Curbing Russia-to-India arms sales

August 09, 1993

The Clinton administration's success in forcing cancellation of Russian rocket sales to India relieves the most serious security dispute between Washington and Moscow since the breakup of the Soviet Union and brightens prospects for their greater cooperation in curbing the spread of nuclear weaponry. When combined with signs of progress in U.S. nuclear disputes with Iraq and North Korea, the case for tough use of American pressure grows ever stronger.

To determine just how far the Russians had to backtrack, consider this statement by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin during a visit to India last January: "When two great countries, in this case India and Russia, sign an agreement, it is not businesslike or proper to breach that agreement. And no third party can interfere with its fulfillment."

Well, the contract has been breached and the United States did interfere with its fulfillment. This, however, should not be construed as a victory over Moscow in the old Cold War sense. It is, instead, further evidence that a real American-Russian partnership is developing that could, in time, result in concerted two-power policies to stop nuclear proliferation -- the single greatest military threat on the world scene.

Moscow has at last promised to sign the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international agreement to curtail sales of rockets capable of carrying nuclear technology. It is a companion to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty whose extension is up for review in 1995.

To convince Moscow of the wisdom of canceling its $400 million missile sales contract with India, a nation with increasing nuclear capabilities, the administration offered Russia the prospect of earning double that amount by using its rockets to send U.S. satellites into orbit and getting a piece -- perhaps a big piece -- of the proposed U.S. space station project. This is not charity on Washington's part. Russian rockets and space technology, if available to this country, could save the U.S. considerable sums.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomydrin, who canceled a visit to Washington in June when the Indian contract dispute was still unsettled, is now expected to sign an agreement with Vice President Al Gore to coordinate U.S.-Russian cooperation in space technology.

Despite the new U.S.-Russian accord, the weapons race goes on between India and Pakistan, -- as it does between regional rivals around the globe. Both big powers have a long way to go to safeguard not only world security but their own.

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