START II Moves—Does It Really?

Kalpana Chittaranjan, Research Officer, IDSA


Amidst the plethora of articles appearing on the proposed US National Missile Defence (NMD), a report appeared online as breaking news which almost went unnoticed. It stated that on that date (July 29, 2000), US and Kazakh officials had completely destroyed what was once the world’s largest atomic test ground—the Semipalatinsk complex in North-Eastern Kazakhstan—which had, during the Cold War—between 1949 and 1989—carried out more than 500 test explosions.1 The force equivalent of the 100 tonnes of dynamite used to blast the final remaining tunnel of the Polygon test site which effectively removed the former Soviet republic from the list of countries capable of testing and launching nuclear weapons served as a powerful reminder that it is under the terms of the START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)2 signed in July 1991 between the USA and the former Soviet Union (FSU) and related documents that resulted in the three former Soviet republics, i.e., Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine3 formally joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty and removing nuclear weapons from their respective territories.

The START process, which seemed to have been placed on a backburner was again placed on the forefront as an arms control issue when Russian President Vladimir Putin placed START II before his country’s Lower House of Parliament, the Duma, which ratified it on April 14, 2000. Before a discussion is started of the implications of the Duma’s action of ratification of a treaty seven years after it was signed, here is a recap of START II.



It had been felt that the main shortcoming of START I had been insufficient arms reductions and therefore, START II, signed between USA and Russia in January 1993 was the result of efforts made for a more comprehensive strategic nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries. After the signing of START I in July 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved in December 1991. US President George Bush’s State of the Union Address on January 28, 1992 contained a proposal for a new agreement requiring far deeper cuts than those required by START I. The proposal offered a reduction in US Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) by ‘about a third’ below the number (3, 456) of warheads which the USA planned to deploy under START I. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President responded the next day with a proposal of his own. He proposed that the two sides cut their strategic nuclear warheads to 2, 000 – 2, 500 each. The months of February, March, May and June 1992 saw US Secretary of State James Baker and the Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev holding ministerial meetings which paved the way for Presidents Bush and Yeltsin to meet at a summit meeting at Washington where they signed the ‘Joint Understanding on Further Reductions in Strategic Offensive Arms (the De-Mirving Agreement).4 This agreement became a basis for a follow-on to the START I Treaty and included numerical ceilings and a time frame for reductions. Telephone calls exchanged between Bush and Yeltsin on December 20 and 21, 1992 produced some progress, as, after their conversations, a team of US and Russian technical specialists met at Geneva from December 22 to 24, to try to complete the final details. At high level meetings in Geneva on December 28 and 29 among US Secretary of State Eagleburger and Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev and Defence Minister Pavel Grachev, the last issues were finally resolved.5

Signing and Provisions of START II Treaty

Presidents Bush and Yeltsin signed the START II Treaty in Moscow on January 3, 1993, thus concluding the most sweeping nuclear arms reduction treaty in history.6 As signed then, the Treaty required the USA and Russia to eliminate their MIRVed ICBMs and reduce the number of their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3, 000 – 3, 500 each. These reductions were to be carried out by January 1, 2003 or even earlier, i.e., by the year 2000 if the USA could help finance the elimination of strategic offensive arms in Russia.

Main Provisions The Treaty consists of eight Articles and includes two Protocols and a Memorandum of Understanding. START II has set equal numerical ceilings for strategic nuclear weapons that may be deployed by either side. The agreed ceilings were to be reached in two stages:

Stage One The first stage had to be completed seven years after entry into force of the START I Treaty and by the end of it, each side should have reduced the total number of its deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3, 800-4,250. Of these warheads, no more than 1, 200 could be deployed on MIRVed ICBMs, no more than 2, 160 on deployed SLBMs and no more than 650 on deployed heavy ICBMs.

Stage Two This stage had to be completed by 2003 or even earlier, i.e., by the end of 2000 if the USA could help finance the elimination of strategic nuclear arms in Russia.7 By the end of this stage, each side should have reduced the total number of its deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3,000-3,500. Of the retained warheads, none could be on MIRVed ICBMs, including heavy ICBMs. Only ICBMs carrying a single warhead would be allowed.

Entry Into Force and Duration START II enters into force on the date of the exchange of instruments of ratification, but not before the entry into force of START I. Since START II builds upon START I, it must remain in force throughout the duration of the latter. As in START I, each side has the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary efforts have jeopardised its supreme interests.

START II-Related Follow-up—The Helsinki Summit

In order to address Russian concerns about START II, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin met at Helsinki, Finland, on March 20-21,1997, and in a joint statement,8 reached agreement on a number of arms control issues. Regarding START II, the Presidents agreed to extend by five years the deadline for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.

