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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

Talks But No Progress on START and ABM as US Suffers NMD Test Setback and Plans Spending Increase


The US-Russia nuclear arms control relationship remains severely destabilised by the prospect, expected to be confirmed by President Clinton in June, that the US will commit itself to the deployment of a National Missile Defence (NMD) system to defend against attacks, some time in the future, from 'rogue states' such as North Korea and Iran. The NMD system envisaged by Washington would require changes to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which Russia is loathe to grant. Without a meeting of minds on the issue, further progress in the strategic arms reduction (START) process between the two nuclear superpowers is certain to be jeopardised. Russia's misgivings over American plans are widely shared - most outspokenly by China, but also by France and the UK, who fear their comparatively small nuclear arsenals might be diminished in stature and potency if Russia responds with anti-missile deployments of its own, and other NATO states, wary of being dragged into any European-wide system.

There is also a clear difference in Russian and American perceptions of the scope of a START III Treaty. As pointed out by US State Department spokesperson James Rubin on January 27, in Helsinki in March 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed on a provisional target-range of 2,000-2,500 for the maximum number of warheads each side; Russia now, however, would like to see that range reduced to 1,000-1,5000. Rubin was asked what his objections were to this lower range. He replied that "we have made a judgment that, at this time, based on our assessment of what we think is necessary for deterrence, that we can…limit the nuclear danger by going down to a level of 2,000 to 2,500, without jeopardizing…our interests with respect to nuclear deterrence." Asked if Russia was to link its START demands with concessions on the ABM issue, Rubin noted: "Certainly…any recognition by Russia that amendments to the ABM Treaty can be accomplished without undermining the fundamental purpose of the ABM Treaty would be a welcome step in the right direction, because it would mean that they have understood that there are dangers, that you can meet those dangers with a limited national missile defence and do so in a way that protects strategic stability…and the prospects for even deeper arms cuts." Rubin was speaking in the wake of discussions in Geneva (January 19-21) between John Holum, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Yuri Kapralov, Acting Head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Arms Control Department. A January 21 Press Statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that the "sides exchanged opinions on further reductions in strategic offensive arms and compliance with the imposed restrictions on anti-missile defense systems. The Russian side stressed the close link between the process of the reduction of strategic arms and the regulations under the…ABM Treaty…" On January 31, Us Secretary of State Albright met Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for talks in which START/ABM issues loomed large. At a joint press conference, Albright noted candidly: "[We are trying] to come to some common understanding of the nature of the threat that we see coming from the unpredictable nations, and I can testify that it is not easy to come to a common ground on this." Ivanov was equally frank: "[Our] dialogue should be open because it covers the essence of the strategic stability on which…world peace has been standing during the last several decades. We honestly said to our American partners that their suggestions to amend the ABM Treaty could ruin this agreement. … We are sure that, together, we can find other responses to the threats that may come from other countries."

Despite the enormous complication of US NMD plans, hopes remain alive that the new Russian Duma might soon move to ratify START II. On February 2, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Treaty supporter, told reporters: "I think the Duma will have new hearings as soon as February…"

US NMD preparations suffered a high-profile setback on January 18 when a key interceptor system, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), failed to hit an incoming dummy missile. On February 8, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon said officials were "95% sure" that a coolant leak caused the failure, and that it was a problem which could be easily corrected. The next test of the EKV has reportedly been put back to late May. On January 14, the Pentagon conceded that a successful October 2 interceptor-test experienced a number of problems not made public at the time.

On January 20, strong NMD proponent Thad Cochrane, Republican Senator for Mississippi, put a striking spin on the test failure: "I expect that we will learn that this was not an unsuccessful test, even though the interceptor did not hit the target." However, another NMD proponent, Republic Senator Gordon Smith (Oregon), argued (January 20) that the US "should defer to another Administration, Republican or Democrat," to make any go-ahead decision. Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican - Nebraska), also speaking on January 20, agreed with Smith: "We should put this decision off until next year… I think a new President with a new team should make the call on this with a new Congress." On January 19, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defence Ministry's Department for International Cooperation, said that the test "effectively demonstrates that the United States is taking methodical steps towards destroying" the ABM Treaty. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated (January 20): "We have taken note of the report. We have always maintained that the US is the strongest military power in the world and that its violation of the…ABM Treaty will do harm to global and regional strategic balance and stability."

