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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 62, January - February 2002

News Review

US Announces Withdrawal from ABM Treaty, Outlines a 'New Triad'

See also: Disarmament Documentation, December - January 2002

On December 13, President Bush declared America's intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. The withdrawal will take effect on June 13. The President told reporters:

"I've just concluded a meeting of my National Security Council. We reviewed what I discussed with my friend, President Vladimir Putin, over the course of many meetings, many months. And that is the need for America to move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Today, I have given formal notice to Russia, in accordance with the treaty, that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year old treaty. I have concluded the ABM Treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks. The 1972 ABM Treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. And neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other. The grim theory was that neither side would launch a nuclear attack because it knew the other would respond, thereby destroying both. Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning, or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction. We know that the terrorists, and some of those who support them, seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile. And we must have the freedom and the flexibility to develop effective defenses against those attacks. Defending the American people is my highest priority as Commander-in-Chief, and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses. ... I appreciate so much President Putin's important advice and cooperation as we fight to dismantle the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. I appreciate his commitment to reduce Russia's offensive nuclear weapons. I reiterate our pledge to reduce our own nuclear arsenal between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons. President Putin and I have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not, in any way, undermine our new relationship or Russian security. As President Putin said in Crawford, we are on the path to a fundamentally different relationship. The Cold War is long gone. Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope, and anticipation of greater prosperity and peace for Russians, for Americans and for the entire world."

President Putin reacted to the momentous news with calm disappointment, noting that "this step has not come as a surprise to us. But we believe this decision to be mistaken." Putin added: "I can say with full confidence that the decision made by the President of the United States does not pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. At the same time our country elected not to accept the insistent proposals on the part of the US to jointly withdraw from the ABM Treaty and did everything it could to preserve the Treaty. ... It is our conviction that the development of the situation in the present world dictates a certain logic of actions. Now that the world has been confronted with new threats one cannot allow a legal vacuum to be formed in the sphere of strategic stability. One should not undermine the regimes of non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons."

The decision was, however, greeted with anger and dismay by many in the Russian Parliament. In the words of Liberal (Yabloko) Party Deputy Vladimir Lukin, a former Ambassador to Washington (December 14): "The US used our enormous help to conduct the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, then announced its position on ABM. It's a sign, and a bad sign at that. ... [To quote de Tallyrand,] 'It's worse than a crime, it's an error.'" On January 16, by a vote of 326-3, the Duma adopted a non-binding resolution describing the US withdrawal as "mistaken and destabilising since it effectively ruins the existing, highly efficient system of ensuring strategic stability and paves ground for a new round of the arms race."

Considerable concern was also expressed internationally. In a statement released on December 14, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan worried that "the annulation of this treaty may provoke an arms race, especially in the missile area, and further undermine disarmament and non-proliferation regimes." A muted Chinese Foreign Ministry statement (December 14) stressed the importance of maintaining the "international arms control and disarmament regime in the current situation," adding that "China stands ready to work with the other countries in the world to make its due efforts to uphold world peace and stability." The same day, the French Foreign Ministry, describing the treaty as "a crucial element in the strategic stability of recent years", emphasised that "the need to continue guaranteeing strategic stability in a new global context remains a challenge to us all. That assumes, in particular, binding international rules and instruments, both bilateral and multilateral."

Senior members of the Democratic Party in Congress described the development as shortsighted, overhasty and potentially counterproductive. On December 13, Joseph Biden, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was "at a loss to understand what the urgency of having to pull out of the ABM Treaty is", arguing that the "thing we remain least vulnerable to...is an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] attack from another nation with a return address on the nation firing that [missile], knowing that they will, in fact, be annihilated and obliterated." Assessing the possible chain reaction triggered by the withdrawal, Biden believed it was likely to impel China to develop a "considerably larger [arsenal] than it would have", putting "incredible pressure on India and Pakistan... [M]ark my words, within five years there'll be a debate in Japan about whether or not they should be a nuclear power." Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (December 13) described losing the Treaty as "a high price to pay for testing that's not required this early in the schedule for missile defence."

Underlying these reservations is a deeper sense of concern about the general direction of US nuclear policy, both offensive and defensive. At the Crawford Summit with President Putin in mid-November, President Bush announced a unilateral reduction over ten years in US operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 2,200-1,700. Doubts immediately swirled around the extent and nature of this bald declaration. Would some or all warheads be destroyed? How would the reductions be verified? How would guarantees be given of the irreversibility of the cuts? The administration was at pains to emphasise that it had no intention of negotiating a 'traditional' arms control agreement with binding limits, exhaustive definitions and rigorous procedures to render implementation full and transparent. Thus, not only was the ABM Treaty being withdrawn from but also the Strategic Arms Reduction (START) process, with no clear indication of what was to be offered in its stead. While Russia quickly announced its preparedness to reduce its strategic nuclear warheads to between 2,200 and 1,500, it made clear its incomprehension of the need to move into a post-arms control situation.

