2 Apr 2010

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev: Debates to begin after Russia-U.S. arms pact signed

Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with George H.W. Bush in 1991, shares his views on the new strategic arms treaty with Interfax. The news that Russia and the United States are due to sign a new treaty on the reduction of strategic offensive armaments was high on public agendas last week. Everyone knows that the two countries‘ reductions of their strategic arsenals is a process that owes its existence to former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who in 1991 signed a treaty on strategic offensive armaments with then U.S. president George H.W. Bush. Unquestionably, Gorbachev‘s position on the strategic weapons issue is widely heeded today as well.

Question: The new treaty on strategic offensive armaments that the Russian and American presidents will sign in Prague on April 8 has not yet been published but has already set off heated debates in both countries. What do you think of that treaty?

Answer: I don‘t think serious, detailed debates can start before the presidents have put their signatures on it. That is their prerogative. Work on it has taken longer than expected, and there has been a diplomatic tug-of war, pressure and maneuvering, but all that is normal. Some time needs to pass before the presidents can make sure that everything had been verified, that the security guarantees have been achieved. But then comes the process of ratification. Those involved in it will, of course, include those who are skeptical about the treaty. But there are those who are declaring themselves to be in opposition to it in advance, not even having read the text. They‘re in a hurry to get themselves on the record, and there‘s a lot they‘ve said already.

Q.: Do you think the treaty is necessary?

A.: The treaty is unquestionably necessary. Both our countries and the world need it. Just look what a burning issue the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons is. And one reason is that, if one possesses thousands of pieces of "absolute weapons," one cannot convince other countries that they must not have a security guarantee of the same kind. The issue doesn‘t revolve around Iran or North Korea alone. Many countries have technical resources for creating nuclear weapons. The treaty will speak of hundreds rather than thousands of delivery vehicles. That‘s serious. It means the two nuclear powers are reducing their strategic armaments, and that other countries that have nuclear weapons should get involved in the next stage.

Q.: Judging by reports, the treaty does not include limitations on missile defense or on space weapons. What would you say about this?

A.: I‘ve read reports that the preamble to the treaty confirms the link between offensive and defense armaments. That was also done in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 that was signed by President Bush senior and myself - by the way, there are those who are again trying to slag off that treaty though it served the cause of our security and guaranteed control and predictability for nearly two decades. The missile defense problem is reflected in the new treaty in the same way as it was in the former one. There is only one "but," the lower the levels of strategic offensive armaments the stronger that link and the more sensitive the balance between strategic offensive armaments and any deployment of missile interception systems. The way I see this is, that was the reason for Russia to add its unilateral statement on that problem. I‘m sure a careful study will be made of it in the ratification process. I think we need a serious debate on the missile defense problem at the experts level, and the military, and parliamentarians levels. I seems to me veterans of former negotiations should be listened to as well. They have tremendous experience, they will have something to say. What kind of missile defense do we need? Should it be linked to the American missile defense? Those are not the problems of any specific department of government but political problems. They need solutions that would work for decades.

Q.: What is your forecast – will the treaty be ratified?

A.: I think it will, but after a serious debate. What worries me is that attempts may be made during the ratification process in the U.S. – and maybe not only there – to lobby through new military programs, nuclear or other. Under the pretext of modernization or reliability of arsenals. Of course, reliability is a very important thing. As long as we are moving to a world that is free from nuclear weapons, everything must be sound and secure. But a new arms race is something we don’t need in any case. It must not be allowed to be smuggled in under the guise of reductions.