Russian Parliament Ratifies Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and approves the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Judge Will Not Stop Russian Plutonium Shipment

*Over seven years after presidents Bush and Yeltsin signed the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty at the end of the Cold War, the agreement was finally ratified two weeks ago by the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, the Duma. The treaty, if implemented, will decrease the number of long-range nuclear weapons deployed by the United States and Russia to 3,000 - 3,500 from current levels of about 6,000 each.

START II has encountered strong opposition in Russia ever since it was signed in 1993. Some of the opposition is because the treaty includes provisions that would be difficult for Russia to implement, and also because the two previous Russian attempts to ratify START II came at times of heightened international tensions between East and West. One occasion was the United States' bombing of Iraq in 1998 and another the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Although anti-Western sentiment is prevalent in Russian political life, and has recently been increased by Western criticism of the war in Chechnya, Russian president Vladimir Putin was able to gather more than two thirds of the votes in favor of the treaty.

The Duma, however, has made a number of conditions that will have to be met before the implementation of the treaty can begin, linking the 1972 Anti-Ballistic-Missile-Treaty (or ABM) closely to the START process. In particular, the Duma will postpone the implementation of START II until the U.S. Senate ratifies the so-called ABM demarcation agreements, which clearly define strategic defense systems that are banned under the ABM treaty. The ratification vote also contains a provision which allows Russia to withdraw from the START II process in case that the United States violates the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by deploying a National Missile Defense System.

U.S. Nuclear watch groups received the ratification with cautious optimism. Jack Mendelson, Executive Director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, said: "Russian action on START II puts to the test the United States' ability to deliver on strategic nuclear arms control. Several hurdles remain in the way of implementing START II, and future U.S. Presidential and Congressional action on national missile defense could jeopardize further progress on reducing nuclear weapons dangers." Even after START II, both the United States and Russia will retain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

And nearly four years after President Yeltsin singed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (or CTBT), the Duma overwhelmingly approved Russian ratification of the CTBT on April 21. Duma approval of the CTBT shows that enty into force of this long-sought measure is still within reach and that the U.S. cannot afford to leave the CTBT on the shelf. This moves the Treaty closer to entry into force and fulfilling one of Russia's obligations to disarmament and non-proliferation under the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons Treaty. "Duma ratification combined with the failure of the Senate to ratify the CTBT also makes the U.S. something of a non-proliferation rogue state," said Daryl Kimbal with the D.C. Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers.

*And on the nuclear transportation front: three weeks ago, a federal judge denied a motion sponsored by U.S. and Canadian citizens to block a controversial shipment of weapons-grade plutonium from Russia to Canada for use at the Chalk River Research Reactor in Ontario. The judge said that he lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the issue since it involves international treaty obligations between the Russian, Canadian and the U.S. governments. The Russian government plans to ship about 1.5 pounds of plutonium in the form of mixed oxide (or MOX) fuel as part of a $20 million experiment known as the Parallex Project, which is designed to determine the suitability of material from decommissioned U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons as fuel for Canadian commercial reactors.

The shipment is slated to take place early this summer, and although it is not expected to cross U.S. territory, the plaintiffs argue that it still is subject to U.S. laws since the Department of Energy (or DOE) is paying all associated costs and the Canadian test site is located near the U.S. border. The plaintiffs also contend that the shipment violates international arms control agreements signed by the U.S. government, and that the accident risks and threats of terrorism against the transport have not been adequately evaluated. The judge in charge of the case said that although the plaintiff's contentions have merit and the DOE appears to have violated the law by conducting only a limited environmental assessment of the project, DOE's assertions that an injunction would hurt nuclear disarmament weighed heavily on the judge; therefore he was not willing to issue an injunction. The case could still go to trial both in Canada and the U.S., but most likely this would not happen before the shipments were completed.

In spite of vehement opposition from anti-nuclear groups, politicians and tribal governments along the route, the United States already sent a plutonium shipment from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to Ontario in late January.

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