When the US Defense Department announced the broad details of its highly-classified Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) on January 9, having briefed Congress the previous day, many of these questions were amplified rather than clarified.

The NPR sets out to establish America's first fully-articulated post-Cold War nuclear deterrent posture. The key to the transformation lies in replacing the Cold War 'Triad' of land-, sea- and air-based strategic nuclear systems with a 'New Triad'. As summarised in a letter to Congress from the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the New Triad consists of: 1) "offensive strike systems (both nuclear and non-nuclear)", in which the nuclear component will include the 'old triad'; 2) "defenses (both active and passive)"; and 3) "a revitalised defense infrastructure that will provide new capabilities in a timely fashion to meet emerging threats".

The first 'leg' of the New Triad caused immediate alarm bells to ring among disarmament advocates because of its overt mix of nuclear and non-nuclear elements. Rumsfeld makes clear that the objective is to "reduce our dependence on nuclear weapons", but this is to be attempted by integrating strategic offensive systems "with new non-nuclear strategic capabilities that strengthen the credibility of our offensive deterrence."

It is the third leg of the New Triad, however, which has thus far generated most dissatisfaction in Russia and questions elsewhere. The US appears to envisage a substantial and flexible nuclear weapons reserve as an important component of its "revitalised defense infrastructure" - a commitment to reversibility and unpredictability with regard to an arsenal and stockpile designed to form a major component of, in the words of Assistant Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch on January 9, "a more diverse portfolio of capabilities that would help to deny a payoff from competing with the United States." Flexibility, weapons development, and keeping options open become the key values of nuclear planning, as Crouch was happy to concede:

"As we bring the force down from START I levels, which is essentially where we are now at around 6,000 warheads, down to the President's goal of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic warheads, we will be making decisions...along the way about what our force structure will look like... At the same time, we're going to be introducing new kinds of capabilities. ... We have a responsive force. We may decide...somewhere along the line that we have to flatten out our reductions because changes have been made in the strategic environment... We may decide that we would have to increase our forces. We may also decide that we could decrease our forces further, or bring our forces down much faster... So we are going to be assessing along the way..."

Despite this deliberate vagueness, Crouch also announced that the US was planning to move to a level of 3,800 operationally-deployed warheads by the end of 2007, the mid-way point of the Bush reduction period.

On January 10, Russia responded to the NPR with a terse comment from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Yakovenko: "We believe Russian-American agreements on further cuts in nuclear arsenals must firstly be radical - down to 1,500-2,200 warheads - secondly verifiable, and thirdly irreversible. That means strategic nuclear weapons must be cut not only 'on paper'." Reaction in the Duma can be partly gauged by Vladimir Lukin's comments (January 10): "After such forthright US declarations about disarmament and trust, it is clear that actions do not bear this out. It is also clear that a handshake is not enough to proceed with arms reductions... If this means transferring warheads to a warehouse, it is better than leaving them on missiles, but worse than destroying them. And it sets a bad example for smaller nuclear powers being asked to cut their arsenals. What stimulus is there for them?"

In Washington on January 15-16, the US and Russia held their first senior level arms control discussions since the ABM withdrawal announcement. The delegations were led by General-Colonel Yuri Nikolayevich Baluyevskiy, First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith. The talks produced agreement on establishing three Working Groups, under the same leadership, on Strategic Arms Reduction and Missile Defence, Military and Technical Cooperation, and Anti-Terrorism respectively. They also produced sharp disagreement on the route ahead. In an interview with the Interfax news agency on January 21, Baluyevskiy stated that he used the talks to set out six principles Russia would apply as the basis of discussions on nuclear reductions: 1) equal security; 2) transparency; 3) interdependence between strategic offensive and defensive weapons reductions; 4) irreversibility of offensive reductions; 5) control over the reduction process; and 6) cooperation in decision-making and adequate funding for the elimination of reduced offensive weapons. Baluyevskiy added: "The basic disagreement about the process of reducing strategic offensive weapons is that the US intends to keep the nuclear weapons that are removed from delivery means in storage, and not to eliminate them. Attempts are being made to change the process of radical reduction to a simple lowering of nuclear weapons readiness. I think that neither we nor the world public will understand such cuts."

