Politics as usual may delay US Senate vote on New START

Following the release of the Treaty Compliance Report in the US, some Senate members are arguing that Russia did not fulfill its START I obligations, which could hinder New START.

Given that US President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with Russia have been beset with obstacles at every curve in the road, it should come as no surprise that Wednesday’s release of the US State Department’s Treaty Compliance Report alleged that Russia failed to comply with some aspects of Start I.

With a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on New START scheduled for next Tuesday, there are fears that Republicans will use the Compliance Report as a pretext for delaying a vote on the treaty until after mid-term elections in November, thus denying the Democrats a major victory that could help them at the polls.

The upcoming mid-term election battle is guaranteed to be nasty, brutish and short. The Obama White House has no desire to see its meek majority slip away, while the Republicans will resort to every cheap political trick in the book to win back the political heights.

New START would reduce each side's deployed long-range nuclear warheads to 1,550 from 2,200, while keeping intact a 15-year-old verification system that allows the Russians and Americans to inspect each other's nuclear facilities.

In order for the treaty to get the green light, it will need to secure the support of at least eight Republican Party members, as well as all of the Democrats and the two Independents.

The report, which details international adherence to arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament agreements, said that although Russia fulfilled all of its obligations concerning its nuclear stockpiles set down in the original START Treaty, it failed to comply fully with the Biological Weapons Convention, which the Soviet Union signed in 1972, and to which successive Russian governments have agreed to adhere.

"The United States notes that Russia acknowledged it inherited past offensive programs of biological research and development from the former Soviet Union," the report said.

"It remains unclear, however, whether Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article II of the BWC to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes the items specified in Article I of the Convention that it inherited."

The report went on to question Russia’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"Russia has completed destruction of its CWPFs (Chemical Weapons Production Facilities) scheduled for destruction, but has not met the CWPF conversion deadline," it said.

"In the absence of additional information from Russia, the United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia has declared all of its CW stockpile, all CWPFs, and all of its CW development facilities."

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday accused the authors of the report of “biased assessments.”

“Without providing any facts, Russia is attributed to those that violate non-proliferation agreements," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website on Thursday. "The report contains biased assessments of the compliance of the START treaty by Russia.”

In an article published today by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), it was disclosed that, although the US is accusing Russia of shady dealings, Washington has also been dragging its feet when it comes to its stockpile of chemical weapons.

“The 2010 report does bring attention to some ambiguities with Russia’s adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention,” Sarah Bulley wrote on the CSIS website. “However, the ACA [Arms Control Association] points out the US is also behind schedule in destroying its own chemical weapons stockpile due to the nature of the performing such tasks safely.”

Itar-Tass on Thursday provided a solid list of reasons the US State Department report should not complicate the New START ratification process, which included: “The report finds that Russia complied with START; the US report notes, in particular, that despite the successful fulfillment of START on the whole, several issues of its observance (by Moscow) remained unsettled until the treaty expired on December 5, 2009. It is also admitted that these issues were linked with different interpretation by the sides of the START I clauses that regulated inspections and other verification measures; the State Department report should give senators additional confidence that Russia would comply with New START. As Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said last year, ‘Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the Treaty's verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose.’"

Finally, US Senators that have concerns about Russia's nuclear arsenal should support the New START ratification because without the treaty on the reduction of nuclear weapons, there will be no on-site inspections of Russian nuclear sites.

Hopefully political infighting in the United States will take a backseat to a truly progressive treaty that promises to make the world a safer place, while setting an example for other nuclear-ambitious governments that nuclear weapons are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Robert Bridge, RT