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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 40, September - October 1999

Russia Holds Firm on ABM Treaty as US Testing Proceeds

With the US Administration due to take initial decisions in the summer of 2000 regarding the deployment of new National Missile Defence (NMD) systems, increasingly concerted efforts are being made by Washington to persuade Russia to pave a smooth diplomatic way for such deployment by negotiating modifications to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. For its part, Russia expresses nothing but hostility to the whole NMD concept and insists on an unamended ABM Treaty as the cornerstone of the entire strategic arms control edifice constructed between the two nuclear superpowers over the past 27 years. In particular, Moscow rejects the US contention that an NMD system would not be directed at securing strategic nuclear superiority for the United States, but is designed solely to shield US territory from attacks by 'rogue' states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. In the dismissive words of Leonid Ivashov, Head of the Defence Ministry's International Co-operation Division, on October 5: "The unlikelihood of such ['rogue'] States developing missile systems capable of reaching US territory in the next few decades compels Washington to seek [and fabricate] new threats…".

In mid-September, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, each held unavailing discussions on the ABM issue with Russian Ministers and officials. The gulf between the two sides can perhaps be gauged by contrasting Talbott's statement of September 9 - "these were consultations aimed at laying the groundwork [for progress]... on arms reduction and missile defense. Talks will continue and the basic relationship between the two sides is sound and in place" - with an un-named Russian Defence Ministry official, speaking the same day - "The Americans are trying to drag us into negotiating on ABM to secure Russian agreement for the United States to deploy its own limited national anti-missile defence. The Russian side will not go along with this".

Also on September 9, Roman Popkovich, Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, stated bluntly: "No anti-missile defence system will be able to stop our new missiles... Russia has the technologies and possibilities to launch production of missiles of a new class with detachable warheads... It will not be an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile of the Topol-M class... The US has practically seceded from the ABM treaty [and will respond by]...developing an entirely new kind of offensive weapon. Let the US waste money..". On September 13, however, Secretary Cohen expressed optimism about the overall prospects for a meeting of minds: "I would expect that this would take quite a few more discussions, but I believe that if we approach this in a constructive manner we can in fact provide for some modifications…".

On October 5, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, launched the following broadside against this US vision in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper: "[If the NMD system is deployed,] we will fully withdraw from all inspection measures [under the START, Strategic Arms Reduction, process] and will not let anyone close to our arms. Russia will not know what is going on in the United States. The United States will not know what is going on in Russia. ... If the United States throws out [the ABM Treaty]...they will effectively become the culprit for a disruption of the process of limiting nuclear weapons... All agreements that have been signed or are being prepared, will come under threat - namely, START I, START II, and consultations on START III".

Russia, of course, is not alone in viewing America's NMD vision with alarm. On August 25, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne Gazeau-Secret commented that "the multiplication of anti-ballistic missile systems can worsen the risks of global strategic imbalance. ... Such an arms race, in which missiles will keep ahead of anti-missile systems, cannot in any way help reduce tensions or solve conflicts".

On October 13, addressing the House Armed Services Committee, Walter B. Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, succinctly addressed the following vital question: "If, in the end, we are unsuccessful in these negotiations, the President would have to decide whether to withdraw from the ABM Treaty under the supreme national interest clause. We will make every effort to secure what we think to be the right outcome in our national interest, and that of Russia and the rest of the world - modification of the ABM Treaty so that our planned National Missile Defense system can go forward, while preserving the ABM Treaty as a key component of strategic stability for the future".

Many members of the Republican Party hold the ABM Treaty in considerably less esteem. The front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, Texas Governor George W. Bush Jnr, has stated his preparedness to leave the Treaty if Russia will not accommodate American requests. "Both sides know that we live in a different world than in 1972", Bush Jnr stated on September 23 in a speech which also promised: "If elected, I will set three goals: I will renew the bond of trust between the American President and the American military; I will defend the American people against missiles and terror; and I will begin creating the military of the next century. ... The best way to keep the peace is to redefine war on our terms".

In early October, the US enjoyed an important technical breakthrough in its preparations to deploy new missile defences. In the glowing words of an October 4 press release from the Boeing Corporation:

"The National Missile Defense program has achieved a successful flight test intercept of a ballistic target. The Boeing Company is the prime contractor for the National Missile Defense Lead System Integrator (NMD LSI) program. This was the first intercept attempt of the current NMD program. A launch vehicle, equipped with an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), was launched from the Kwajalein Island Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean shortly after a target missile [a modified Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM], equipped with a mock re-entry vehicle and decoy, lifted off from Vandenburg Air Force Base, California, Saturday 2 October at 7.02 p.m. ...

