Heritage Foundation analysts have been pointing out differences in interpretation of New START, a nuclear offensive arms control treaty with Russia, between the two sides for months. Now, a veteran arms negotiator agrees.

Joel McKean, brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force (ret.) who served as executive secretary of U.S. SALT II delegation, points out a potentially serious difference in interpretation of language in the text of the treaty. “That which was praised as a foreign policy success,” General McKean says, “has the potential now of becoming another international policy embarrassment.”

On January 14, the Russian Duma conducted a second reading of its proposed law for ratification of New START. Provisions adopted in the Russian Duma reveal that there is no meeting of the minds in the area vital to the implementation of the treaty—ballistic missile defense and conventional Prompt Global Strike. The plain difference in the interpretation of these elements in the agreement should bar the Administration from exchanging the instruments of ratification.

The Duma’s law declares the “indisputable significance” of the preamble of the treaty, which proclaims an interrelationship between offensive and defensive weapons. General McKean asks, “What if Russia ratifies the treaty while confirming the linkage found in the preamble? What is the next step to be taken by the U.S.?” Unfortunately, because the Administration did not release the negotiating record, the public and the U.S. Senate have no way of knowing on which interpretation the negotiators agreed.

In addition, ballistic missile defense becomes more important to U.S. national security and homeland defense as the amount of U.S. strategic weapons go down and rogue states with growing intercontinental-range ballistic missile capability emerge. The U.S. Senate is well aware of this fact, as its understanding regarding missile defenses states. This understanding stipulates that New START imposes no limitations on missile defense deployments (outside a narrow provision in Article V of the treaty that prohibits the conversion of offensive missile launchers to launchers of defensive interceptors and vice versa), that restrictive language on missile defense in New START’s preamble is not legally binding, and that no limitations on missile defense deployments (beyond that included in Article V) may be imposed absent a formal amendment to the treaty.

The Russian law, if adopted as currently written, is incompatible with the U.S. understanding of the treaty. This should bar the exchange of the instruments of ratification for New START and its entry into force.