With regard to START III, the two Presidents agreed to immediately start negotiations for an agreement once START II entered into force. It was also agreed that START III negotiations would include four basic components: a limit of 2, 000-2, 500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each side by the end of 2007; measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories as well as to the destruction of strategic warheads; conversion of the current START agreements to unlimited duration; and the "deactivation" by the end of 2003 of all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II.

In a separate "Joint Statement Concerning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,"9 Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin reaffirmed the May 1995 principles for agreement on demarcation10 between ABM and theater missile defence (TMD) systems. They also reached an agreement, in principle, governing the status of higher-velocity TMD systems under the ABM Treaty. The USA and Russia are permitted, under this "Phase Two" Agreement to deploy high-velocity TMD systems provided they are not tested against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 km per second or ranges that exceed 3, 500 km. The agreement does not allow either side to develop, test or deploy space-based TMD interceptors or components based on other physical principles that can substitute for such interceptors.11

Ratification and Implementation

It was understood that for START II to enter into force, three steps had to be taken: a) START I must be in force; b) the US Senate had to ratify the Treaty; and c) The Russian Duma had to ratify the Treaty. Of these steps, for a long time, the first two had been met.12 Many analysts were of the view that once the Duma ratified it, it would be just a question of time before START II’s provisions were implemented. This hope has been belied and it is clear that inspite of the Duma’s ratification of the Treaty in April this year, it will be sometime before START II sees the light of day. Before we come to why the Treaty still seems to be in cold storage, here is a brief look at why the Duma delayed its ratification for a little more than seven years after its signing.

Duma’s Delay in START II Ratification

In 1993, the year the Treaty was signed, it became clear that it had become a low priority issue in the wake of political confrontation between President Yeltsin and the Parliament. That year saw substantial opposition to the Treaty by members of parliament, newspaper editorial writers and think-tank analysts who publicly criticised it in harsh terms. In what was perceived to be a pro-Western direction by President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kozyrev, then Speaker of the Parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, said on April 13, 1993 that as long as Kozyrev was the Foreign Minister, "it is absurd to even talk about" START II ratification. While some critics felt that the Treaty was totally unacceptable and had to be jettisoned altogether, others argued that negotiations for amendments or new, supplemental agreements prior to the entry of force could redress START II’s perceived inequities. The major argument put forward by Russian critics was that the accord required the country to eliminate the main component of its deterrent force—its MIRVed ICBMs,13 while it allowed the US to retain the principal components of its deterrent force—the Trident SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles). As a result, Russia would have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process of a complete restructuring of the composition of its strategic triad while the US would keep its triad intact. Relatively, the critics claimed, the cost of dismantling Russian strategic weapons would be prohibitive and the US would be in a better position than Russia to withdraw from the Treaty by quickly "uploading" its Trident missiles to eight warheads each and also deploying its B-1B bombers with nuclear rather than conventional weapons.14

A serious issue that affected the Duma’s decision to stay ratification of START II early on was Moscow’s continued concern about US efforts to abrogate or undermine the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which, according to Russia, would clearly be the case, if the US went ahead in developing and deploying a multiple-site National Missile Defense (NMD).

An important issue for some Duma members was their expressed concern over the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and they linked this issue to the ratification of START II. By early 1997, a presidential candidate and leader of the party which controlled the largest number of seats in the previous Duma, Gennady Zyuganov said he opposed the Treaty so long as there was a possibility of NATO expanding eastward. In an article published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta on November 28, 1996, Defence Minister Igor Rodionov warned that Russia might have to point its nuclear missiles at Eastern European countries if they joined NATO. He felt that "NATO’s eastward expansion is unacceptable to Russia" as it could eventually allow NATO aviation to reach central Russia as well as enhance the Alliance’s naval capabilities if strategic naval bases were based in the former Soviet Baltic countries. In response, according to Rodinov, Russia could be forced to create its own military alliance, ignore the nuclear arms reduction treaties and beef up forces on its western borders, which could include nuclear weapons. Russian critics and analysts feared that NATO’s expansion would produce a new fault line between the East and the West instead of bringing about a united and peaceful Europe, as the Western manifesto claimed. Alexander Konovalov, President, Strategic Analysis Institute of Russia, pointed out in an article in RIA Novosti, "The expansion of NATO will change dramatically the military-strategic balance on the continent, which will negatively affect the security interests of Russia. This major military-political alliance will embrace the military capabilities of three new members and move 1,000 kms closer to Russia’s border, even if with the most friendly intentions. But these good intentions have not been sealed in treaties and agreements, which would guarantee the side’s protection against any future accidents." He further felt that irreparable harm would be done to the arms control system and this would create "major, and possibly insurmountable barriers to the ratification of START Treaty by the State Duma, which may conclude that it is premature to reduce the Russian arsenals at this time."

