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SORT Negotiator on START

December 15th, 2010

Douglas J. Feith, who helped negotiate the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) as undersecretary of defense nine years ago, recalls his dealings with his counterpart, General Yuri Baluyevsky. From the Wall Street Journal:

“Gen. Baluyevsky pressed various demands. Some were for provisions designed to impede U.S. missile defense or U.S. military modernization. I said ‘no.’ When the Obama administration negotiated New Start, Russia resurfaced essentially the same provisions. This time, U.S. officials said yes.

“Russian officials oppose American plans for missile defense. In the SORT negotiations, they demanded that the treaty recognize an ‘interrelationship’ between offensive arms reductions and missile defense. They wanted language that would, down the road, legitimate Russian arguments that U.S. missile defense programs violate America’s obligations to preserve a strategic balance with Russia.

“The Russians also demanded elaborate but ineffectual verification measures. They focused, for example, on inspection of ‘declared facilities’—those that a party declared open to inspection. This was silly. We knew that any Russian violations would not likely occur in a declared facility subject to inspection.”

Feith said Russia was more concerned about protecting its image than overcoming its rivalry with the U.S. He says Baluyevsky eventually dropped his demands for terms that would limit U.S. missile defense and signed SORT in May 2002. In sharp contrast to Bush-era treaty negotiations, the Obama administration acquiesced to Russia’s demands. Eager to “repudiate its predecessor’s policies,” the Obama administration agreed to link missile defense and offense and other limitations.

Feith calls the president’s negotiating skills “poor” and suggests the U.S. Senate should, at a minimum, see the START negotiating record before voting on ratification.