty, START III, which would lead to even deeper cuts, to between 2,000 to 2,500 warheads for each side under a preliminary 1997 agreement between Clinton and Yeltsin.

    The START II treaty was making headway in December, but the Duma, dominated by Communists and nationalists, recoiled after the bombings of Iraq. Strenuous lobbying by then-prime minister Yevgeny Primakov moved the treaty back on the agenda in March, but the Duma backed off again after the NATO strikes on Yugoslavia. The U.S. decision to move ahead on antimissile defenses also hurt Russian ratification efforts.

    The negative reaction over Yugoslavia may be impossible to overcome. Analysts say START II is all but dead. The Duma will be facing an election campaign in the fall. "It's clear the treaty cannot be ratified," said Alexander Pikayev, an arms control and nonproliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    A prominent group of arms control specialists called on the United States in February to try to leapfrog START II and secure new reductions of warheads and take missiles off hair-trigger alert. But the Clinton administration has refused to move ahead until START II is ratified.

    If it is not, Russia may decide to prolong the life of older multiple-warhead missiles that were due for retirement.

    The arms control deadlock may also extend to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a centerpiece of the Clinton administration's disarmament efforts. Ratification was blocked by in the Senate by Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and may fare no better in the Duma. "The plan was to submit it after START II," said Pikayev. But, he added, "There is a general negative attitude in the Duma toward all arms control and nonproliferation, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is seen by some as a way of diminishing Russia's nuclear might."

    One of the gravest new threats to arms control has been the prospect that Russia may reactivate short-range, or tactical, nuclear weapons, which are not covered by any treaty. Yeltsin recently discussed modernizing such weapons at a meeting of the Kremlin Security Council.

    "It's obvious that we will have to carry out limited modernization of our tactical nuclear capability and strategic nuclear force, and probably not even modernization, but take a series of measures to increase their combat readiness," Sergei Karaganov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe, and chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, told reporters recently.

    When the Soviet Union was falling apart, both Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev took unilateral actions to pull back tactical nuclear weapons. Bush announced on Sept. 27, 1991, that the United States would eliminate its entire worldwide inventory of ground-launched tactical nuclear weapons and would remove all nuclear weapons from surface ships and attack submarines. Gorbachev followed Oct. 5 with a similar pronouncement.

    But the initiatives were never codified and could be reversed. Although little is known about Russia's arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, the Monterey Institute has estimated that it retains 7,740 warheads.

    Potter said that the relationship between Russia and the United States was the pillar of nonproliferation efforts but now is "greatly weakened and may soon collapse altogether." Among other signs of trouble, he pointed to Russia's economic plunge, continued difficulty in securing Russia's nuclear materials and its growing reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence. Other problems are the Indo-Pakistani arms races, Iraq's defiance of the U.N. arms inspections and North Korean "missile brinkmanship."

    "There are circles of impact," said Cirincione. "How does the Russian relationship change with the states on their borders, Iraq and Iran? . . . You could see increased trade, exactly the kind we don't like, with Iraq and Iran." What's more, experts say Russia may instigate new arms sales with other states to offset NATO. Already, there have been reports of Russian plans to sell antiaircraft systems to Libya. Russia also may find itself increasingly looking to alliances with China and India and less responsive to U.S. pleas to halt proliferation through its huge and weakened military-industrial complex.

    Russia's defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, also threatened recently to reconsider a just-concluded agreement on revisions to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. Signed in 1990, the treaty limits heavy conventional weaponry held by members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact. The collapse of the Soviet Union and admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to NATO led to negotiations to revise the pact, replacing the Cold War blocs with national limits on arms. In early April, a compromise was reached, which was expected to be signed later this year.

    Yet another casualty of the Kosovo crisis may be a planned U.S.-Russia temporary joint center to share early warning information about a possible missile attack. Russia announced after the NATO strikes that it was abandoning military-to-military contacts on the project, part of a larger effort to cope with the Y2K millennium computer bug.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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