Washington, 14 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry worked hard to convince the U.S. Senate to approve a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. He leaves for Moscow next week with the hope of repeating his success in the Duma, the Russian parliament.
Perry is to arrive in Moscow on October 16 for two days of scheduled talks with Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. But the highlight of his trip might be his meetings with key members of the Duma's foreign, defense and security committees to talk about the benefits to Russia of approving the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known by its English acronym START Two.
The treaty between Washington and Moscow was signed in 1993. It mandates substantial reductions in the nuclear arsenal of the United States and in the nuclear weapons stockpile Russia inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
The other former Soviet republics that found themselves with nuclear weapons -- Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine -- agreed in amendments to the treaty to transfer those weapons to Russia for eventual destruction.
The central point of the treaty is its requirement that the United States and Russia reduce the total number of nuclear warheads to between 3,000 and 3,500 for each side by the year 2003.
The U.S. Senate, which is required by the U.S. Constitution to approve or reject treaties with foreign governments, had many questions about the validity of the treaty, and the Senate did not approve the document until January 26 of this year.
There is even more rancor in Russia over the treaty, and both chambers of the Russian parliament must ratify the pact before it can take effect. The principal opposition is centered around the belief that the treaty will erode Russia's status as a military superpower.
"This is an issue in the Duma now which has transcended the facts and specifics of the treaty," a senior U.S. Defense Department official told reporters Friday. "It's a very politicized treaty over there. And many of the Russian deputies who have expressed opinions against it know very little about it."
The official, who spoke on condition his name not be used, said Perry is likely to meet with as many as 100 parliamentarians.
"One of the things that we're going to indicate is that this treaty enhances strategic stability," the official said. The treaty makes deep cuts in the numbers of land-based, long-range missiles with multiple warheads. The United States says these types of missiles are a source of instability because they can tempt an adversary to launch a surprise attack to wipe those missiles out.
Much of the Russian opposition to the treaty stems from the fact that the Soviet Union invested heavily in land-based missiles and that Russia has many more of these weapons than the United States. The United States has more nuclear weapons that can be launched from ships and submarines and from planes.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon official said the START treaty will make the sides more equal in weapons. He said it will also improve Russian security and stability because it reduces the threat from either side of a surprise attack intended to knock out land-based missiles.