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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

US NMD Plans & The Future of the ABM Treaty


The gravity of the arms control crisis between the United States and Russia, generated principally by the US intent to seek amendments to the ABM Treaty in order to permit deployment of an NMD system, became still clearer during the period under review, with a string of dramatic and uncompromising statements from Russia, backed by a test-firing of an anti-missile rocket forming part of its already deployed, ABM-compatible system of 100 missile-interceptors stationed outside Moscow. The same day as the test - in Kazakhstan, on November 2 - the Kremlin announced that President Yeltsin had written to President Clinton urging strict adherence to the ABM Treaty. According to a Kremlin statement: "The message to Bill Clinton notes...that a collapse of the [ABM Treaty]...resulting from the deployment in the United States of systems of territorial anti-missile defence would have extremely dangerous consequences for the entire arms control process. ... The message notes that although only a few countries have taken part in the ABM Treaty, it in effect concerns the security interests of every state." The letter was delivered to President Clinton by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Oslo.

As reported in the issue 40 News Review, on October 17 reports in the US media suggested that the Clinton Administration had offered to help Russia complete construction of a missile-tracking radar complex outside the Siberian city of Irkutsk. The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to persuade the Russian Government to look on US NMD plans with less suspicion. On October 19, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Kobzev sought to dash the speculation: "As concerns the Russian Foreign Ministry, which is conducting consultations with the American side on issues of strategic stability, including the issues of the anti-missile defence and strategic arms reductions, and coordinating the activity of Russian agencies along these lines, there are not any grounds for the reports that have been published by American newspapers..." Also responding to the speculation, Colonel General Valery Manilov, the First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, observed on October 20: "There can be no compromises on this issue. It would be like an attempt to preserve a house after leaving it without a foundation... US attempts to withdraw from the ABM Treaty are objectively destroying the system of agreements covering the limitation and reduction of weapons of mass destruction... The basic and fundamental character of the ABM Treaty excludes the possibility of adjusting it to the momentary interests of the American Administration."

On October 22, the US Defense Department announced it would like to locate a system of missile interceptors in Alaska. Under the terms of the ABM Treaty, the US has limited itself to a one specific site, at Grand Forks, North Dakota, which it has not utilised in that capacity since the 1970s. According to Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon: "For a variety of reasons - mainly to achieve complete coverage of the United States - we've decided that we have to move that site to Alaska... So the first thing we're proposing [to the Russians] is to be able to move that site."

On November 12, an independent report on the US NMD programme, commissioned by the Defense Department, was released to Congress. The report details serious problems, both technical and organizational, "a legacy of over-optimism" about what achievements can be expected at what point, and "unusual fragmentation and confusion about authority and responsibility" within the programme.

On November 17, the UN First Committee adopted a resolution urging "full and strict compliance" with the ABM Treaty. See Rebecca Johnson's First Committee report in this issue for coverage and analysis.


Speech by Secretary Albright, Chicago, November 10: "A Russian defence official recently proclaimed that his nation has the ability to overwhelm the missile defence system we are planning. That is true - and part of our point. The missile system we are planning is not designed to defend against Russia and could not do so."

Article by Albright in Time, November 22: "Unfortunately, our consideration of NMD has aroused serious concerns not only in Russia but also in Western Europe, China and elsewhere..."

Senator Thad Cochrane (Republican - Mississippi), October 27: "Since Article I of the Treaty expressly prohibits a national missile defence, the Secretary of State's suggestion that only a slight adjustment is required is a huge understatement."

Defense Secretary William Cohen, November 4, reacting to Russia's ABM test: "It only confirmed that they have an ABM system and we do not. So I'm not sure of the point they are trying to make... For Russia to say that this is a signal of discontent with the United States seeking to provide a missile defence system for our people, it seems to me that they are overstating their case... We do not pretend, nor aspire, to have a system that could try to defeat several thousands of missiles were they ever launched at the United States... We have tried to convey...as directly and candidly as possible that we believe there is an emerging threat from states such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya or any other country that might acquire such [limited] capability in the future that places our citizens at risk."

Remarks to the Press by John Holum, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Washington, November 9: "It is entirely possible to maintain the basic security value, the stability value, of the ABM Treaty while updating it to account for changed realities. We are proposing a very modest change in the ABM Treaty that would allow for a very limited first-stage defence against forces that we see emerging, particularly in the nearer term, in North Korea: a capability to strike the United States... [Our proposed adaption of the ABM Treaty] strengthens the arms control regime rather than weakens it, because it shows that it can adapt to a changed international environment."

