Russian media: The missile defense provision in the new START treaty is legally binding

Remember, the argument from START supporters since the beginning is that the treaty won’t compromise U.S. missile defense because the stuff about “defensive arms” is in the preamble, which isn’t legally binding. Here’s the key provision from page two:

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 arms of the parties.

Russia’s been hinting since at least April that it’ll pull out of the treaty if the U.S. proceeds with missile defense, with the preamble the likely pretext for blaming the U.S. if/when that happens, but things went quiet lately on that front as the Senate got to work on ratification. But here’s a fun tidbit from Itar-TASS just last week flagged by Bill Gertz of the Washington Times. If you’re thinking that Russia’s given up on using the preamble to try to block America’s missile shield, think again:

One of the key arguments made by American proponents of New START is that the language in the treaty’s preamble linking strategic offensive and defensive weapons is nonbinding.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been leading the fight for ratification, said during floor debate that the treaty’s preamble is “a component of the treaty that has no legal, binding impact whatsoever.”

Moscow apparently has a different view of the preamble.

ITAR-Tass, the main Russian government information agency, reported last week: “The treaty will have a legally binding provision on the link between strategic offensive and defensive weapons and will affirm the increasing importance of this link amid the reduction of strategic offensive weapons.”

Several Republican-authored amendments to the treaty that sought to alter the preamble were voted down, based in part on assertions that the preamble had no legal standing.

In fact, the Russian Duma is already murmuring about the resolution asserting the Senate’s understanding that the treaty would do nothing to limit U.S. missile defense. The Duma’s not about to defy Putin and Medvedev by rejecting START, but I wonder if we won’t see them pass a resolution of their own insisting that, yes indeed, the document does limit U.S. missile defense and will be treated accordingly by Russia. Which, if it happens, will be extremely awkward for The One, but hopefully irrelevant to U.S. policy going forward. Like I said the other day, he swore up and down over the past few months that he won’t abandon missile defense; if he does so, especially under pressure from Russia over a transparently bogus claim in the preamble to START, the GOP will utterly destroy him over it and he knows it. So he’ll press ahead, knowing that Russia may well abandon the treaty and he’ll end up looking like a royal sucker whose dreams of a nuclear-free world are even further in the pipe than we thought. Which is to say, as the president and chief proponent of this treaty, he’s bet a chunk of his foreign policy credibility on Russian compliance with it. He’d have been diminished if the GOP had shot it down, but now he’ll be diminished if he’s misjudged, er, Vladimir Putin. Hope you know what you’re doing, champ.