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Outside View: Life after START

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Tom Mcnutt
Washington (UPI) Sep 10, 2007
Russia's planned suspension of participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and its warnings surrounding the proposed American missile defense shield in Europe have reflected a post-Cold War low in bilateral relations. In light of these events, transparency regarding military capabilities and nuclear weapons takes increasing prominence.

The most significant and complex arms control treaty in history, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, created an extensive system that reviews and verifies the quantity and quality of American and Soviet nuclear arsenals, creating a very high level of transparency for both nations. On Dec. 5, 2009, however, START is slated to expire, and neither side appears keen on renewing the agreement.

Without START, all of its verification procedures disappear completely -- a prospect that worries the intelligence community and international security research groups alike. Fortunately, Russia and the United States have both indicated that they would like to retain some sort of post-START verification measures.

However, as the clock ticks down on START with no consensus in sight, the United States and Russia must consider five options for negotiating the future of bilateral nuclear arms verification.

Option 1: New treaty

Although the Bush administration has been averse to entering into formal treaties, a new treaty would offer significant benefits for Russia and the United States, including eliminating Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine from the agreement. It would also allow Russia and the United States to tailor the verification measures to the current weapons environment instead of the one of START's ratification over 15 years ago, reinforcing the friendship between the two nations while helping to dampen cries of a Cold War rebirth. With changes in administration in both Russia and the United States scheduled over the next 18 months, completing a new treaty before START's expiration will be a challenge.

Option 2: Extend START

The parties must meet by Dec. 5, 2008, to consider whether START will be extended, but they can decide whether or not to extend the treaty any time prior to its expiration. If the parties are not able to complete new treaty negotiations by December 2009, they can simply decide to extend START another five years. Neither the U.S. Senate nor the Russian State Duma need approve it because they have delegated the authorization in the treaty.

Option 3: Extend START and cut optional measures

Although both parties currently agree that some of the verification measures under START are too expensive and no longer necessary, all of the measures are effectively optional. In light of this, the parties could renew the treaty for five years but choose not to perform all of the measures to which they have the right.

Option 4: Amend START

START's own amendment procedures allow for the treaty to be changed as the two countries see fit. However, any amendment must go through the same rigorous advice and consent procedures in the Senate that START went through. Whether that could be achieved before START's expiration is uncertain.

Option 5: New executive agreement

The Bush administration has been receptive to executive agreements, which are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and technically the United States and Russia could enter into such an agreement. The political costs, however, might be greater than the legal gains.

Any such declaration could potentially trigger a clause in START that says any international agreements that "would obligate the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in a militarily significant manner" must be undertaken only through the advice and consent treaty procedures. The Senate would probably feel that the president was deliberately contravening the chamber if he chose to use an executive agreement, making this option disagreeable at best.

The rhetoric and trajectory of arms control treaties indicates that both countries wish to reduce their armaments. If so, then it's time to negotiate a treaty eschewing flexibility and imposing predictability. Until that happens, the United States and Russia have several options regarding START, including the appalling option of simply letting it expire.

(Tom McNutt is a third-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law and a legal assistant for the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, based at the World Security Institute in Washington.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Hong Kong (UPI) Sep 7, 2007
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