The intercept occurred between the EKV and the target re-entry vehicle more than 100 miles above the earth. The intercept and destruction of the target vehicle was achieved by body-to-body contact, or kinetic energy. There is no warhead, or explosive device, on the interceptor. This was the first test flight conducted by Boeing since its selection as the LSI contractor in April 1998. A series of flight tests, designed to incrementally test all aspects of the NMD architecture, is scheduled to continue throughout the initial LSI contract period that extends through April 2001. ...

'Saturday's intercept was a spectacular technological achievement for the entire National Missile Defense contractor team led by Boeing,' said Raytheon Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Daniel P. Burnham. 'I am particularly proud of the performance of our EKV in an extremely complex and demanding environment, and I congratulate the men and women of Raytheon who contributed to this historic achievement.'"

On October 3, a statement issued by the Defense Department's National Missile Defense Joint Program Office made the unequivocal and dramatic claim that: "This 'hit to kill' intercept proves that a warhead carrying a weapon of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical or biological - will be totally destroyed and neutralised". The same day, Defense Secretary William Cohen enthused: "This test is certainly a positive development for us and is testimony to the type of technology we are capable of developing, and I think it's an important milestone... ".

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vladimir Rakhmanin reacted with angry gloom to the news of the test, telling reporters on October 5: "Such actions by the US side effectively lead to the undermining of key provisions in the treaty, with all the negative consequences which that entails. Responsibility for this lies with the United States... Russia doggedly insists on the preservation and increased effectiveness of the ABM Treaty as the most important element for securing strategic stability in the world and for continuing the process of nuclear disarmament".

On 19 August, the Pentagon announced an accelerated development schedule for the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor missile NMD system. Following two successful tests - coming after six consecutive failures - the Defense Department has dropped its insistence on a third successful intercept and now expects a decision on proceeding to the system's next, post-feasibility-study development phase next year. The overall schedule is for THAAD to be fielded by the Army in 2007. The decision was defended by senior Pentagon official Jacques Gansler in a 19 August letter to Floyd Spence (Republican - South Carolina), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee: "Rather than spending months and millions of dollars on another THAAD prototype launch only to prove a point, we have decided to get on with the business of engineering development of the real thing". Spence has enthusiastically endorsed the move.

Editor's note: October 17, The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported that the US had offered to assist Russian completion of a missile-tracking radar complex outside the city of Ijkursk in Siberia, and to provide more information about its own missile-tracking facilities than hitherto, as part of an ABM re-negotiation package. On October 18, Secretary of State Albright insisted that the constructive proposals had been put forward, none of which should be construed as an inappropriate inducement: "What we are talking about with them is some co-operative action and looking at various technologies and ideas and making very clear to them that any National Missile Defence system that we would have would not be directed against them". Russia, however, was quick to angrily reject the offers of help - see next issue for coverage.

Reports: US signals major step forward in missile defense, Reuters, 19 August; Army to skip final missile test, Associated Press, 20 August; Pentagon defends missile decision, Associated Press, 24 August; France concerned about US anti-missile advances, Reuters, 25 August; Russia ready to make new missiles with detachable warheads, Itar-Tass, 8 September; Talbott 'satisfied' after Moscow arms talks, Reuters, 9 September; Talbott ends Moscow talks, outcome unclear, Reuters, 9 September; Albright, Russian talk arms control, Associated Press, 11 September; US, Russia discuss missile treaty, Associated Press, 13 September; Bush seeks $20b for new weapons, Associated Press, 23 September; US says missile-intercept test a success, Reuters, 3 October; US says decision on missile defense system in 2000, Reuters, 3 October; Cohen welcomes successful test, Associated Press, 3 October; Air Force, Army launch two rockets, complete test successfully, PR Newswire, 3 October; Boeing leads team to successful National Missile Defense Integrated Flight Test, PR Newswire, 4 October; Russia critical of missile test, Associated Press, 4 October; Russia says US anti-missile test violates ABM deal, Reuters, 5 October; Russia warns US of arms race, Associated Press, 5 October; Text - Slocombe on National Missile Defense system, United States Information Service, 13 October; US offers help on Russia radar site - newspapers, Reuters, 18 October.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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