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Zbigniew Brzezinski Discusses the Impact of START II

Aired April 16, 2000 - 6:11 p.m. ET


ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Putin and U.S. President Clinton are planning to hold their first summit meeting soon. It's expected to happen sometime before the G-8 trade meetings in Japan in late July. The White House says Mr. Clinton and Mr. Putin agreed to the meet during a phone call Saturday. It also says Mr. Clinton is hoping the U.S. and Russia can seek deeper nuclear reductions through a third strategic arms reduction talks treaty.

The Russian parliament, or Duma, approved the long-delayed START II treaty Friday. During their phone conversation Saturday, Mr. Clinton told Mr. Putin the treaty's approval was an important step toward the reduction of nuclear arms. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is in Washington and will join us in just a few minutes for more on the START II treaty, but first we'll get some background on Friday's vote in the Duma from CNN's David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When word of the Russian Duma vote for the arms treaty reached Washington, the first reaction was elation.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: And I would just say this is terrific news for the United States and for the country of Russia.

ENSOR: In a statement, President Clinton called the vote a "giant step toward a safer future."

But then Washington got hold of the fine print, the exact language passed by the Russian Duma.

JAMES RUBIN, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are studying very carefully the resolution that has been passed. We're aware of certain conditions on it.

ENSOR: The resolution says Moscow will only START destroying warheads under START II once the U.S. Senate approves several protocols the Clinton administration agreed to the with the Russians three years ago, including at least one some Senate Republicans say they will fight.

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: To get the rhetoric that's contained in these conditions thrown at us and saying that you've got to give up your capacity to defend yourselves against other threats in order to do business with us on arms control is too big a price to pay in my opinion.

ENSOR: The protocol language updates the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, a treaty Senate Republican leaders want to see amended or scrapped so that the U.S. can deploy a national missile defense system to prevent limited missile attack by, for example, North Korea.

COCHRAN: We may come to the conclusion that we ought not keep going down this track, that maybe the START II process, the START III process is just an opportunity for propaganda.

ENSOR (on camera): That START III process is scheduled to resume Monday, with U.S.-Russian talks in Geneva. Yet START II, signed seven years ago, is still held up, with Senate hawks questioning the whole idea of arms reduction treaties with Moscow.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


HALL: Let's go to Washington now to speak with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski for the latest on the nuclear arms cut. Mr. Brzezinski was President Carter's national security adviser from 1977 to 1981.

And we thank you, sir, for being with us here on WORLDVIEW.


HALL: Initially, the U.S. response from the Russian Duma was quite positive, and as David Ensor says, now people are concerned about the fine print. How are you receiving this?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all it is a positive step, substantively and symbolically. It takes us further away from the nuclear arms race.

Second, we really shouldn't exaggerate. Neither side has been increasing its arsenal, and in fact there's been some scaling down anyway.

And thirdly, that agreement is in the interests of both sides, and in fact, even somewhat more in Russia's interest than in ours, because they're in a worse position to compete, to engage in an arms race. So we shouldn't pay anything extra for it.

And in my view, both sides are still somewhat apart on a number of issues, and that particularly pertains to the question of national defense. The U.S. is increasingly pointing in the direction of deploying a national defense system, an anti-missile defense system. The Russians view that as a violation of the ABM. And I think that could be a very major impediment to any further progress towards START III. HALL: But just last year, former President Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton did sit down and say, let's discuss the nuclear defense issue. Mr. Putin obviously not on board with that. Do you think this is going to be a stalemate issue?

BRZEZINSKI: I think it's going to be a difficult issue. I think the Russians will try to extract concessions from us, and I'm a little concerned that the administration doesn't really have a discriminating approach. It tends to view arms control with Russia and nuclear weapons reduction as an end in itself, as a test case of the relationship, and agreements as proof that the relationship is wholly positive.

I think this kind of an attitude could result in us making concession which it would not be in our interest to make. And, therefore, one has to be very careful as one looks at the future and not to rush precipitously into an agreement which at best is a very limited agreement in any case.

HALL: Well, that's the future. Let's look at the here and now. START II, of course, would eliminate a significant number of nuclear warheads, but that in itself is a process. So as it stands right now, as it's inked right now, what are the tangible benefits to this agreement?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, the most important one is a further reduction in the nuclear arsenals in both sides, down to anywhere between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads. That's a substantial reduction in the arsenals in both sides. It still leaves both sides with enough for deterrents and for retaliation, but it at least reverses the arms race and is a positive step. That's why I said in my opening comments that I welcome it, substantively and symbolically...

HALL: So there's...

BRZEZINSKI: ... But we shouldn't overestimate it.

HALL: I understand what you're saying. There's a meeting next week in Geneva so both sides can start talking. But how do you begin the conversation after there's been such a long delay?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, the conversations actually have been going on indirectly all this time. It is the Russians who for seven years have held up ratification of START II, and I think they make this decision in part because of the very larger, much larger strategic decision that Putin has made.

I think Putin has decided that at this stage he needs a respite in relations with the West so he can concentrate on consolidating the Russian state, perhaps rebuilding its influence in the space of the former Soviet Union. And he would like a free hand for that, so he;s going to try to negotiate with us some sort of an agreement on ABM and strategic weapons in exchange for a free hand to not only consolidate the Russian state but perhaps to exercise more effective influence on the former Soviet Republicans. HALL: One stumbling block will be, in moving this process forward, the U.S. Senate approval. As it stands now, this allows formal negotiations on START III. Is that putting the cart before the horse?

BRZEZINSKI: I think these negotiations have to go in tandem with a discussion of the other issues, which includes incidentally the question of the ABM treaty revision and the possibility of an opening for some deployment of a defense system by the United States.

And then in addition to it, there are other issues. For instance, we have an interest in the independence of the other former Soviet republics. The secretary of state has just been to Ukraine. That's not an accident. The United States wishes to reiterate its support for the independence of Ukraine. We have an interest in the independence of Georgia, which is threatened by what the Russians have been doing in Chechnya.

So we have a number of issues, and we shouldn't create the impression that an agreement on START II or START III is the wherewithal of the relationship.

HALL: Zbigniew Brzezinski, we thank you for your insight. It's always nice to have you on WORLDVIEW

BRZEZINSKI: It's nice to be with you.

HALL: OK, we'll see you again, I'm sure.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.



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