Did Russian Spies Unwittingly Kill Arms Control Treaty?

An elaborately planned strategic influence effort went awry for the former KGB last month when the FBI busted 11 Russian agents after a decade-long investigation. Many of the Russian spies, who had spent years assuming American and other western identities, were emplaced to influence U.S. national security decision making over the courses of their professional lives.

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Their efforts backfired in ways their trainers and control officers never could have imagined. In over-reaching and getting caught, the Russian agents unwittingly helped sink prospects for Senate ratification of a Kremlin-backed nuclear arms control treaty.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) last April. The treaty is designed to reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons. Conservatives have denounced the agreement for being overly beneficial to Moscow and for denying the U.S. the right to modernize its antiquated strategic nuclear arsenal and defend itself against missile attack.

Senate sources tell BigPeace.com that the arrests of the Russian spies have given conservatives the ammunition they need to stop the treaty – just as President Ronald Reagan used the arrests of KGB spies in 1985 to highlight Soviet dangers to muster support for his strategy to promote the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The SVR’s strategic influence operation completely backfired,” says a Senate staffer who handles intelligence issues, referring to the acronym of Russia’s External Intelligence Service. “Moscow center invested heavily in training those agents and providing them cover so they could burrow into our society and influence our country’s national security policies. But the influence operation blew up in their faces.”

The SVR is the re-named foreign intelligence organ formerly known as the KGB First Chief Directorate. The organization has not reformed since the Cold War.

Several of the 11 SVR spies were involved with running operations to influence perceptions, attitudes and policies in America to the benefit of the Kremlin. At least two of the spies were reported to be conducting intelligence activity in support of ratification of the treaty, suggesting that Moscow has been running a covert propaganda campaign in the U.S. to influence the Senate to ratify – just as the Soviets did with other treaties during the Cold War.

The Obama-Medvedev treaty, known as “START III” or “New START,” would follow a process begun by President Reagan in the late 1980s and continued under START II with President George W. Bush in 2002. However, unlike the Reagan strategy, the Obama approach to nuclear arms control with Moscow is not intended to weaken the Kremlin or strengthen the United States, which is why conservatives oppose ratification.

New START is under consideration of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). Only one Republican on the committee, Senator Dick Lugar (R-Indiana), has joined Kerry and the Obama administration in supporting ratification by the full Senate. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 members, to “advise and consent” to the treaty, as stipulated under the Constitution.

A two-thirds majority at present means that eight Republicans would have to join all Democrats and independents to assure ratification. But one independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, says that he’s concerned that the new START treaty might prevent the United States from modernizing its antiquated strategic nuclear arsenal.

The spy scandal has made it highly unlikely that the Senate will consider the New START before the November elections.

Even before the arrest of the Russian spies, New START was already described as “teetering” in the Senate for lack of Republican support, according to The Hill, a newspaper about congressional politics. The Hill reports that the spy scandal could be the “last straw” that would sink the treaty in the Senate.

Senate sources tell BigPeace.com that conservatives have plenty of time to mobilize to stop the treaty. If full ratification is delayed until after the elections, there will be fewer Democrats and more conservatives in the Senate.

Both the Obama administration and the Kremlin oppose any amendments, so it’s all or nothing for the pact’s ratification prospects. That means the treaty can’t be fixed.

Kerry has trotted out a host of Nixon-era Republicans and GOP moderates like former secretary of state James Baker to back the Obama-Medvedev treaty, but has been unable to get any movement conservatives to support ratification.

In the Senate, Republican whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), a strong proponent of missile defense, has expressed deep skepticism of START because of how it would cripple U.S. missile defense capabilities to the advantage of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and other regimes. On the Senate floor, Kyl read from a Heritage Foundation report that spelled out the many flaws in the treaty. Kyl and others have criticized the State Department for failing, since 2005, to publish mandated annual reports on Russia’s compliance with existing treaties.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, tore apart the new START treaty after a hearing last month. “I remain concerned about the limits this treaty places on our nation’s ability to advance our missile defense, also its lack of verification procedures that are proven to be robust, accurate and effective, and most importantly, its failure to deter proliferation and future attacks on our nation and allies,” he said in a statement on June 18.

“In its current state, I do not believe this treaty is in the best interest of the United States as it will have profound negative implications on our national security,” Inhofe said.


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