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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 34, February 1999

Missile Defence Developments

As reported in the last issue, on 20 January US Defense secretary William Cohen made a major announcement concerning America's plans for the possible deployment of a national missile defence (NMD) system. A deployment decision is expected to be made by June 2000, with any actual deployment not beginning until 2005 - a two-year slippage on previous plans. Cohen made clear that the NMD development programme may require changes to the US-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Although America's stated objective is to use an NMD system to protect against attack from 'rogue' States such as Iran or North Korea, Russia regards the plans as a direct destabilisation of the strategic nuclear balance. According to Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a senior Defence Ministry official, speaking on 21 January, "any military expert understands that these ['rogue'] States have not, and, in the near future, will not have guaranteed means of delivering weapons to US territory...[A]ttempts to bypass the ABM Treaty would upset strategic stability...[and be regarded] as a threat to Russian security interests." China, too, expressed dissatisfaction at the 20 January announcement. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sun Yuxi (21 January): "The US possesses the biggest and most advanced nuclear and conventional arsenal in the world. It is developing vigorously national and theatre missile defence... This decision runs counter to the trend of the times and will not contribute to international arms control and disarmament efforts."

US officials were at pains to stress that there would be no unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty. According to White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart (22 January): "We continue to discuss with the Russians any steps that may need to be taken or any amendments that may need to be made as far as any future deployment of the national missile defense system [is concerned]. We remain committed to the ABM Treaty..." His remarks were echoed the same day by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "We have believed that the ABM Treaty is central to our national interest and to our arms control [strategy]... the ABM Treaty has been amended before, and I think it will be essential to look at how it will be affected."

Albright was referring to amendments agreed by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in New York in September 1997 defining permissible velocities and ranges for theatre missile defence (TMD) systems, specifying certain confidence-building measures and multilateralizing the Treaty to include Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 18, pp. 31-6 for details). Many in the Republican-controlled Congress, hostile to the ABM Treaty, argue that these amendments require the approval of the Senate: Senator Jesse Helms (North Carolina), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, is insisting that until that happens, his Committee will take no action on any arms control measures, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which Helms also opposes.

Congress is introducing its own legislation, aimed at accelerating and intensifying the NMD programme, and making an immediate commitment to deploy. On 4 February, the House of Representatives introduced a bill (H.R. 4) stating simply: "That it is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense system." The bill is bipartisan, sponsored by 30 Republicans and 28 Democrats. According to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Illinois): "With a very real missile threat facing our country, we must make the commitment to deploy..." On 9 February, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved, by 12 votes to 7, to commend to the full Senate the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (S.257) which states: "It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective national missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack." The bill is sponsored by Thad Cochrane (Republican - Mississippi) and Daniel Inouye (Democrat - Hawaii). Alternative legislation proposed by Ranking Minority Member Carl Levin (Michigan), stipulating negotiations with Russia on any ABM modifications required for NMD deployment, was defeated by 12 votes to 7. On 3 February, Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, wrote to Senator Levin setting out the Administration's case:

"The Administration strongly opposes S.257 because it suggests that our decision on deploying this system should be based solely on a determination that the system is 'technologically possible'. This unacceptably narrow definition would ignore other crucial factors that the Administration believes must be addressed when it considers the deployment question in 2000, including those that must be evaluated by the President as Commander-in-Chief. ....

A decision regarding NMD deployment must also be addressed within the context of the ABM Treaty and our objectives for achieving future reductions in strategic offensive arms through START II and III. ... The ABM Treaty has been amended before, and we see no reason why we should not be able to modify it again to permit deployment of an NMD effective against rogue nation missile threats. ...

S.257 suggests that neither the ABM Treaty nor our objectives for START II and START III are factors in an NMD deployment decision. This would clearly be interpreted by Russia as evidence that we are not interested in working towards a cooperative solution, one that is in both our nations' security interests. I cannot think of a worse way to begin a negotiation on the ABM Treaty, nor one that would put at greater risk the hard-won bipartisan gains of START. ...

The Administration hopes the Senate will work to modify S.257 to reflect the priority that we believe must be attached to the ABM and START objectives I have outlined above. But if S.257 were presented to the President in its current form, his senior national security advisors would recommend that the bill be vetoed."

US-Japan-Taiwan Plans and Developments

The US and Japan are considering the potential for a regional ballistic missile defence system, principally to protect against attack by North Korea. In the wake of North Korea's 31 August launch of a Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile, discussions have intensified. However, Taiwan would also like to be a partner in any regional system, and is adducing an alleged, recent build-up of Chinese ballistic missiles as a major motivation. China is opposed to the deployment of any system, but would view with particular gravity a system involving Taiwan. In the words of Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue (11 February): "Including Taiwan in any form in the TMD [theatre-range missile defence] system would constitute violation of international law, the three joint [US-China] communiqués, and would lay obstacles to the development and improvement of bilateral relations... [China urges the US to] refrain from the sale of TMD and other related technology and equipment to Taiwan so as to avoid damaging bilateral relations."

On 1 February, Taiwan's Defence Minister, Tang Fei, told reporters: "Everyone is concerned about Communist China's missile threat... The question of how to eliminate the threat...is a major focus of our military build-up... [We will] eagerly study, analyze and strive for whatever defence system benefits our national security..."

Mid-February saw media reports alleging a substantial increase in the deployment of Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan since late 1998. US officials, however, were quick to cast doubt on this claim. According to Pentagon spokesperson Michael Doubleday (12 February): "We acknowledge that China has been modernising its armed forces and has been increasing its capabilities on a variety of fronts... But I think it is incorrect to think that the missile threat...is something that developed in the last several months."

Reports: China blasts US anti-missile programme boost, Reuters, 21 January; Russia objects to US treaty change, Associated Press, 21 January; Russia opposes reworking ABM treaty, Reuters, 22 January; Clinton tells Yeltsin ABM pact key to US policy, Reuters, 22 January; Helms discusses foreign policy, Associated Press, 22 January; United States assures Russia it wants to keep missile pact, Reuters, 23 January; Taiwan to study missile defense system - Defense Minister, Kyodo, 1 February; Letter from Samuel Berger to Senator Levin, The White House, 3 February; House members introduce bipartisan NMD bill, Defense Daily, 7 February; Senate panel approves national missile defense bill, Defense Daily, 10 February; China warns US over missile defense system, Reuters, 11 February; US - no increase in China missiles, Associated Press, 12 February.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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