Monday, January 3, 2011

Is START Coming Undone?

Obama has celebrated START as his principal foreign policy achievement. He managed to win the votes he needed for its Senate ratification by convincing Republicans that the limitations on missile defense suggested by the treaty’s preamble weren’t material terms of the agreement he’d negotiated with the Russians and that he was committed to developing our missile defenses going forward. The problem, however, is that the Russians aren’t backing Obama up:
“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.

"'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.”
Assume that Kosachev is really speaking for the Duma which, in turn, really will be speaking for the Russian government. That would seem to leave open only three possibilities, none of them good for Obama: (1) he secured START ratification by misrepresenting the meeting of minds between the American and Russian negotiators; (2) the Russians are now misrepresenting the material terms and conditions of the agreement, suggesting that they’re not really all that committed to delivering on their end of the bargain; or (3) the meeting of minds between the parties was never substantial enough to count as the foreign policy achievement that Obama is claiming for himself.


Anonymous said...

The parties don't have to agree on the meaning of every term for a treaty to be worth signing. START's mutual inspection regime is progress even if the treaty leaves missile defense up in the air.

Anonymous said...

All of these possibilities are very problematic. But mostly the second. How can you not agree to whether the preamble matters and think you have a treaty worth signing? I'd sure like to know if anything like this has ever happened before or if the Obama Administration has really stepped in it this time.