On February 14, an annual Defense Department report on NMD progress, authored by Philip Coyle, Director of Operational Tests and Evaluation, warned that the June 2000 deadline for a decision by the President could put "unrealistic pressure" on preparations. However, the following day the deadline was defended by General Henry Shelton, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "There have been those who argue 'don't rush to failure.' We don't consider rushing a failure. We consider it rushing… From my perspective, I'm comfortable with the June deadline…"

Earlier, on February 7, the Defense Department unveiled its budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2001. Out of the staggering total of $305.4 billion (an increase of $12.1 billion over FY 2000), $1.9 billion is sought for NMD programmes, with a projected figure for expenditure over the 2001-2005 period given as $10.4 billion, an $2.3 billion increase in the comparable figure given last year. Funds requested to cover all ballistic missile defence expenditure in FY 2001 total $4.7 billion.

On February 14, the results of a US Zogby poll were announced showing 60.6% of 1,201 respondents as agreeing with the statement "our best hope for long-term defence is developing our own missile defence system and not relying on treaties", with 28.6% agreeing more with the statement "constructing a national missile defence system will undermine our nuclear treaty with Russia and produce an unstable international situation", and 10.8% unsure which statement to favour. 77% of Republican respondents from southern states supported the construction of an NMD system.

The period under review ended on a positive note when remarks by President Clinton on February 14 - "I think the United States can do business with this man [Acting Russian President Putin]… I hope very much that after the next Russian election [in March] we'll be able to make further progress on reducing nuclear weapons" - was warmly welcomed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which issued a statement the next day noting: "The Russian leadership shares the US President's expressed wish to activate bilateral dialogue, particularly in the fields of security and disarmament, to overcome the…dangerous standstill…"

Quotes & Comment

US Defence Secretary William Cohen, Washington, February 8: "[W]hat we contemplate in the way of a National Missile Defence system…in no way constitutes a threat to the Russian strategic systems…[and] will not result in any decoupling from our European friends, it will not diminish their strategic systems."

Secretary Cohen, Munich, February 4: "I would anticipate that the Russians and Chinese will try to dissuade our European allies from endorsing or embracing the [missile defence] project, to try to find weaknesses and differences of opinion and try to exploit those…"

John Holum, WorldNet interview, February 15: "…I emphasize again that this is very limited capability [we are envisaging] with only the same number of interceptors [100] that are already authorized under the ABM Treaty. … The only difference is that it have a national defence capability. So this is a minor shift in the treaty. … Given the degree of sophistication of France and the UK's missile capabilities, even at reduced numbers, this system would not be capable against them if the Russians elected to follow suit and build their own system. So, again, we are talking about a very limited step - not a dramatic step to throw out the entire theory of the ABM Treaty in the offence-defence trade-off."

UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Washington, January 26: "There has been quite a lot of interest in the recent tests. And, you know, I think there is still in some parts of Europe a feeling that this might not actually go ahead… I think we have to await the timing an, indeed, the nature of the request [for cooperation] that the US makes… [T]he British Government shares the US Government's assessment of the risk from rogue states. We believe that the US is right to address this question. And, obviously, the United Kingdom will want to be helpful. Equally, we believe that it is important that we should have a discussion about the implications of NMD amongst NATO allies. …. There are issues that have to be addressed, and I'm grateful to Bill [Cohen] and to the US Administration for allowing that to happen."

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, Moscow, February 11: "[A] decision on deploying a national missile defence system will not be made any time soon, at least under this Administration… It is unlikely Pyongyang intends to destroy the United States and become the leader of the world…"

Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev, Moscow, December 14: "In conditions when the nuclear club is broadening, the stabilising role of the ABM Treaty goes far beyond relations between Russia and the United States… This is a new arms race. As the United States plans to deploy some elements of the new anti-missile systems in outer space, the arms race will spread to outer space… Then there will be no point in raising the question of ratifying the START II Treaty and concluding a START III Treaty…"

Minister Sergeyev, Moscow, January 12: "[Russian ratification of START II] will be one more serious factor discouraging the United States from withdrawing from the…ABM Treaty… We must ratify this document and we shall do so… [The US NMD programme] is being resisted by Western European states, first of all France."

Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wang Guangya, Munich, February 6: "In an attempt to seek absolute security for itself, a certain country is stepping up its research, development and deployment of sophisticated anti-missile systems, even at the expense of violating the international legal obligations to which it has committed itself. This move will undoubtedly…undermine the international security environment, make it difficult to carry on the international non-proliferation regime and may even trigger a new round of [the] arms race…"

Note: on January 9, the Associated Press asked a number of leading candidates for the US Presidency to address the question 'Does America need a national missile defense system to defend itself against nuclear attack?' Responses included the following: Bill Bradley (Democrat) - "A national missile defense system has not been adequately tested, so it's too soon to say that it is an effective way to defend America… In any case, arms control and diplomatic pressure may be more effective in reducing the possibility of a nuclear attack, and the United States should continue to rely primarily on the threat of nuclear retaliation to deter nuclear attacks"; Pat Buchanan (Reform) - "Yes. The US must not allow a 30-year old ABM Treaty, with a defunct Soviet Union, to prevent us from defending our people from a nuclear missile attack. Test a ballistic missile defense until it works; then build it, without apology. US security is paramount"; George W. Bush (Republican) - "Yes. At the earliest possible date, my Administration will deploy anti-ballistic systems, both theatre and national… I will work to persuade Russia that it is in both our nations' best interests to amend the [ABM} Treaty… If Russia refuses, we will withdraw from the Treaty…"; Al Gore (Democrat) - "As President, I would be willing to consider changes to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty restricting missile deployment, and even abandoning the Treaty, if the United States was seriously threatened by a missile attack from a rogue nation"; John McCain (Republican) - "Yes. I believe the American people can and must be protected from the possibility of a missile attack on our soil. … As President, I would make the deployment of a national missile defense system…one of my highest priorities."

Reports: US quitting ABM Treaty will spiral arms race, Itar-Tass, December 27; Candidates thoughts on missiles, Associated Press, January 9; Minister - Russia likely to ratify START II before March 26, Xinhua, January 12; Missile defense test had problems, Associated Press, January 14; Pentagon acknowledges problem in anti-missile test, Reuters, January 14; Russian Speaker backs nuclear pact, Associated Press, January 19; Russia 'seriously concerned' by US missile test, Reuters, January 19; Delay sought in decision on missile defense, New York Times, January 20; Spokesperson on the US NMD experiment, Chinese Foreign Ministry, January 20; US, Russia finish round of talks, Associated Press, January 21; Russian-American Consultations, Russian Foreign Ministry Press Release, January 21; Some in Europe doubt US missile defense - Hoon, Reuters, January 26; US State Department Daily Briefing, January 27; Media availability: Secretary of State William S. Cohen and Secretary of State for Defense Geoff Hoon, US Defense Department transcript, January 27; Britain asks US to widen defence system, The Times, January 31; Speaker sees Russian Duma debating START II ratification [in] February, Bridge News, February 2; Cohen - Moscow may exploit dispute, Associated Press, February 4; China lambasts US anti-missile plan, warns against arms to Taiwan, Agence France Presse, February 6; Department of Defense budget for FY 2001, US Defense Department Press Release 045-00, February 7; Highlights of the FY 2001 request, Centre for Defense Information (CDI), February 7; Fiscal Year 2001 military budget at a glance, Council for a Livable World, February 7; Paper - leak blinded missile defense, Associated Press, February 8; Plumbing leak foiled $100 million US missile test, Reuters, February 8; Missile defenses will not eliminate need for nuclear deterrence, United States Information Service, February 8; Russia says US unlikely to decide on rocket system, Reuters, February 11; Clinton says US can do business with Putin, Reuters, February 14; Most want missile defense despite repercussions, Reuters, February 14; Report questions speed of US anti-missile program, Reuters, February 14; US not moving too fast on missile defense - Shelton, Reuters, February 15; Russia welcomes Clinton praise for Putin, Reuters, February 15; Bohlen sees CTBT, missile defense as arms control priorities, United States Information Service, February 16; Transcript - Holum WorldNet on arms control, proliferation, Feb.15, United States Information Service, February 16.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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