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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

Russia Insists ABM Treaty Adequate to Meet US Missile Concerns

While maintaining its steadfast opposition to the US request to amend the ABM Treaty to allow Washington to deploy an NMD system, Russia is suggesting that US concerns about limited ballistic missile attack from 'rogue states' could be addressed by discussions and provisions within the ABM Treaty as it stands.

On November 18, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, suggested that a joint Commission be established to discuss missile proliferation issues and possible responses. On November 22, US State Department spokesperson James Rubin responded to a reporter's question about the proposal: "That's the first I've heard of it, but certainly the idea that they would want to work closely with us on defining the threat and then dealing with the threat would be welcome. … [A]ny sign that they have come to a greater appreciation of this threat and want to work with us cooperatively…is certainly welcome…" On November 28, Yakovlev warned: "If a political solution cannot be found which does not destroy the balanced system of agreements, then there will be a serious step backward in understanding and transparency between the two countries." In a December 10 interview with Izvestia, Yakovlev stated that Russia had already drawn up a contingency plan in the dire event of the collapse of the ABM regime. The plan would involve "freezing of work on drafting of START III and START IV…and, finally, rejection of mutual inspections of sites and notifications about missile launches… In practice, a return to the Cold War." However, Yakovlev also expressed his view that this worst-case scenario would be averted: "I think the Americans are bluffing when they attach such great importance to anti-missile defence. Even the most dense system…existing will not be difficult to overcome with 100-200 nuclear charges, especially with modern nuclear arsenals. … We should continue negotiations. … As, in the next 10-15 years nuclear weapons will remain a factor deterring growth of military conflicts, the only way is the way of negotiations."

On November 22, Russia's UN Ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, referred to changes to the ABM Treaty agreed by the US and Russia two years ago, allowing the development and deployment of restricted interceptor systems: "We are ready to discuss their concerns about the increased threat of missile proliferation. But this could be perfectly well done at this stage in the context of the 1997 New York agreement about so-called non-strategic ABM defences." The New York accords set limits on theatre missile defence (TMD) systems (maximum velocity of five kilometres per second, maximum range of 3,500 kilometres) - see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 18, September 1997 for details. The changes have yet to be submitted to either the Duma or Senate for approval. Lavrov added: "I want to make very clear that amendments to the ABM Treaty, which would allow limited national anti-missile defence, would be against the core of the treaty, which prohibits such a defence and which also prohibits the creation of a basis for such defence. … Those amendments would ruin the Treaty, and if the Treaty is ruined, you can safely forgot about not only continuation of strategic arms reduction negotiations, but you can well witness the burial of the existing strategic arms limitation agreements."

Spurgeon Keeny, President of the US Arms Control Association, welcomed Lavrov's offer, arguing (November 22): "I think frankly it's a very interesting proposal… What these amendments would do is let the United States defend Alaska and Hawaii, which might one day be threatened by a North Korean missile, without building a national missile defence which would violate the ABM Treaty."

Such moderate TMD schemes seem unlikely to satisfy either the current administration, committed to making decisions on an initial NMD system in the summer of 2000, or any successor administration. Speaking on NBC TV on November 16, Texas Governor George W. Bush, the frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination, argued: "I think we need to give Russia time to agree to amend the Treaty. Otherwise we ought to abrogate the Treaty. … I can't tell you how important it is for America to develop not only theatre-based but also strategic-based anti-ballistic missile systems… The world has changed since the Treaty was signed in the 1970s… This is now a world of uncertainty… As I say in my ads, there are madmen and dictators and missiles." In a November 18 interview with Reuters, Bush stated: "We've got to convince the Russians it is in their interest to join the development of defences against ballistic missiles…"

In remarks published in the Krasnaya Zvezda military newspaper on December 1, Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Defence Ministry's Strategic Missile Research Institute, expressed the view that the US NMD drive was in reality profit- rather than threat-driven: "One can only assume the main reason is not threats but satisfying the interests of military-industrial sectors connected to ABM and of financial groups… Since there has been a considerable blockage in implementing the Star Wars programme, it is necessary to clear the blockage and secure profits…"

Other Developments

China is as opposed as Russia to the US NMD scheme. On November 24, Sha Zukang, Director of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, wrote in the China Daily newspaper: "If such a balance and stability [made possible by the ABM Treaty] were shattered, the nuclear disarmament process would grind to a halt or even be reversed… It will only poison the atmosphere, undermine the conditions necessary for nuclear disarmament, and breed a potential danger of an arms race… Who can guarantee [under such conditions] that other non-nuclear states will not go nuclear?"

Speculation was rife in the period under review that China was planning to deploy short-range missiles at a new base said to be under construction at Xianyou, 135 miles from Taiwan. China denied the allegations, claiming they were motivated by Taiwan's desire to secure American help in building anti-missile defences. On November 23, State Department spokesperson Rubin commented cautiously: "We will continue to monitor the military balance in the Taiwan Strait closely and meet our obligation to provide Taiwan the arms it needs for an adequate defence… We have made very clear that no decisions on theatre missile defence systems have been made, other than for the protection of American forces." On December 8, Taiwan's Vice President, Lien Chan, made clear that his Government was intent on an offensive as well as defensive response to the threat posed by Chinese missiles: "To make a foe afraid to attack Taiwan, we definitely must develop a reliable deterrent force, and strengthen our second-strike capability… That includes developing the potential force of a long-range, surface-to-surface missile…"

Note: see George Bunn's article on NMD and Documents & Sources in this issue for documentation and analysis relating to discussion of the missile defence issue.

Reports: Bush would quit ABM pact to build missile shield, Reuters, November 16; Bush might share missile technology with Russia, Reuters, November 18; Russia - ABM addresses US concerns, Associated Press, November 22; Russia - US concerns may be met in current ABM pact, Reuters, November 23; US warms to Russia rocket chief's ABM idea, Reuters, November 23; Report - China deploys new missiles, Associated Press, November 23; US believes China building missile-related base, Reuters, November 23; China rejects US anti-missile defense plans, Reuters, November 24; Taiwan - Chinese missile base found, Associated Press, November 24; China condemns US missile plans, Associated Press, November 25; China dismisses US missile base charge, Reuters, November 26; Russian General says US aims to destroy ABM, Reuters, November 28; Russian General sees US corporate push on Star Wars, Reuters, December 1; Taiwan discusses missile development, Associated Press, December 8; Facing China missiles, Taiwan VP wants deterrent, Reuters, December 8; China said putting second missile base near Taiwan, Reuters, December 8; China denies building missile base near Taiwan, Reuters, December 9; Americans are bluffing when talking about the anti-missile defence, Izvestia, December 10.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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