It now appears likely that the Russian Duma will attach an understanding to the new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S., known as New START, that specifically rejects the U.S. Senate’s understanding that Russia has no grounds for using New START to impose general limits on U.S. missile defense options. The Duma is scheduled to continue consideration of the treaty next month.

Such an action by the Duma would confirm the suspicions of a number of Senators, led by John McCain (R–AZ), that the Russian government would point to language in New START’s preamble as a means of limiting U.S. missile defense options. This language re-establishes the “link” between strategic offensive arms and missile defenses that was broken by President George W. Bush in 2002, when the U.S. withdrew from the Soviet-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which imposed severe restrictions on the U.S. missile defense program. Accordingly, McCain offered an amendment to New START in the Senate to delete this language in the preamble. The amendment was defeated on the basis that the language in the preamble is not legally binding.

As a weaker alternative to the McCain amendment, Senators McCain, Bob Corker (R–TN), and Joe Lieberman (I–CT) attached an understanding on December 22 that specifically rejects the Russian claim that the language in the preamble is legally binding. Apparently, the understanding the Duma will consider will clearly and unequivocally reject the understanding attached by the Senate.

The Heritage Foundation has expressed concerns about the negative impact New START’s provision in the preamble could have on the U.S. missile defense program and pointed out during Senate consideration of the treaty that the Senate had the option to strike this language. The Senate rejected this option and chose to adopt the understanding.

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