The Cable’s Josh Rogin reported yesterday that Senators Jon Kyl, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman sent a letter to National Security Advisor James Jones expressing concern that the Russians are continuing to seek limits on U.S. missile defenses in the context of the soon-to-be-completed START follow-on negotiations.
The letter was apparently prompted by reports that the Russians plan to release a statement declaring that they have a right to unilaterally withdraw from the new treaty if they determine that “strategic stability” is upset by U.S. missile defense deployments.
According to the Senators, “Even as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty.”
Jonathan Kaplan, a spokesman for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, told Rogin that “Anybody who knows anything about treaties knows that it is customary to be able to withdraw for reasons pertaining to one’s national interest, so there’s nothing new or diabolical here.”
The situation is even more ordinary than Kaplan’s statement would suggest…
The same thing happened when START I was signed.
IIn a meeting on June 13, 1991, U.S. Ambassador Linton Brooks and Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Obukhov exchanged unilateral statements on the relationship between the START I treaty, which was signed a month later on July 31, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The full text of the statements (as well as other statements issued by the two sides before START I was signed) can be found here.
The Soviet statement noted that START I “may be effective and viable only under conditions of compliance with the Treaty between the U.S. and the USSR on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, as signed on May 26, 1972.” Obukhov added that withdrawal by either the U.S. or the Soviet Union from the ABM Treaty could be grounds for withdrawal from START I.
The U.S. statement responded that:
While the United States cannot circumscribe the Soviet right to withdraw from the START Treaty if the Soviet Union believes its supreme interests are jeopardized, the full exercise by the United States of its legal rights under the ABM Treaty, as we have discussed with the Soviet Union in the past, would not constitute a basis for such withdrawal. The United States will be signing the START Treaty and submitting it to the United States Senate for advice and consent to ratification with this view. In addition, the provisions for withdrawal from the START Treaty based on supreme national interests clearly envision that such withdrawal could only be justified by extraordinary events that have jeopardized a Party’s supreme interest. Soviet statements that a future, hypothetical U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty could create such conditions are without legal or military foundation…. Changes in the ABM Treaty agreed to by the Parties would not be a basis for questioning the effectiveness or viability of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. [emphasis mine].
So there you have it. Despite the Soviet unilateral statement, Senators Lieberman and McCain joined 91 other Senators in voting to ratify START I. Though Kyl was not in the Senate at the time START I was voted on, one wonders whether he would have written a letter to then-National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft expressing the concerns raised in the letter to Gen. Jones. If Kyl’s record on verification is any indication, he probably would have written a letter supporting the unilateral statements.