The INF Treaty: a survivable document

THE US-USSR Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty now being debated by the Senate includes many outstanding features. It would lead to the destruction of almost 2,700 missiles, introduce innovative verification methods, and enhance stability between the superpowers. The treaty also has a hidden strength, which would transcend the initial political and military advantages: its superior drafting.

In producing the agreement, the superpowers had the benefit of 15 years of experience with following bilateral arms control treaties. The superpowers used this experience to draft a durable agreement that will be more difficult to circumvent than past treaties. While no treaty can ensure compliance, the INF Treaty's detailed provisions and clear structure reduce the possibility that either the United States or the Soviet Union will attempt to avoid its commitments.

Inadequate detail in past arms control agreements resulted in compliance disputes. The first strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) produced an agreement that suffered from incomplete definitions. The agreement, which prohibited the introduction of new ``heavy missiles,'' caused a major dispute over the deployment of a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile. During the negotiations, the Soviets refused to assent to the inclusion of definitions for ``light'' or ``heavy'' missiles, omissions President Nixon reluctantly accepted. Two years after they signed the SALT I accord, the Soviets exploited the deliberate ambiguity by deploying the SS-19, a missile almost 50 percent larger than the ``light'' SS-11. By taking advantage of an unclear treaty provision, the Soviets increased the size of their missile force, accomplishing exactly what the US had sought to prevent. The US protested, but eventually assented to the Soviet deployment, because the Soviets acted within the exact wording of the document.

The INF Treaty will suffer from fewer definitional problems than did SALT I. The INF Treaty's Article II provides specific definitions to the 15 key treaty terms, and Article III explicitly lists the missiles covered. This specificity reduces the possibility for circumvention.

The exchange of detailed data bases will also enhance the treaty's effectiveness. The SALT II Treaty, unratified by the US but adhered to for seven years by both superpowers, contained only a limited exchange of data bases. The SALT II data bases included the numbers of missiles, launchers, and bombers covered, but the Soviets refused to provide precise descriptions of their missiles. This led to a dispute concerning the deployment of the SS-25 missile. The treaty prohibited the deployment of more than one ``new'' missile, but permitted the upgrading of old ones. The countries defined upgrading as an increase in missile size of 5 percent or less. When the US accused the Soviets of deploying the ``new'' SS-25, the Soviets claimed it was permissible as a modified ``old'' SS-13 missile. The absence of an agreed base line of the original SS-13 dimensions precluded the US from proving that the Soviets violated the agreement. The detailed data bases of the INF Treaty should reduce problems with weapons identification.

While the INF Treaty alleviates the problem of incomplete detail, detail is not an end in itself. A clear structure must accompany the detail; an unorganized document coupled with too much detail could encourage cheating by creating loopholes. The INF Treaty reduces the structural problems by not relying on the potentially contradictory Agreed Statements or the unilateral statements of past treaties. By nesting the detailed provisions within a coherent structure, the superpowers have reduced the possibilities for noncompliance.

No contract, even in the form of a treaty, will ever be perfect. If lawyers review any document long enough, one of them is bound to discover a problem with it. Four months of congressional analysis uncovered an ambiguity in the INF Treaty concerning its application to weapons built in the future with new technology. To allay congressional concerns, the administration had to obtain an assurance from the Soviets that the agreement applies to these future weapons.

This clarification was crucial; a similar purported ambiguity in the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty led the Reagan administration in 1985 to attempt to annul the ABM Treaty through legal legerdemain.

Last week the Senate also forced improvement of the already good agreement by refusing to review the INF Treaty until the administration obtained written understandings on outstanding inspection issues. In past treaties, the Soviets have acted on the principle that only the written letter of an agreement binds them. The ``spirit'' of an agreement carries little weight with the USSR. Had not the administration received the written commitments on the technical aspects of verification, the agreement might have broken down during implementation.

While INF negotiators drafted a coherent, logical document, they did slight an important provision, the one that initiates the Special Verification Commission. Just as the US Constitution needs courts to interpret the law and adjudicate disputes, the treaty needs a body to resolve compliance problems. Since no international court has jurisdiction over treaty disputes, the superpowers set up the commission to defuse small disagreements before they turned into superpower acrimony. This commission parrots SALT's Standing Consultative Commission, a body of US and Soviet representatives responsible for resolving compliance disputes.

During the 1970s, this commission handled disputes well. In the 1980s, though, its meager mandate and the political agendas of the US and the USSR hampered its ability to resolve compliance disputes. The INF Treaty deserves a stronger body with a broader mandate and scheduled meetings. The technical disagreements over verification last week illustrate the importance of a continuous superpower dialogue during treaty implementation. Nevertheless, the present structure is workable, especially if the next administration attempts to resolve problems through quiet diplomacy before going public with its concerns.

While the treaty's drafters could not anticipate every compliance dispute, the detail and structure of the INF accord should encourage superpower respect for the pact. As the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress, from a strategic perspective ``the accord is in the best interests of the United States and its allies.'' From a legal perspective, the treaty also deserves praise. The Senate should ratify it.

John P. Barker, a lawyer, is an Earhart Foundation Research Fellow at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.

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