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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

Missile Defence Developments

US Plans and Legislation

As reported in the last issue, in May the US House of Representatives, following the lead of the Senate in March, voted overwhelmingly to adopt legislation committing the Clinton Administration to the deployment of a National Missile Defence (NMD) system as soon as technology permits, subject to customary appropriations and funding procedures, and on the understanding that such deployment does not run counter to the US objective of continuing to seek negotiated reductions of nuclear weapons with Russia. Because of these qualifications, President Clinton was prepared to support the legislation, which he duly signed into law, issuing the following statement, on 23 July:

"I have signed into law H.R. 4, the 'National Missile Defense Act of 1999.' My Administration is committed to addressing the growing danger that rogue nations may develop and field long-range missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies.

Section 2 of this Act states that it is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense (NMD) system with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for NMD. By specifying that any NMD deployment must be subject to the authorization and appropriations process, the legislation makes clear that no decision on deployment has been made. This interpretation, which is confirmed by the legislative record taken as a whole, is also required to avoid any possible impairment of my constitutional authorities.

Section 3 of the Act states that it is the policy of the United States to seek continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces. Thus, section 3 puts the Congress on record as continuing to support negotiated reductions in strategic nuclear arms, reaffirming my Administration's position that our missile defense policy must take into account our arms control and nuclear non-proliferation objectives.

Next year, we will, for the first time, determine whether to deploy a limited National Missile Defense, when we review the results of flight tests and other developmental efforts, consider cost estimates, and evaluate the threat. Any NMD system we deploy must be operationally effective, cost-effective, and enhance our security. In making our determination, we will also review progress in achieving our arms control objectives, including negotiating any amendments to the ABM Treaty that may be required to accommodate a possible NMD deployment."

However prudent the President considers this stance, it is regarded as reckless by Russia, China and many other States. On 9 July, Russian Defence Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev cautioned: "If the US President signs the Bill, adopted by the American Congress, which envisages the creation of a new anti-missile defence system, this will do irreparable damage to the reduction of offensive weapons... [T]his is a very important issue, not only for Russia but for the entire world community."

More Success for THAAD

A key component in any US NMD system is expected to be the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-interceptor system. On 10 June, the system achieved its first successful intercept, following six failures (see last issue). On 2 August, a second successful test was conducted, with a THAAD projectile hitting and destroying an incoming Hera rocket in space (at an altitude in excess of 50 miles) over the White sands missile range in New Mexico. The Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), long the subject of ridicule by NMD opponents, was naturally delighted. According to BMDO Director, Air Force Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish (2 August): "Basically, we not only hit a bullet with a bullet, I think it went tip to tip... Today was probably one of the watershed events in the technological history of our country." Upon which claim the following cold water was thrown by Tom Collina, Director of the Arms Control and International Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS): "Today's THAAD test was akin to getting a hit in slow-pitch softball. Technological readiness for national missile defence means being able to hit a dozen major-league curveballs simultaneously."

US-Japan Exchange Notes on BMD Cooperation

On 13 August, Japan's Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a co-operative research project with the United States to explore the possible development and deployment of a joint ballistic missile defence system, designed ostensibly to protect against a North Korean missile attack (see below). In Tokyo on 16 August, an 'Exchange of Notes Concerning a Program for Cooperative Research on Ballistic Missile Technologies Based on the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement between Japan and the United States of America' took place between Japan's Foreign Minister, Mashahiko Koumora, and America's Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Foley. According to a statement issued by Japan's Foreign Ministry: "As a result of negotiations between the two Governments on this cooperative research as part of the enhancement of Japan-US defense cooperation, the two sides have reached a common understanding regarding the outline of the program." According to a 9 August briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sadaaki Numata, there would be for principal areas of research: infra-red seekers, kinetic warheads, second-stage rocket motors, and interceptor nose-cones.

13 August also saw the signing of a memorandum on the research programme by senior officials from the US Defense Department and Japan's Defense Agency. One unnamed senior US official, while acknowledging the importance of these developments, stressed that their significance should not be overstated: "It's a modest but formal first step - not an agreement to build or deploy a joint missile defense, but a way to begin sharing technology right away." According to sparsely detailed reports, the research programme will initially run for two years, with a possible extension of up to three years, subject to evaluation. The two-year project is reportedly set to cost around $500 million, to be met by roughly equal contributions from each side.

Reports: Russia calls on USA to give up idea of new ABM system, Itar-Tass, 9 July; Statement by the President, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 23 July; Pentagon tests anti-missile system, Associated Press, 2 August; US THAAD missile has second successful test, Reuters, 3 August; THAAD's intercept boosts hopes, Jane's Defence Weekly, 8 August; Washington, Tokyo close to missile research deal, Reuters, 9 August; Japan OKs joint US missile plan, Associated Press, 13 August; Exchange of notes concerning a program for cooperative research on ballistic missile technologies based on the mutual defense agreement between Japan and the United States of America, Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website http://www.mofa.go.jp, 16 August; Japan, US to share missile research, Associated Press, 16 August; US, Japan to begin missile defense effort, Reuters, 17 August.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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