Duma’s Earlier Ratification Attempts

START II, which had originally been submitted to the Duma on June 21, 1995 was resubmitted by Yeltsin, alongwith additions (i.e., the protocols signed in September 1997), on April 13, 1998. On May 14 of the same year, the Duma voted against a proposal by its Foreign Relations Committee to form a 20-person commission to conclude the Duma’s review of the Treaty. The Duma voted on June 10, 1998 to postpone formal hearings on START II until the autumn. The situation seemed bright, finally, for a Duma ratification of the Treaty on December 25, 1998, after long years of delay, when the US-launched intensive strikes on Iraq as an answer to President Saddam Hussein’s denial of inspections by the now-defunct United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). As a result, there was again a postponement which was a reflection of the strong disapproval across the spectrum of Russian political opinion of the US action. There was a widespread Russian perception that the US actions were in disregard to strong Russian objection. However, the Duma again announced that START II ratification would be taken up for consideration in March 1999. US Secretary of Defence William Cohen’s announcement on January 20, 1999, that the Clinton Administration was pledging $6.6 billion over five years to support an NMD deployment should such a decision be made in June 200015 and that the ABM Treaty of 1972, which imposes strict limitations on NMD, would be amended if necessary or the US would withdraw from it if it considered this action to be in its supreme national interest, had the effect of all Duma factions seeing this as a blatant attempt to repudiate the fundamental bargain on which strategic nuclear reductions is based, i.e., the ABM Treaty preventing either side from deploying defences to challenge the deterrence provided by the other side’s offensive forces. Earlier, the Duma had made clear that Russia would withdraw from START II if the US violated or withdrew from the ABM Treaty. On April 2, 1999, the Duma scheduled another effort on ratification but this had to be shelved too when the US-directed NATO forces began their military campaign against Yugoslavia the week before.

Russia Ratifies/Moves START II

On April 14, 2000, the Duma, by a vote of 288-131 with four abstentions, finally passed a resolution of ratification approving START II. On April 19, 2000, the upper house of parliament followed suit, by voting 122-15 in favour of the resolution. Gaining the parliament’s approval of the accord was possible because of the politically moderate composition of the Duma which had been recently elected and the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support of the Treaty. Putin signed the resolution,16 officially ratifying the Treaty on May 4, 2000.

Why START II Can’t/Won’t Move Soon

Three days after START II was signed on April 14, the Arms Control Association held a press conference on April 17 at Washington, DC., to examine the motivations and ramifications of the Russian Duma’s ratification of the Treaty.17 The panelists involved in the discussion were Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., president and executive director of the Arms Control Association; Jack Mendelsohn, vice president and executive director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security; Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security; and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. During the course of the discussion, important points were raised by the panelists on why they thought that though Russia, after a long delay, had signed START II, it would be a while before the Treaty moved.

Keeny stated that in the Resolution of Ratification, i.e., the Duma law ratifying START II, "strong and explicit" conditions were made and Article IX18 makes clear that the instruments of ratification will only be exchanged with the US when the US Senate carries out a number of actions – the US must also update the START II that the Senate had originally ratified. As noted earlier, the Helsinki accords had changed the Treaty and extended its implementation by five years. The right-wing Republicans have made it very clear that they will not approve the Memorandum of Understanding on succession if the Senate’s approval is necessary and since the Republicans want to eliminate the ABM altogether, rather than institutionalise it, the point is further strengthened when it is clear that the "real missile defense enthusiasts in the Senate" do not support the protocols on demarcation, "even though you might think a defense enthusiast would welcome them because they essentially permit all current US theater missile defense activities because they don’t want any restrictions on missile defense. In fact, they don’t want any ABM Treaty. Again, they see these agreements as institutionalising a treaty they want to abolish."19 Another problem that Keeny pointed out was that while a big accomplishment of START II had been that in addition to cutting in half the number of weapons permitted under START I, it was agreed in the Helsinki Agreements of 1997 that soon after Russia ratified START II, negotiations for START III would begin and these reductions would further reduce the nuclear warheads to 2, 000- 2, 500 on each side. However, Putin has now formally stated that Russia would want this number to be reduced even further, i.e., to 1, 500.20 Additionally, the Helsinki meet called for a much broader negotiation that involved transparency in the handling of nuclear weapons and efforts to control the nuclear warheads themselves and not just the associated delivery vehicles. It also opened the problem of dealing with theater nuclear weapons and the whole spectrum of nuclear weapons. The present US administration will now have to decide whether START III is going to be a simple treaty that just deals with lower numbers or whether they will initiate elaborate negotiations "which cannot possibly be completed in this administration and may take many years."

