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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 29, August - September 1998

Missile Defence Developments

On 5 August, the US House of Representatives adopted, by 240 votes to 188, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 1999 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations Bill which would prohibit the Clinton Administration from taking part in the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC) of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in September 1997, the members of the Treaty now include, in addition to Russia - the Soviet Union's sole legitimate successor as a nuclear-weapon State - the three former republics which also had nuclear weapons stationed on their territory during the Soviet era: Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The amendment would outlaw the allocation of funds "for participation by United States delegates to the Standing Consultative Commission in any activity of the Commission to implement the Memorandum of Understanding..."

The rationale for the House vote was said to be to prevent the Administration from using the SCC to agree to revisions to the Treaty without Congressional consent. In the words of Representative Bob Livingstone (Republican - Louisiana): "This amendment says if you are going to revise the Treaty, come to the Senate and see if what you are doing has any logic whatsoever. ... We have to give up this arms negotiation. It does not work. Let us defend Americans. Let us start deploying missile systems that intercept their missiles and we do not have to worry about who blows up the next bomb in the next place."

Many Republicans have long viewed the Treaty as a bar to the development of a national missile defence (NMD) system to protect US territory from ballistic missile attack. The Administration, and most Democrats in Congress, see the Treaty as an important element of strategic stability, a sine qua non of the nuclear disarmament process with Russia, and view measures such as the amendment as an attempt to smash the Treaty altogether. In the words of Wisconsin Democrat David Obey (5 August): "The proponents of this amendment would have us thrown out of a standing arms control treaty that has been in place since 1972 so that they can pursue an expensive and widely premature plan to deploy an elaborate missile defense system that is years away from being able to work." Many Democrats also took exception, as Obey pointed out, to the manner of the amendment's adoption: "A vote for this amendment is a vote to unilaterally abrogate the ABM Treaty on the basis of 20 minutes debate in the middle of the night."

Also on 5 August, legislation was introduced in the House aimed at the early introduction of an extensive NMD system. The legislation, sponsored by 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats, represented a departure from previous pro-NMD legislation which failed to be adopted: instead of detailing costs and timelines, it consisted of just one sentence: "It is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense system." Administration policy is to develop numerous candidate systems, with a view to their possible deployment no earlier than 2003.

One of the prime movers of the one-line bill is Curt Weldon (Republican - Pennsylvania), who stated simply on 5 August that "we are not going to allow the American people to be vulnerable." Another prominent supporter, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, stated the same day: "It's not a safe world with the kind of nuclear capacities we see in China, Pakistan, India, and of course most seriously in Iran... It is time now we make it very clear to the world that we have the kind of morality and conviction in this country that says we will make these horrible weapons obsolete. Its time to do that, and we intend to get it done... It is immoral for the Government not to deploy available, cost-effective technology in defense of the American people."

The Administration, however, could legitimately point out the extreme difficulties thus far encountered in seeking to develop such "available, cost-effective" systems. One of the main systems being developed by the Defense Department (DoD) is the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor system, devised by Lockheed-Martin for the US Army. Thus far, the THAAD development system has been a fiasco: five out of five test failures, the last failure coming on 12 May. A sixth test, scheduled for August, has been postponed until November at the earliest. On 12 August, Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon told reporters that the cost overrun on the project was so far a fraction under $1 billion: a $732 million increase on the initial negotiated price of around $6 billion, and "another $265 million in cost increases" caused by the Defense Department having "changed the requirements of the programme to a certain extent." The DoD has come under pressure to find an alternative developer to Lockheed Martin. Bacon stated on 12 August: "Right now, my understanding is that we are working aggressively with Lockheed to try to make the programme work. A second supplier is always a possibility. But one of the problems we have…is that there has been a substantial amount of investment in the programme, and there's a reluctance to start from scratch..."

In late July, Lockheed agreed to pay $75 million to the Government if less than three out of the next five THAAD tests were successful. According to Lockheed spokesperson Jeff Adams, speaking on 28 July, the arrangement "demonstrates our commitment at the highest level of the Corporation on the missions success of this programme. We are working diligently to achieve the remaining objectives of the THAAD programme."

Reports: Co. to pay $75m if missile fails, Associated Press, 28 July; US DoD/THAAD cost-sharing agreement announced, M2 Presswire, 28 July; Anti-missile plan published in US House, Reuters, 5 August; Bill would change missile defense, Associated Press, 5 August; House votes to curb US action on missile treaty, Reuters, 6 August; House passes measure barring funds for ABM agreement, Defense Daily, 9 August; US anti-missile system has $1 bln cost overrun, Reuters, 12 August.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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