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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

Missile Defence Developments

On 20 May, the US House of Representatives adopted, by 345 votes to 71, legislation committing the US to deploy a national missile defence (NMD) system against limited ballistic missile attack as soon as technologically possibly. As with Senate legislation adopted by 97 votes to 3 on 17 March (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 34,), the House measure further stipulates that negotiations on arms reductions with Russia should continue. This provision is expected to lead President Clinton to support the move, arguing that it means, in effect, that any changes to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty required by NMD deployment will have to be made after consultation and with the agreement of Russia.

The Clinton Administration is hoping to make a decision on NMD deployment in the summer of 2000. Russia, however, is completely opposed to amending the ABM Treaty to accommodate US missile defence plans, and regards the House measure as the latest in a series of attacks on the ABM Treaty designed to lead to its destruction. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued on 27 May:

"The action of the representatives of [the] US Congress cannot be considered [as] anything other than another step aimed at undermining the ABM Treaty... By pursuing the course toward the creation and deployment of an anti-missile defence system on its territory, the United States is ignoring the view of the absolute majority of world States justly discerning in such a policy a direct threat to global security and stability. ... [B]y its ABM actions, [the US] stimulates the emergence and global spread of more advanced missiles... Moreover, such actions can lead to the destruction of the developed structure of treaties and agreements in the field of strategic offensive and defensive arms..."

Certainly, there are powerful Congressional enemies of the ABM Treaty. One of the most powerful, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), is threatening to block a debate on ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which he also opposes, until President Clinton submits to the Senate amendments to the ABM Treaty agreed in September 1997 which multilateralized the Treaty to include Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. On 26 May, Helms warned: "I shall do everything within my power to ensure that the ABM Treaty is never resurrected or reconstituted, regardless of whether the President proposes one other party to the Treaty or 20..."

Helms' Committee completed a series of seven hearings into the ABM/NMD issue in late May. On 26 May, the Committee heard from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), James Woolsey. According to Kissinger: "I was always uneasy about the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. The first responsibility of Government is to provide for the security of the people. To the extent the US has the ability to provide for the defence of the country, it would be a dereliction of duty not to do so. ... We cannot make ourselves vulnerable to third-country attacks just to please Russia..." Woolsey echoed this concern: "We cannot perpetually let our security vis-à-vis the likes of North Korea, Iran and Iraq pose a risk because of consideration with the Russians... The world in which the ABM Treaty was a reasonable deterrent is gone with the wind."

On 10 June, a potentially key element in any US NMD system - the US Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-interceptor - was tested successfully for the first time. The THAAD missile - previously tested unsuccessfully on six occasions, the most recent on 29 March (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 36,) - intercepted and destroyed a Hera rocket at the White Sands missile range, New Mexico.

Around $4 billion has so far been invested in THAAD, being developed for the Army by Lockheed Martin, and supporters of the system were understandably relieved. According to Thomas A. Corcoran, President of Lockheed Martin's Space & Strategic Missiles Sector (10 June): "We are proud of the Government and industry team that has demonstrated effective theater missile defense is technically feasible. ... The perseverance and dedicated effort by everyone on this team has resulted in a successful test." Republican Representative Curt Weldon, Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said simply: "Today's successful intercept is the one that we have been waiting for." However, according to a 9 June press release from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), "hit or miss, tomorrow's test will actually reveal little about THAAD's technical readiness." According to UCS's David Wright: "I would expect that - sooner or later - THAAD will hit a target under controlled test conditions. But that is just the first step in assessing technical readiness. And it's a relatively trivial step compared to the second step, which is to demonstrate that THAAD will be operationally effective against real-world missiles."

The next THAAD test is scheduled for early July, with a further test planned in September. Lockheed Martin, already charged $15 million for the cost of the six previous failed tests, will be required to pay $20 million if two successful intercepts have not been accomplished by 16 July, and a further $20 million if three successful intercepts have not been accomplished by 16 October.

Reports: House approves missile defence bill, Associated Press, 20 May; Clinton to get missile defence bill, Associated Press, 21 May; seeks changes to ABM Treaty, Associated Press, 26 May; Russia raps US Congress over missile defense, Reuters, 27 May; Russia blasts US on missile defense, Associated Press, 27 May; Russia says US defense bill undermines ABM Treaty, Xinhua, 27 May; Senate panel ends hearings on missile defenses, Reuters, 27 May; Nuke treaty remains in Senate limbo, Associated Press, 2 June; UCS - hit or miss, THAAD test will not assess 'technical readiness', US Newswire, 9 June; Lockheed Martin's THAAD missile records first target intercept over White sands missile range, PR Newswire, 10 June; Bull's eye for anti-missile defense system, Reuters, 11 June; Hit should not hasten THAAD funding, officials say, Defense Daily, 14 June.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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