Mendelsohn entitled his part of the discussion as "Linkages" and brought about the relationship among START II and START III, theater missile defense, national missile defense and the future. He observed that in ratifying START II, the Duma reaffirmed a number of important linkages: 1) It linked Russia’s continued adherence to START II to US adherence to the ABM Treaty; 2) It linked adherence to START II to concerns about the buildup of strategic nuclear weaponry in third countries, which is a standard Soviet, now Russian reference, to the other nuclear powers, such as China, France and Britain, in order to make sure that increases in their forces do not get out of hand vis-à-vis Russia’s interests or concerns; 3) It linked adherence to START II to no deployment of nuclear weapons in the new member states of NATO; 4) It linked its own commitment to START II deactivation to the completion by the end of 2003 of START III;21 5) It linked entry into force of START II to US ratification of the TMD documentation on demarcation, succession, and confidence-building measures.22

Ambassador Graham Jr., who has been associated with START II from the start stated the Treaty’s status as obtained then, saying, "As has been said, the amendments to START II have to go to our Senate to be approved before entry into force can take place, and the Russians have said in their resolution of ratification that they will not exchange instruments of ratification bringing START II into force until the US Senate approves these START II amendments, as well as the 1997 ABM documents clarifying succession and establishing the demarcation between strategic and theater ballistic missile defense systems. Those are the main parts of the 1997 package."23 In this regard, he noted, "Continued US adherence to the ABM Treaty is a matter of national policy; absent a decision by the president to withdraw from the Treaty, our obligation is to abide by its provisions." On the succession agreement to the ABM Treaty, he went on, "For the United States, this is a presidential function which does not involve the Senate as it is not a question of a new treaty, rather it is a continuation of the old treaty….So, whatever the vote is on the succession agreement from a legal point of view it is completely irrelevant. Politics are another matter, but as far as the law is concerned, it has no effect." Graham was of the view that "there will be a huge debate over this issue, and undoubtedly a number of members of the conservative wing of the Senate will try to defeat both agreements."24

Kimball raised two important issues regarding START II. Regarding its implementation, there is an important factor that needed to be noted. For the past three years, the US Congress, with regard to the defense authorisation bill, approved legislation that bars reductions in the US nuclear arsenal below START I levels – that is, around 6, 000 deployed warheads – and that also bars changes in the alert posture of the US nuclear arsenal, i.e., until and unless START II is implemented. He pointed out that if these arms control agreements cannot be implemented and pursued, this legislation essentially bars the US President from pursuing the alternative approach – that is, unilateral, reciprocal measures. "This legislation just does not make any sense, especially when you consider the fact that the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal is right now probably below 6, 000 deployed warheads. It’s estimated to be around 5, 900."25 The other issue that Kimball brought out was that even after START II is implemented, the USA and Russia would still retain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, poised for mass attack, "with decision-makers having just minutes to decide whether to launch their thousands of nuclear-armed missiles. The US arsenal, even after START II, is still going to include about 1, 000 tactical nuclear weapons, the 3, 500 strategic weapons allowed by START II, 500 strategic spares, then another 2, 500 nuclear weapons held in reserve as a hedge against a renewed nuclear arms race."26

From the above discussion it becomes clear that until certain actions are taken by the USA , Russia is not going to exchange the instruments of ratification on START II with the former anytime soon.


President Clinton’s announcement on September 1, 2000,27 that he was passing on the decision on whether to move ahead with a US NMD deployment to his successor as he did not believe that the technology was yet ready for an effective national defense system has resulted in the ABM Treaty still being in force. However, time is running out for his Administration on setting START II back on track again which can happen only by taking the necessary steps to bring the Treaty into force. Putin had earlier declared that the ball was now in the US court. As Ambassador Graham mentioned during the panel discussion on START II, if the Treaty is not able to move forward to bring it into force, the US will be on the wrong side of the issue, as the US already is in respect to the CTBT, as well as the ABM/NMD issue and the NATO nuclear doctrine.



