Friday, 31 January 1997 Washington, DC
1. START II: RUSSIAN DUMA IS DRAGGING ITS FEET ON RATIFICATION.
It has now been a year since the U.S. Senate ratified START II, which
would reduce the cap on countable nuclear warheads from the current
6,000 under START I to about half that. But the Duma, angered over
the proposed expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, is stalling.
Moreover, Russia claims that under the terms of START II it would be
required to spend huge amounts to replace much of its land-based
missile force. The solution offered by the U.S. is to move quickly
to START III--just as soon as START II is ratified--eliminating any need
to build replacements. To which the Russians respond that we should
just skip II and go straight to III. The absence of Boris Yeltsin
is not helping.
2. MISSILE DEFENSE: THE ONLY THING IT MIGHT SHOOT DOWN IS START.
Among the ten major legislative initiatives introduced by Senator Lott
last week, only one dealt with foreign policy: the National Missile
Defense Act of 1997 (S.7). The bill calls for deployment of a
system to defend the US against a limited ballistic missile attack by
the end of 2003, although, aside from Russian missiles, the CIA says
there is no threat before 2011 (WN 17 May 96).
Such a system would violate the ABM treaty, which is the basis of START.
So here's the plan: we spend $8B on a system to intercept accidental
launches of Russian missiles, which the Russians would destroy on the
ground under START if we didn't build the system.
3. INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: RUSSIA HASN'T EVEN MADE A START.
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Science Committee, is
demanding a 1 March deadline for Russia to start building the Service
Module, or be dropped as a partner (WN 27 Dec 96).
Yawn! Not only does Russia seem unperturbed by this threat, the
Economy Ministry proposes shutting down Mir later this year. Forty
years after the Soviet Union launched the space race with Sputnik,
Russia may wind up without a manned space program. The Service
Module was intended to provide propulsion to keep the station in
orbit and dodge space debris. The US must now decide whether to
cobble together an interim control system out of off-the-shelf spy
satellite parts to provide propulsion in hopes that Russia will eventually
get around to building its module. Alas, such an interim system would
have no provision for refueling; if Russia stays out, a more costly
solution will be necessary. Meanwhile, the much-delayed "space summit"
(WN 20 Sep 96) is on hold.
4. PLANETARY ALIGNMENT HERALDS THE DAWN OF THE AGE OF AQUARIUS.
Last week, WN failed to inform its readers of a rare planetary alignment:
The five outermost planets were arrayed in the most harmonious pattern
since the Renaissance, according to the Gaia Mind Project which called
for simultaneous world-wide meditation. In a possibly related event
many of you apparently received a three-year old issue of WHAT'S NEW.
The heavens are mysterious.