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Russia Warns of New Arms Race if US Tears Up ABM Treaty


13 December 2001

Russia reacted to the imminent US pull-out from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with resignation but dismay amid warnings the move could spark a nuclear arms race in Asia.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov set the tone of Russia's official reaction, describing a likely US withdrawal from the 30-year-old treaty as "a cause for annoyance," but adding that Washington was within its rights to abrogate the Cold War era pact.

The head of Russia's armed forces, General Anatoly Kvashnin, said US plans to develop a controversial missile defense shield did not pose a threat to Moscow "at the military level" but predicted dire consequences from the demise of the ABM treaty.

"The Americans' pullout will alter the nature of the international strategic balance in freeing the hands of a series of countries to restart an arms build-up," said Kvashnin, chief of the Russian general staff.

Meanwhile, senior Russian lawmakers greeted the news from Washington with a mixture of hand-wringing over President Vladimir Putin's failure to save the ABM treaty and gloomy speculation about nuclear showdowns with China, India and Pakistan.

Vladimir Volkov, deputy head of the defense committee in Russia's State Duma, or lower house of parliament, warned that the US decision to develop a missile defense shield outlawed under the ABM could force China to beef up its strategic arsenal, thus prompting India and Pakistan to follow suit.

"All in all, the US move will spark a new nuclear arms race and lead to a reduction in the level of security," Volkov said.

He added that an American breach of ABM would "oblige Russia to reconsider" existing strategic arms reduction treaties (START) with the United States "in order to guarantee its own security."

President George W. Bush told top US lawmakers Wednesday that he would soon notify Russia that he planned to pull out of the ABM treaty in order to forge ahead with the missile shield fiercely opposed by Moscow, which sees the treaty as a "cornerstone" of global security.

The ABM treaty, signed by late presidents Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, bars the United States and Russia from unilaterally developing missile defense shields under the premise that the threat of "mutually assured destruction" will prevent nuclear war.

However, the United States argues that the treaty is outdated and no longer takes into account post-Cold War considerations like the threat of a limited missile attack from "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iran.

Moscow would prefer to negotiate amendments to the treaty rather than abandon it altogether, Kasyanov told reporters during an official visit to Brazil on Wednesday.

Russian analysts acknowledged that US withdrawal from the treaty would pose a major test for Putin's new pro-Western foreign policy, unveiled in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Putin and Bush agreed to cut the number of nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 at their Texas summit last month.

The existing START II treaty envisages a reduction in the number of warheads to 3,500 by 2007.

Scott Shane.
Published by Agence France Presse.
2001 AFP.



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