- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Vladimir Putin's opening foreign policy gambit, after his victory at the polls last month, says a lot about what sort of leader of Russia he will be. President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others have been quick to portray the newly elected president's success in securing ratification of the START II Treaty after seven years of studied inaction by the Duma as evidence that Mr. Putin is a man with whom we can safely do business.

On closer inspection, however, this action is evidence less of a heartening sea change in Russia than the sort of maneuver jujitsu that one would expect from a man who prides himself not only on his black belt in martial arts, but on his career in the front lines of Soviet intelligence in Cold War operations against the West. We should take little comfort from signs that the most dangerous master of the Kremlin since the last KGB man to rule there, Yuri Andropov, is now able to bend the Duma to his will as he shrewdly works to undermine our advantages and turn Russia's liabilities into strengths.

Take, for example, Mr. Putin's machinations on the START II Treaty. In its original form, this accord while defective in important respects could be said to have had some redeeming features from the U.S. point of view. In particular, it was supposed to result in the early elimination of all of the former Soviet Union's vast arsenal of SS-18s, heavy ballistic missiles capable of preemptively attacking the United States with large numbers of independently targetable warheads. This was the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate in January 1996.

Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore administration agreed in September 1997 to defer the dismantling of these and other threatening Russian missiles until as late as 2007. And that was the arrangement the Duma approved last Friday. Lest the impact of this change be lost on anyone, Mr. Putin subsequently indicated that none of Russia s long-range missiles will be retired until they reach the end of their useful service life. Some deal.

What is more, Mr. Putin has asserted that Russia will not implement the START II Treaty at all unless and until the United States ratifies what the Duma has just done. That would mean accepting several other troubling provisions, notably steps aimed at breathing new life into the strategically obsolete, legally defunct 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

For example, the Russians have attached to their resolution of ratification two other ill-advised agreements also signed by the Clinton-Gore administration in September 1997. One would effect an extraordinary makeover of the ABM Treaty, from the bilateral accord signed with the Soviet Union a country that ceased to exist nine years ago into a multilateral accord between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on the one hand and the United States on the other. An insight into the Clinton-Gore administration's actual attitude toward defending the United States against missile attack may be found in its motivation for seeking this change: Creating multiple foreign vetoes would make it even more difficult for the ABM Treaty to be modified so as to permit U.S. missile defenses to be deployed.

The second agreement addresses the question of demarkation: Where is the technological line to be drawn between so-called theater missile defenses that were not supposed to be covered by the ABM Treaty and strategic defenses that were? In practice, this accord would have the effect of imposing new limitations on a whole class of promising anti-missile systems. It has already contributed to actions that have dumbed down the Navy's sea-based theaterwide missile defense program, rendering it less capable of providing near-term protection for U.S. forces and allies overseas than it could and than it needs to do.

In addition, at Mr. Putin's direction, the Duma has served notice that if the United States withdraws from the ABM treaty, Russia will abrogate not only the START I and II treaties but from other arms-control accords as well. This audacious move takes advantage of the Clinton-Gore administration's refusal to acknowledge the fact that the ABM treaty is no longer in effect as a matter of international law. It also would, as a practical matter, eliminate a right the United States was explicitly afforded by the ABM Treaty, namely that of withdrawing from the accord on six-month notice if U.S. supreme interests are jeopardized.

As the New York Times reported on Saturday: "Washington has a choice, [Mr. Putin] said. The United States will have to renounce its plans to develop a national ABM system in order to preserve START II and the agreement limiting conventional forces in Europe. If it does not and discards the ABM treaty, Mr. Putin said, the United States will become in the eyes of the world the party that is guilty for destroying the foundations of strategic stability.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Putin's jujitsu will mean for the Clinton-Gore administration's highest foreign policy priority: negotiation of a grand compromise on strategic arms. This would package a follow-on START III agreement (involving far more radical, unverifiable and ill-advised reductions in U.S. offensive nuclear arms) together with Russian permission for an exceedingly limited American anti-missile deployment in Alaska, provided Washington foreswears any interest in more comprehensive layered defenses.

Before President Clinton makes matters worse either in negotiations leading up to or during the summit he plans to hold with Mr. Putin sometime next month he should heed a lesson offered by the bruising fight that led to rejection of his 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Under the Constitution, the Senate is a coequal partner with the executive branch in the making of international treaties. It would be a serious mistake to enroll, without serious debate let alone prior agreement from the Senate, in a new agreement effecting dubious reductions in U.S. nuclear forces and precluding the sort of layered missile defenses that even the director of the Clinton Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, says are likely to be necessary.

Alas, a president more interested in securing an arms-control legacy irrespective of the cost is likely to prove an easy mark for a cunning, ruthless operative like Vladimir Putin. The Senate must therefore promptly step into the breach, performing the vital check-and-balance role envisioned for it by the Founding Fathers. It should insist upon Mr. Clinton finally submitting for the Senate's advice and consent the September 1997 agreements the Duma has now approved. By rejecting these accords on the grounds that they will make it harder for the United States to achieve the missile defense required by it and its forces and allies overseas, the Senate can make clear the unacceptability of the grand compromise that Mr. Clinton now seeks a deal that might just be sufficiently inimical to U.S. national security interests to be acceptable to Mr. Putin.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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