As the U.S. Senate takes up the question of the New START agreement, it remains to be seen whether the pact will be ratified by the upper chamber in its current form, or whether, to get the treaty through the process, the Senate will attach amendments or reservations to it.
One such attempt, by Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, failed on Sunday; his concern was to amend the preamble to explicitly link tactical nuclear weapons with strategic ones.
But within hours, we may see efforts to attach to the treaty explanatory reservations—specifically to ensure that the U.S. retains the right to go ahead with missile defense. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made it clear that his support for START rests on this understanding: "I'm not going to vote for START until I hear from the Russians that they understand we can develop four stages of missile defense, and if we do, they won't withdraw from the treaty," he said on Face the Nation on Sunday.
Even if the treaty is not amended, the resolution on ratification will contain the Senate's interpretation of what the treaty means—which may be a way for the senators to project their interpretation of what the treaty permits or does not permit when it comes to questions of missile defense and verification—and which might clash with the interpretations reached by the Russian and American negotiating teams.
If this happens, it will be interesting to see what the Russian side does. Walk away from the treaty altogether? Or will the Duma engage in its own politicking? Earlier this month, Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the Duma, made it clear that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, too, telling the Rossiya channel:
"I hope the U.S. Congress ratifies the new START treaty, although we have already received information that they [United States] are trying to adjust and clarify the text. If they do this, we will have to do the same."
Any Russian reservations or amendments, in turn, could create a spiraling effect that would force the negotiators to come back to the table.
We'll know in a few days whether the saga of the new START agreement has reached its conclusion, or whether yet another chapter in the tortured saga—which has taken us more than a year past the date when the original treaty expired—is about to be opened.