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Russia: Task Force Sees Crisis In U.S.-Russian Arms Control

Washington, 23 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- An independent U.S. task force says there is a looming crisis in U.S.-Russian arms control regimes, due in part to insufficient leadership from the White House and the American Congress.

The report, entitled "Arms Control and the U.S.-Russian Relationship," says it is made especially dangerous in light of the current "chaotic" situation in the Russian government.

The report was released Tuesday in Washington by a bipartisan task force comprised of scholars, diplomats and military experts. The project was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.

The task force's six major areas of focus were:

Safety of the Russian nuclear weapons stockpile.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaties.

The Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and ballistic defense.

The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions.

The task force made general observations as well as specific policy recommendations.

Among the task force's major observations were that:

Current U.S.-Russian arms control issues are under serious challenge in both countries and could damage U.S. security if they are not maintained or strengthened.

Most existing arms control treaties and agreements continue to be critical to protecting U.S. security, although some require updating and modifications.

U.S. President and Congress should act decisively to develop a workable strategy for future arms control matters.

One of the more urgent policy recommendations by the task force was to encourage the presidents of both Russia and the United States to make the safety of Russia's huge nuclear arsenal a top priority.

"No other threat to vital U.S. national interests is both so proximate and potentially devastating," said the report. It went on to suggest in detail particular proposals for all arms control treaties and conventions.

In regards to START, the task force said that the United States should not undertake a new formal round of nuclear negotiations, namely START III, until Russia ratifies START II. However, last week the Russian Duma refused to ratify START II, leaving the issue unresolved.

In reference to the CFE treaty, the task force said it was satisfied with Russia's compliance and urged the United States to discuss a modernization of the treaty. However, the report stressed that the United States should not agree to any fundamental revisions and urged American officials to rebuff Russian arguments that NATO expansion is legally linked to CFE numerical ceilings on military equipment.

The task force also made recommendations regarding the ABM treaty and ballistic missile defense, acknowledging that they are in direct contradiction to the U.S. administration's current policies on the issue.

The task force said that it would recommend "strongly" encouraging Russia to develop within the next decade an effective theater missile defense, and then a limited national missile defense system, "in a joint venture with the United States and like-minded nations."

As it stands now, the administration of President Bill Clinton has postponed a decision on whether the United States should deploy a limited national missile defense system and has not made U.S.-Russian cooperation in this matter a priority.

On other issues, the report also covered NATO enlargement, although the authors stressed this was not a comprehensive study on the issue.

Instead, they said, the report recommendations on NATO enlargement were designed to encourage officials to factor into its decision-making process, the general importance of U.S.-Russian arms control issues.

Some of the recommendations regarding NATO enlargement were that in early 1997, NATO should offer membership to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary and have them enter into the alliance before the turn of the century. Simultaneously, NATO would announce that under present circumstances it saw no need to station nuclear weapons or foreign troops on their soil.

In a speech Tuesday, U.S. President Bill Clinton said 1999 is the year that NATO will have its first, new, full-fledged members from among the former communist Central and Eastern European nations, but he stopped short of saying who the first new members might be.

He said in part: "by 1999 -- NATO's 50th anniversary and ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- the first group of countries we invite to join should be full-fledged members of NATO."

The task force said that in addition, the entrance of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into NATO would result in a "prolonged" period -- 5 to 10 years -- in which the alliance would assess the consequences of the new members' presence in NATO.

In addition, the task force urged NATO officials to mount a coordinated effort to convince Russian President Boris Yeltsin to establish a formal and intense consultative arrangement between NATO and Russia.

Robert Blackwill, chairman of the task force and a former foreign policy advisor to President George Bush, acknowledged that the members of the task force did not agree on every issue, especially those regarding the ABM Treaty and NATO expansion.

"The views expressed in the report represent a majority, although we took into consideration dissenting views," said Blackwill.

Blackwill said the main purpose of the report was to alert U.S. political leadership to the fact that arms control issues will have a powerful influence over the future of U.S.-Russian relations, Russia's role in the world and on vital American security interests.

"Neither the Clinton administration nor Congress has been sufficiently attentive to the looming problems," wrote Dimitri K. Simes in the foreword to the report. Simes is president of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.