Holum, remarks on Worldnet TV, November 9: "[A]s you know, the ABM Treaty does contain a supreme national interests clause that allows either country to withdraw from the treaty upon six months' notice. But what we are trying very hard to do is to...avoid having that question ever come up, because...the system we are talking about does not defeat the object and purpose of the ABM Treaty."

Alexander Vershbow, US Ambassador to NATO, Copenhagen, November 8: "Although President Yeltsin agreed last June to begin discussions on NMD and the ABM Treaty, the Russians have thus far refused to engage seriously despite several rounds of talks... When I was in Moscow ten days ago, I told Russian audiences that their leaders had failed to make a convincing case. ... Indeed, last week's test of an older Russian ABM interceptor missile would seem to suggest that the Russian military still sees benefit in the limited defensive system around Moscow. Let me stress that President Clinton has not yet made any decision about deploying... But with strong bipartisan support for NMD in the US Congress, and with impressive results in recent tests of experimental anti-missile systems, the President could well make an initial deployment decision next summer. We hope the Russians will, in the intervening months, put rhetoric aside and engage seriously in discussions on how to adapt the ABM Treaty..."

Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense, November 5: "The system we would deploy under this programme is completely different from large-scale territorial defence against each other that generally concerned the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War... If they [the Russians] persist in that position [of opposition to our plans], then the United States...will have to face a very difficult question, which is whether to withdraw from the treaty... It is not at all clear to me...that Russia would gain anything from the destruction of the arms control framework... The consequences would be difficult for Russia. ... It is our policy, our desire and our expectation that our limited national missile defence program can proceed to deployment without destroying the ABM Treaty... Nevertheless, we will not permit any other country to have a veto on actions that may be needed for the defence of our nation."

Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon, October 20: "We think that Russia faces some of the same threats that we do from emerging nuclear powers that may not respond to deterrents in the same way that Russia and the US have, and, therefore, we will continue to talk with them on this."

Unnamed, senior State Department official, on November 3, reacting to Russia's November 2 test of an anti-missile rocket: "We find it distressing that Russia is raising the spectre of an arms competition when what we're trying to do is work cooperatively with them to focus on rogue states... It's ironic that on the one hand the Russians would be complaining about our desire to move forward into a possible limited deployment and yet they're testing their own ABM system."

US-Australia Joint Communiqué, Washington, November 3: "Australia encouraged the United States to pursue amendments consistent with the spirit and intent of the ABM Treaty in order to maintain an effective treaty relevant to the new strategic circumstances."

Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Mikhailov, October 25: "[Our] technology can realistically be used and will be used if the United States pushes us toward it... If the United States violates the 1972 ABM Treaty...Russia can unequivocally defend itself by improving its weaponry. ... Russia's expenses would be several times...lower than the cost of implementing plans for setting up a national missile defence system."

General Anatoly Kvashin, head of the Russian General Staff, November 15: "The selection of the deployment area makes the objective of the national system clear: it is to intercept ballistic missiles launched from Russia and China. ... [This would leave us no option except] to take retaliatory steps and raise the effectiveness of our strategic nuclear forces."

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defence Ministry's International Co-operation Division, interview in Krasnaya Zvesda military newspaper, October 26: "The attempt of the United States to protect its territory violates the very principle of the accords... The Russian side's basic premise is the need to preserve the START process of limitations, retaining and reinforcing its foundation: the ABM Treaty of 1972. ... The scheme of violations for the United States is already practically standardised. First they dream up the threat, take the decisions and begin financing. Then they announce that the decision is somehow not final and offer to hold talks on 'changes' to the treaty. Then they wring their hands if their partner does not agree."

Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Defence Ministry's Central Research Institute, quoted in The Washington Post, November 4: "If that stone [of the ABM Treaty] is removed, the whole system of treaties will collapse. The ruins will be as follows: START I will be dead, all mutual exchanges of information will be ended, hundreds of verification missions that both sides carry out on a reciprocal basis will be discontinued. We won't know the state of the US strategic forces, and they won't know what we are doing..."

