| The inevitability of the US military operation against
Iraq provoked heated debates among Russian political scientists
regarding the viability of Russia's policy towards Saddam Hussein's
regime. Vremya Novostei correspondent Katerina Labetskaya asked
a prominent expert in strategic stability and Deputy Head of the
State Duma Defence Committee Alexei
Arbatov (YABLOKO faction) to comment on Russia's position in
the context of the Iraqi crisis.
Arbatov: It's too late to change anything now. We should
have understood last autumn that Saddam Hussein's regime would
not survive, and started looking for other solutions to the problem
of weapons of mass destruction and replacing the regime, without
a war. We should have suggested an alternative: say, inspections
with international contingents protecting and accompanying the
Question: What should Russia do if war broke out?
Arbatov: Wait. If the Americans do a quick job (and that
is almost certain), some serious problems will arise in and around
Iraq. Most probably, the Americans will ask Russia, Europe, and
the UN for help. If, on the other hand, the Americans take over
without undermining moderate Islamic regions or inciting a war
of terrorism worldwide, if they prevent a clash in Iraq itself
among the Kurds, Iraqis, and Turks, we will have to admit: "Yes,
you did it. Let us proceed with our cooperation now..." And
go on with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, with trade,
etc. Provided the Americans agree. After all, they expected more
from Russia, as we depend on them and are vulnerable. Even our
budget cuts down some items without American financial assistance
(dismantling of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear submarines).
Question: But the Duma postponed ratification of the Strategic
Offensive Reductions Treaty because of Iraq.
Arbatov: I do not consider that document to be a treaty.
This is a gentleman's agreement lacking what is expected of a
treaty - definition of the subject, rules of calculation, oversight
mechanisms and inspections, procedures for disarmament, or a schedule.
The document states that each signatory should possess 1,700 to
2,000 warheads; however, not a word is said on how they should
be counted. So it would be possible not to cut anything until
the deadline, December 31, 2012.
Question: Do you mean that the postponement doesn't have
anything to do with the Iraqi crisis?
Arbatov: The connection is purely symbolic. This document
is not so valuable because of the effect it has on the strategic
situation. It is valuable as a symbol of warm Russian-American
relations. Russia wanted a new treaty with the United States;
the United States did not want anything. After September 11, 2001,
Russia supported the United States in Afghanistan and in other
matters, and Washington made this concession and signed the treaty.
In fact, the Americans were reluctant to call it a treaty or forward
it for ratification. Russia persuaded them, appealing to feelings
of friendship and counter-terrorism solidarity. The Americans
signed it with certain reservations and the document became a
symbol of our new relationship. Some forces in the Duma decided
exploit this fact and place ratification on the March 21 agenda
in order to subsequently remove it from the agenda in an emphatic
manner. However, other factions, including our Yabloko faction,
prevented the issue from being included on the agenda in the first
Question: Do you think the ratification will be a protracted
Arbatov: It took the Duma seven years to ratify START
II. History may repeat itself. There is, however, an interesting
detail: the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty doesn't impose
any limitations on us. Financial difficulties will suffice to
reduce our strategic nuclear arsenals to a level below the specified
one. American strategic arsenals may remain at their present level
of about 6,000 warheads - they do not have any financial problems,
after all. The joke is that it is a treaty to reduce the American
nuclear arsenal, and we deliberately postpone it because of Iraq
- essentially enabling the Americans not to cut their nuclear
arsenal. The United States has ratified the treaty, but it will
not come into effect. A decade from now, the United States will
have five nuclear warheads for each one that Russia has, without
spending a single cent.
Question: Do you mean that we need ratification?
Arbatov: Speaking as a specialist in strategic arms limitations,
this document - which cannot be called a treaty - is an insult
to my intelligence. As a politician, however, I think it is necessary
to ratify it when the time is ripe. We may disagree with the United
States on Iraq, but it is not worth spoiling bilateral relations
over this issue. Iraq is just a narrow sector of our relationship.
It would be even more stupid to tear up a treaty that imposes
certain obligations on the Americans, but not on us. It would
have been logical perhaps to postpone ratification had we expected
to build up our nuclear arsenal to 6,000 warheads a decade from
now. But we do not expect to do so, right?
Question: What lessons might other countries, such as North
Korea, learn from the Iraq situation?
Arbatov: Everyone's attention is glued to Iraq now, and
the chances of influencing North Korea have diminished to some
extent. North Korea now has a reason to produce its own weapons
of mass destruction and ballistic missiles v to avoid becoming
the next target. North Korea already has missiles, and may come
up with long-range ones. It may even have nuclear weapons. There
are rumours that it may have a warhead or two. All this puts the
whole problem in an entirely different light. North Korea knows
that if it obtains these weapons, Washington will start talking
to it in a different tone. I still remember the Americans' mumbled
response to the statement of North Korean leaders to the effect
that they possessed nuclear weapons. The Americans said that they
preferred a political solution to the problem and that military
force was the last resort only.
Question: The Iraqi crisis is leading observers to speak
about a collapse of the international security framework.
Arbatov: That's an exaggeration. This is not the first
war to be started despite the UN Security Council. The problem
is indeed serious, but the Iraqi crisis plainly shows the importance
of the UN.
The United States threatened to topple Saddam Hussein's regime
by force in September. Remember the battles fought in the UN Security
Council? Seeing the futility of their efforts, the Americans have
only now opted to use their military might. However, their efforts
indicate that the UN Security Council wields considerable influence.
The American unilateral action will not benefit the UN or its
Security Council, of course, but I am sure that Washington will
once again raise the issue of UN involvement soon. We should be
pragmatic. We may even find ourselves forced to participate in
the war - whether we agree with it or not - because of our political
or economic interests.