Russian Duma to link missile defense to START limitations

posted at 10:12 am on January 3, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

The Russian Duma delivered two embarrassing blows to the Obama administration over the holidays on the START treaty, one of which may end up scotching the deal altogether.  First, the Russian legislature refused to do what Barack Obama insisted of the US Senate, which was a quick ratification.  More importantly, however, the Duma will do what Senate Republicans wanted, which was to amend the treaty to clarify the relationship between START and missile defense.  However, the Duma’s changes will link the two and recast START into a de facto anti-missile defense pact:

The State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament) plans to confirm the link between the reduction of the strategic offensive arms and the restriction of antimissile defense systems’ deployment in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed between the US and Russia, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs says.

“During the ratification of START in the US Congress the American lawmakers noted that the link between strategic offensive armed forces and antimissile defense systems is not juridically binding for the parties. They referred to the fact that this link was fixed only in the preamble of the document. Such an approach can be regarded as the US’ attempt to find an option to build up its strategic potential and the Russian lawmakers cannot agree with this,” Kosachev says.

Remember when the pact’s supporters insisted that the preamble didn’t carry any legal weight?  The Duma begs to differ:

We will deal with these interpretations. The first thing is that our American colleagues do not recognize the legal force of the treaty’s preamble. The preamble sets a link between strategic offensive arms and defensive arms. The second thing is an attempt to interpret certain provisions of the treaty unilaterally.

The Russian lawmakers insist that all the chapters of the treaty including the preamble are legally binding, which is a common norm of international law. It is not lawful to take certain provisions and to give them unilateral interpretations like the American senators do, Alexei Arbatov, a member of the Carnegie Scientific Council, says.

This is our reaction on the US steps, which are not justified because you cannot selectively validate or invalidate certain provisions of the treaty. We are quite consistent here. We said that the entire treaty, the preamble and the articles have the same judicial force. This is logical and this is right.

That was, of course, the Republican argument in the lame-duck session, which Democrats and the White House dismissed as game-playing on national defense.  Brian Faughnan at Liberty Central reminds us that the White House created no small level of confusion on this very point with its refusal to share notes:

It is not surprising that there are differences in interpretation of the treaty between the Russian and the American side. Russia insisted on inserting missile defense provisions into the preamble, making it obvious that they viewed this provision as having some importance. Yet the White House has stated that it is non-binding. And to further complicate matters, the administration denied the Senate the opportunity to understand the dispute better, by refusing to share treaty negotiating documents. Now that the Senate has approved the treaty without first understanding how it would be implemented, the Russian Duma will attempt to modify the accord to impose missile defense restrictions — as critics of the accord predicted would happen.

The START Treaty ratification process is already a mess. And it is a mess because the Obama administration was not candid about the meaning of the agreement. If the Duma alters the accord in an attempt to impose new restrictions on America’s defensive capabilities, the Obama administration will have a full-blown diplomatic incident on its hands.

The Duma might in fact reinvigorate START opposition in the Senate, and at the worst possible time.  Any alteration to the treaty will force a new ratification vote, and clearly Obama would have lacked the signatures in the last session of Congress for missile-defense restrictions.  With his 18-seat majority reduced to six seats, the new session of the Senate won’t approve it either, and it won’t even be close.  If the Duma follows through on this threat, then Obama will suffer an embarrassing defeat on foreign policy, essentially conducting a rerun on more substantial grounds of the “reset button” embarrassment from two years ago.

Even if the Duma doesn’t formally alter the treaty, though, Obama’s credibility will be shot.  They will have been publicly caught arguing one thing to the Senate while apparently agreeing to its opposite with Russia.  The next time Obama brings a treaty of any consequence and controversy to the Senate, don’t expect the Senate to just accept Obama’s word …. and don’t expect it to pass ratification, either.

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*Defensive* systems should never be part of any treaty, only offensive systems. SDI is a purely defensive system.

If they link the two, they are doomed.

crosspatch on January 3, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Lol, they will ratify changes and pass it. The treaty will just be a photo op moment. One nation will say it means this while the US says it means this. Most US allies will just have to face that they are pretty much on their own while no nukes bambi is POTUS, time to grow up.

Africanus on January 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM

If they change the treaty after it was ratified in the Senate it will have to be re-ratified by the Senate, No?

whbates on January 3, 2011 at 6:24 PM

No worries, people!!!!

Here’s the email I received just TODAY from my Senator, Lamar Alexander, in response to both an email and a telephone call (where I actually spoke to a breathing person, kudos for that, Lamar) that if he voted in favor of the START treaty, I would work to primary his sorry self…

Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the New START Treaty.

I voted to ratify the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia because it leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to Kingdom Come and because the President has committed to an $85 billion, 10-year plan to make sure that those weapons work. I voted for the Treaty because it allows for inspection of Russian warheads and because our military leaders say it does nothing to interfere with the development of our missile defense system. I voted for the Treaty because the last six Republican Secretaries of State support it. In short, I am convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New Start Treaty than without it.

On December 21, 2010, I spoke on the Senate floor about why I thought the New START Treaty would make America safer. You can read my comments or watch them at:

I’m glad you took the time to let me know where you stand, and I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as national security is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.



See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!!!

ladyingray on January 3, 2011 at 6:44 PM

So, in the future we may be saying Obama lied, Americans died?

chickasaw42 on January 3, 2011 at 8:02 PM

I believe that the president (Mr. Obama to be clear) may have stepped on his B1-A unit. Does the Army still have those? Yummy, chocolate.

Mason on January 3, 2011 at 8:02 PM

And I received a response from Senator Corker too!