Russian Foreign Ministry statement, October 22: "The Russian negotiators presume that further reductions under START are possible only if the ABM [Treaty], which is decisively important for the whole of the disarmament process, remains intact. ... [I]f this treaty is violated, all negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons will lose their point."

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vladimir Rakhmanin, November 10: "Russia will be ready for efforts for further reduction of strategic offensive armaments. This includes cooperation that ABM deals with, but only on condition that the ABM Treaty remains in effect and is strictly complied with. ... We stick to our position on ABM. That means that we do not discuss amendments to ABM. We just listen to the US position, and our position is quite precise, that ABM should stay as it is."

Senior Russian Foreign Ministry official and diplomat Grigory V. Berdennikov, quoted in the New York Times, October 17: "We are open to cooperation. But if our cooperation means changing the ABM Treaty, our answer is 'thanks, but no thanks.'"

Vladimir Lukin, Chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, November 8: "Russia shall have to cough up a little more for an asymmetrical answer - the improvement of the system for bypassing the [US] missile defence system. ... I think we shall find a means to bypass, by cheap means, the anti-missile defence, especially [one] so liquid as that the United States is preparing, at least in the initial period..."

Sha Zukang, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, interview in The Washington Post, November 11: "We're not rejecting the concept of missile defence completely, such as air defence to protect troops... [I]t is the advanced systems, in space and elsewhere, that are the problem. These are a violation of the ABM Treaty. These may disturb or destroy the strategic balance... [S]uddenly, they [the US] are attempting to amend it and threaten to abolish it. We have no words for this. Should we assume that the United States monopolises all the truth in the world? ... [T]his will erode US authority and credibility. Any amendment, or abolishing of the treaty, will lead to disastrous consequences. This will bring a halt to nuclear disarmament now between the Russians and Americans, and in the future will halt multilateral disarmament as well."

China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue, reacting to Russia's ABM test, November 4: "It must be pointed out that this is a direct consequence of the US attempt to revise the ABM Treaty and deploy NMD...[an attempt which will] undermine the strategic balance and spark a new round of the arms race."

Reports: US, Russia may alter arms treaty, Associated Press, October 16; Russia denies arms deal with US, Associated Press, October 19; Russians reject US ABM compromise, Associated Press, October 20; Changes in ABM Treaty would benefit Russia and the United States, United States Information Service, October 20; Russia, Russia denies striking deal on ABM with US, Xinhua, October 21; US resume difficult arms control talks, Reuters, October 21; Alaska targeted for defense system, Associated Press, October 22; Russia says no point in arms talk if ABM violated, Reuters, October 22; Russia warns US on arms control, Associated Press, October 22; Official - Russia can update nukes, Associated Press, October 25; Moscow warns US on missile defense, Washington Post, October 26; Another treaty may cause DC Furore, Associated Press, October 27; Russian General lashes out at US missile defense, Reuters, October 27; Clifton, Russia's Putin wrangle on Chechnya, arms, Reuters, November 2; Yeltsin worried over US missile defense plans, Reuters, November 2; Yeltsin warns US over missile defense plan, Reuters, November 2; Australia gives qualified support for ABM change, Reuters, November 3; US calls Russian missile test 'ironic,' Reuters, November 3; China - US, Russia start arms race, Associated Press, November 4; Russia 'overstating case' on ABM Treaty - Cohen, Reuters, November 4; Russia test-fires interceptor missile, Washington Post, November 4; US defends anti-missile system, Associated Press, November 5; US presses Russia to modify ABM Treaty, Reuters, November 5; Russia will meet US anti-missile system, Itar-Tass, November 8; Text - Vershbow on US-Russia-NATO relations Nov. 8, United States Information Service, November 9; Transcript - Holum, Wulf Worldnet on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, United States Information Service, November 9; Russia warns US about missiles, Associated Press, November 10; Albright warns on missile defense, Associated Press, November 10; Holum says Senate dismissal of CTBT a 'detour,' not a 'reversal,' United States Information Service, November 10; Russia says could be arms talks with US this month, Reuters, November 11; Chinese official warns US missile shield could alter strategic balance, Agence France Presse, November 11; Panel faults antimissile program on many fronts, Washington Post, November 14; Albright calls for US consensus on arms control, Reuters, November 14; Problems plague US missile defense, panel says, Reuters, November 15; Russian Gen. opposes Treaty changes, Associated Press, November 15.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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