1. Agencies, "Soviet-era Kazakh Nuclear Test Site Destroyed," at website <> as on July 7, 2000.

2. For details on START I, see Kalpana Chittaranjan, "Prospects for START II Ratification by Russia," Strategic Analysis, October 1996, vol.XIX, no.7, pp. 1053 – 1058; Kalpana Chittaranjan, "START II/III : Duma Holds the Key," Strategic Analysis, October 1998, vol.XXII, no.7, pp.1034-1038; Kalpana Chittaranjan, "Time to Jump-Start the START Process?", Strategic Analysis, May 1999, vol. XXIII, no. 2, pp. 215-217.

3. On May 25, 2000, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced that Ukraine would destroy its remaining strategic nuclear bombers and cruise missiles by the end of 2001, thus meeting its commitments under START I. See News Briefs, "Ukraine to Meet 2001 START I Deadline," Arms Control Today, July/August 2000, vol. 30, no. 6, p. 35.

4. Also known as the De-Mirving Agreement, the most outstanding feature of the Joint Understanding was the elimination of all MIRVed (Multiple Independently-Targetable Reentry Vehicles) ICBMS (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles).

5. D. Lockwood, "Nuclear Arms Control," SIPRI Yearbook 1993: World Armaments and Disarmament (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1993), pp. 557, 370.

6. For text of START II see Appendix 11A in Ibid., pp. 574-88.

7. When the De-Mirv Agreement was signed on June 17, 1992, several US-Russian agreements were also signed to assist the Russian Federation in the safe and secure transportation and storage of nuclear weapons in connection with its planned destruction of nuclear weapons.

8. For text of Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces, see "Joint Statements of the Helsinki Summit," Arms Control Today, vol. 27, no.1, March 1997, p.19.

9. For text, see ibid., p.20.

10. For brief look at the "demarcation" controversy, see Kalpana Chittaranjan, "US and Russian TMD Systems and the ABM Treaty," Strategic Analysis, January 1998, vol. XXI, no. 10, pp.1463-1464; and Kalpana Chittaranjan, "The ABM Treaty and US NMD", Strategic Analysis, May 1998, vol. XXII, no. 2, pp. 216-217.

11. "Chronology of US-Soviet-CIS Nuclear Relations," Arms Control Today, vol.27, no.4, June/July 1997, p.30.

12. START I entered into force on December 5, 1994 and the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution of ratification of START II on January 26, 1996, by a vote of 87-4 (see START II Resolution of Ratification, Arms Control Today, vol.26, no. 1, February 1996, p. 30).

13. This includes all SS-18s, Russia’s most powerful land-based ICBM, capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads over a distance of 10, 000 kms.

14. Chittaranjan, n. 2, Strategic Analysis, October 1996.

15. President Clinton was to have made the decision on whether to deploy the NMD by June 2000 but the decision was deferred to a later date. This decision was made on September 2, 2000.

16. For full text of an unofficial translation of the resolution, officially known as the Federal Law on Ratification of the Treaty Between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms see START II Resolution of Ratification Arms Control Today, May 2000, vol. 30, no. 4, pp.26-28.

17. For an edited transcript of their remarks and the question-and answer session that followed, see "Implications of the Duma’s Approval of START II," Arms Control Today, ibid, pp. 3-9.

18. Article IX states, "The exchange of instruments of ratification of the START II Treaty by the Russian Federation shall be done upon completion by the United States of America of the procedure of ratification of the START II Treaty, including the Protocol Relating to the START II Treaty of September 26, 1997, done at New York, Memorandum of Understanding Relating to the ABM Treaty of September 26, 1997, done at New York, First Agreed Statement Relating to the ABM Treaty of September 26, 1997, done at New York, Second Agreed Statement Relating to the ABM Treaty of September 26, 1997, done at New York, Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures Related to Systems to Counter Ballistic Missiles Other Than Strategic Ballistic Missiles of September 26, 1997, done at New York." See n. 15 p. 28.

19. n 16, p. 4.

20. For a detailed report on Russia’s readiness to reduce to 1, 500 strategic nuclear warheads, see Phillip C. Bleek, "Russia Ready to Reduce to 1, 500 warheads, Addressing Dispute Over Strategic Forces’ Fate," Arms Control Today, September 2000 at website <>

21. An associated document to START II proposes that the US and Russia establish an interim date by the end of 2003 for deactivating all the weapons scheduled for elimination under START II. Russia has now made the deactivation contingent on a START III agreement being achieved and entering into force before the deactivation deadline.

22. n 16, p. 5.

23. Ibid, p. 6.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., p.7.

26. Ibid.

27. Eric Schmitt, "President Decides to Put Off Work on Missile Shield," The New York Times, September 2, 2000. Also see Wade Boese, "Clinton Says No to NMD as Program Lags; Cites Technology Doubts and Foreign Concerns," Arms Control Today, September 2000 at website <>