During a special Pentagon briefing on the talks on January 16, Crouch was asked: "What's the status of START II now? And also, could you give some examples of the kinds of measures that you're thinking of that could lead to predictability and transparency?" His reply was from another world to Baluyevskiy's:

"Well, as you know, START II is not in force. And I think that...that's a position that's recognized on both the American side and the Russian side. And our Nuclear Posture Review was conducted in the context of START II not being in force, and the nuclear levels to which we are going to be reducing go far below the levels that would have been required under START II. So in that context, I mean, I think we have sort of moved beyond START II, is probably the best way to [describe the situation]... [We're] setting it aside and have moved beyond it. In terms of transparency and predictability, we start with the foundation of the START I verification regime, and we're going to try to build on that in a series of additional arrangements and agreements, things that could include more detailed exchanges of information, visits to particular sites, additional kinds of inspections, additional kinds of activities at sites that would be able to give more confidence, and particularly that are more applicable to the approach of verifying reductions of operationally deployed systems. We're now - we are now, you know, looking at sort of a truth-in-advertising approach here, which is that the number of weapons we're trying to verify, if you will, are the exact numbers of weapons that will be on these systems. Now we're not going to be able to do that...in extremely specific ways. But I think that we're going to be able to provide confidence to the Russians - and they will be able to provide confidence to us - that our forces are in this range of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed systems. We envision regularized data exchanges. We envision cooperative - what we call in the business 'cooperative measures,' things that we might be able to do that they could observe with their national technical means and things they could do that we could observe with our national technical means... But you know, the key distinction here, from our standpoint, is that we don't see this as verifying limits of an arms control treaty."

Related Developments

Notes: on January 10, President Bush signed a $318 billion Fiscal Year 2002 Defense Authorizations Act, containing $7.9 billion of funding for missile defence, $400 million less than the administration request.

On January 4, the US Defense Department announced the "redesignation of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) as the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)." The MDA will be run by the current BMDO Director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish.

On December 3, the Pentagon conducted what it described as a "test involving a planned intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile target. ... The test successfully demonstrated exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) flight performance and 'hit-to-kill' technology to intercept and destroy a long-range ballistic missile target."

On December 14, a US test firing of a prototype booster rocker for the EKV failed when the rocket went out of control and had to be destroyed.

On December 15, the Pentagon announced the cancellation, due to severe and persistent technical problems, of the Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Program.

See also: Disarmament Documentation, December - January

Reports: Missile intercept test successful, US Department of Defense News Release, December 3; December 10; Remarks by the President on National Missile Defense, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, December 13; US withdraws from ABM Treaty, Associated Press, December 13; Senior Senate Democrats criticize Bush ABM Treaty withdrawal, Washington File, December 13; Putin silent as leaders vent fury over ABM opt-out, Reuters, December 13; Putin says US wrong over ABM, Europe split, Reuters, December 13; Televised address by President Putin, December 13, transcript provided by Russian Embassy in Washington (http://www.russianembassy.org); Secretary-General regrets decision to withdraw from ABM Treaty, UN Press Release SG/SM/8080, December 14; Statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry, December 14; Statement by French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, December 14 French Foreign Ministry (http://www.france.diplomatie.fr); A setback for missile shield as booster rocket fails test, New York Times, December 14; Missile defense system cancelled, Washington Post, December 15; Text - Defense Department cancels Navy Area Missile Defense Program, Washington File, December 15; DoD establishes Missile Defense Agency, US Department of Defense News Release, January 4; Nuclear Posture Review: Foreword by Secretary of Defense, January 8, US Department of Defense website (http://www.defenselink.mil); Special Pentagon briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review, January 9, US Department of Defense transcript; US will rely less on strategic nuclear weapons, reduce arsenal, Washington File, January 9; Nuclear arms plan - saving, not scrapping, Washington Post, January 9; Pentagon study urges arms shift, from nuclear to high-tech, New York Times, January 9; Russia uneasy about US arms cuts proposals, Reuters, January 10; US aims for 3,800 nuclear warheads, Washington Post, January 10; Russia wants strong nuke rules, Associated Press, January 10; Transcript - Bush signs $318 billion defense spending bill, Washington File, January 10; Russia seeks new arms pact with US, Associated Press, January 12; Russia assails US over ABM Treaty, Associated Press, January 16; Russian Parliament denounces ABM move, Reuters, January 16; Press Conference with General-Colonel Yuri Nikolayevich Baluyevskiy, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, and US Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Washington, January 16, US Department of Defense transcript; Special Pentagon briefing on the visit by First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, January 16, US Department of Defense transcript, January 16; US, Russian defense officials conclude early arms talks, Washington File, January 17; US-Russia - working groups to be created, Global Security Newswire, January 22.

© 2002 The Acronym Institute.