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office regarding ratification of the New START Treaty. Your input is important to me and I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts.

As you may know, on December 22, 2010, the Senate passed the Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification of the New START Treaty. I voted in favor of the resolution as I feel this treaty is vital to our national security interests.

First and foremost, let me say that my top priority is the safety and security of the citizens of the United States, and I had very serious concerns regarding the New START treaty as it was submitted to the Senate. For this reason, I actively engaged with various groups to identify problems with the treaty and worked very closely with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar and his staff to address these issues in his resolution of ratification including those surrounding missile defense, plans to modernize our nuclear security complex and weapons systems, and ensuring Russian compliance with the treaty. It was only after these concerns were met and the fact that the resolution was strengthened through Senate consideration that I was able to vote in favor of the resolution of ratification. In fact, thanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the New START treaty could easily be called the ‘Nuclear Modernization and Missile Defense Act of 2010.’

I want to point out a few of the issues that I insisted had to be addressed in the resolution of ratification in order to gain my vote in the Senate. I greatly appreciate the constant vigilance of our intelligence community internationally; however, ratification of this treaty will additionally cause us to have well-trained inspection teams with “boots on the ground,” as an additional check on Russia’s actions as it relates to their nuclear arsenal. I believe President Reagan had it right when he said “Trust, but verify”, and that is exactly what is needed in this case. When START I expired last year we lost our ability to know what is happening with Russia’s nuclear arsenal and with New START’s ratification we will once again have those assurances. The resolution of ratification states that the New Start treaty only remains in the interest of the U.S. so long as Russia is in compliance with all components of the treaty, and that includes the ability of the U.S. to conduct verification activities.

Additionally, I saw this entire process as an opportunity to push for long overdue investments in modernization of our existing nuclear arsenal, which is key to ensuring our safety in the long run. For this reason, I, together with Senator Kyl, worked very hard to obtain commitments from the Administration that they will in fact commit to modernization efforts in the future. If we are going to take weapons out of deployed status, we need to know that our country’s remaining nuclear arms are safe, secure and reliable. To date, we have received appropriate commitments to fully fund modernization, received an update to the 10 year modernization plan for the nuclear weapons complex, received notification that a letter was sent from key Senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee to the President asking that he request amounts outlined in the updated modernization plan as part of his annual budget request, and in a letter to Senate appropriators dated December 20, 2010 the President confirmed that he would in fact request funding levels outlined in the updated modernization plan. I believe that these commitments accommodate current and future needs, and are in line with our national security obligations. The resolution of ratification strongly reinforces the need for such commitments and I intend to actively continue working to ensure that they are fulfilled in the future.

Next, the President sent a letter to Congress stating his commitment to the development and deployment of a robust U.S. missile defense system. I introduced an amendment codifying the key components of the letter and requiring that the President, prior to ratification of the treaty, certify to the Senate that our missile defense systems will continue to be developed, improved and deployed and communicate to Russia that continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defense systems do not threaten the strategic balance with Russia and consequently do not constitute a basis to withdraw from the treaty. Additionally, my amendment added a statement of understanding that the preamble to the New START treaty does not in any way impose a legal obligation to the U.S. with regard to our missile defense systems. This amendment passed in the Senate and was included in the final resolution of ratification.

While each Senator has to decide on their own on a treaty such as this, it is also interesting to note that this treaty has broad support from our military leaders, who are in my view the most important to consult on issues related to our national security. On December 20, 2010, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a letter to Congress reiterating the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense and all uniformed military for this treaty. He states in his letter that “ratification of the New START Treaty is vital to U.S. national security”, and that “the sooner it is ratified, the better”.

In closing, I want to say that I firmly believe that signing and ratifying this treaty, and all of the things that we have done to ensure a path forward for our missile defense programs and modernization or our nuclear weapons complex are in the national interest of our country. I am also very proud that as part of ratifying this treaty, we were able to get the Administration to commit to funding for modernization of our nuclear arsenal and support our missile defense, two things that would not have happened otherwise. I have attached both the President’s letter expressing support for future nuclear modernization funding and development and deployment of a robust missile defense system as well as a copy of my missile defense amendment to this letter. I am proud to have supported a treaty that will continue the legacy of President Reagan who signed the first nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia in 1987 in an effort to fulfill our commitments as signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush subsequently followed in President Reagan’s footsteps by signing the follow-on agreements START I, START II and the Moscow treaty.

Thank you once again for your letter. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me throughout the course of my term.


Bob Corker
United States Senator

ladyingray on January 3, 2011 at 8:41 PM

“…..but, but, but the Russians said they’d sign a START treaty if I first removed all ABM missiles from Poland – which I did last August!” (Teh One)

Sorry, Mr. President, but you just got screwed in public by the Russkies. Fine job, sir!

alwyr on January 4, 2011 at 8:03 AM

Why was my earlier post deleted? There wasn’t anything offensive in it. If it was vapid, perhaps other posts need to go as well : )

Sheerq on January 4, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I see now it was posted on the nearly identical thread – my bad.

Sheerq on January 4, 2011 at 11:31 AM

They will have been publicly caught arguing one thing to the Senate while apparently agreeing to its opposite with Russia.

What are the legal ramifications of deliberately misleading Congress?

cryptojunkie on January 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM

What a humiliating photo.

I’ll bet the Russian FSB intelligence report about President Obama is comprised of one word: WEAK

scotash on January 4, 2011 at 12:39 PM

This can’t be right. I distinctly recall Senator John F’ing Kerry’s assurance to the contrary.

Mason on January 4, 2011 at 1:21 PM