Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
Back to the Acronym home page
British Policy
South Asia
About Acronym

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

US Ballistic Missile Defence Plans Continue to Dominate Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Discussions with Russia and China

Discussions with Russia

Note: for regularly updated in-depth coverage of the US-Russia arms control relationship, see the Acronym Institute's special website feature at http://www.acronym.org.uk/usrussia.htm

Russia and America continue to wrestle with an issue at the heart of their arms control relationship: US determination to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to allow it to deploy a National Missile Defence (NMD) system. President Clinton is due to make an initial deployment decision in June, and the prospects of amending the ABM Treaty before then appear exceedingly slim. Russia remains unimpressed by the US claim that the NMD system it envisions is designed only to protect against limited attack in the future from 'rogue states' such as North Korea and Iran, and appears prepared only to countenance minor changes within the tight framework of the existing accord. As the head of Russia's National Security Council, Sergei Ivanov, phrased the issue to reporters at the Russian Embassy in Washington on February 18: "[I]f we are talking about…geographic changes to deploy the [currently permitted] system, instead of [in] North Dakota, somewhere else…[then this is acceptable]… This is going to be the subject of further discussion. … [However,] if we are talking about slightly modifying the ABM Treaty at the same time as deploying national missile defense, these two things simply can't exist together. … [The Treaty is] extremely valuable to us - among other factors, because it is very short, very clear and precise." The US has stated it would like would like to deploy NMD interceptors in Alaska, which many Russian observers take as proof that they are designed to destroy Russian ballistic missiles heading toward North America across the Arctic Ocean; the US claims that Alaska makes sense as a base from which to intercept North Korean missiles. On February 25, Ivanov stated that the NMD system the US would like to move towards "is capable of intercepting a majority of our rockets. This of course doesn't suit us… It's aimed in the first place at intercepting our ballistic rockets."

Following talks in Geneva from February 29-March 2, led by Yuri Kapralov, head of the Foreign Ministry's Arms Control Department, and Under Secretary of State John Holum, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued perhaps its clearest statement yet that amending the Treaty is considered unacceptable to Moscow even as a theme for discussion: "With respect to the ABM Treaty, the Russian side has presented a well-argued case to prove that the modification of the Treaty proposed by the US would render it meaningless, would make reductions of strategic weapons impossible and for that reason cannot be subject to negotiations."

Meanwhile, the Russian Parliament, the Duma, is moving once more towards a decision on ratifying the Strategic Reduction (START) II Treaty. On February 22, Dmitry Rogozin, Chair of the International Affairs Committee, announced that closed-door hearings on START II and the ABM Treaty would be held on March 21 (in addition, a closed-door hearing on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT] was announced for March 14). However, it seems clear that ratification, and any START III negotiations, will be made explicitly conditional on the US staying within the limits of the ABM Treaty. In the words of Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, an advocate of ratification, on March 4: "If the United States pulls out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, then nothing will prevent us from tearing up any agreements and leaving everything on its earlier level."

In addition to these momentous arms control considerations, there are many questions about the cost and technical viability of any NMD system. On March 8, leading Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, ranking Minority member on the Foreign Relations Committee, urged Clinton to delay a deployment decision: "This is going to cost $30 billion, and there has been no national debate. This doesn't make sense absent public debate."

On March 14, Foreign Minister Ivanov held talks in Moscow with Leon Fuerth, Vice President Gore's national security advisor. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement described the discussions as constituting a "thorough review of the state and prospects of Russian-American cooperation in various areas," with arms control issues prominent: "The Russian side stressed its readiness to move jointly with the US towards further deep cuts of strategic offensive weapons. At the same time, the Minister noted again that this process will be put in jeopardy if the American plan to create a national ABM system is implemented."

The Issue of Iran

For the US, the issue of the direct or unwitting provision by the Russian Government or Russian entities of assistance to Iran's nuclear and missile programmes remains an important item on the bilateral non-proliferation agenda. On March 14, President Clinton signed the "Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000" (H.R. 1883), stipulating penalties against states when companies and other entities in their jurisdiction are proven to have assisted these programmes. The legislation was adopted unanimously in both houses of Congress (420-0 in the House of Representatives, March 1; 98-0 in the Senate, February 24). In a statement, the President noted:

"I fully share the Congress's objective of promoting non-proliferation and combating Iran's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile delivery systems. This issue remains at the top of the agenda with Russia as well as with other countries whose companies may be providing such assistance to Iran. In the case of Russian entities' cooperation with Iran, we have imposed penalties ten times in the past and stand ready to apply them again whenever necessary. … This bill, as amended, is less problematic than the earlier version that passed the House and will not harm our efforts to halt international cooperation with Iran's WMD and missile programs. Therefore, I have signed H.R. 1883." Under the legislation, "extraordinary payments" related to Russian participation in the International Space Station (ISS) will be prohibited in the absence of confirmation that Russian companies or entities had not been involved in any WMD-related activity. Of this aspect of the measure, the President observed: "I want to make it clear that Russia continues to be a valued partner in the International Space Station (ISS). H.R. 1883 requires certain determinations for purchases from Russia related to the ISS, but does not affect Russia's important role as an ISS partner."

On March 15, Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its indignation at the President's signature: "Moscow has of course taken note of the US President's statement when signing the law that the new legislation will not impede continued Russian-American cooperation, including in the space area. At the same time, one has to state again that the adoption of such a law marks another attempt to render extra-territorial character to internal US legislation, in total violation of international law. This approach is unacceptable to Russia and the world community as a whole. We believe that the solution of the task of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a key factor in ensuring international security and stability. We intend to continue cooperation with the US in the area given [the] reciprocal readiness of the American side. At the same time, the adoption of the above-mentioned law may substantially undermine the political and legal basis of Russian-American interaction in the field of non-proliferation and export control. The responsibility for this, as we have already warned, will rest exclusively on the American side."

On March 17, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced a slight easing of sanctions against Iran, leaving in place the prohibition against any US commercial involvement with Iran's oil and gas industries. According to Albright: "We believe this will serve to deepen bonds of mutual understanding and trust… We have concluded the time is ripe to broaden our perspective. … [But we are under] no illusions [of dramatic change]; we can't build a true relationship on carpets and grain alone."

Discussions with China

In Beijing from February 17-18, intensive US-China discussions were held on arms control and international security issues. The US delegation was led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott; the Chinese side by Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. US NMD plans featured prominently, as summarised in a February 22 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry:

"Ballistic missile defence was one of the core topics of the consultation. The US side noted that [the] US developed TMD and NMD to counter the so-called 'rogue states' and to enhance the security of [the] US. The US side went on to brief the Chinese side about its basic plan. The Chinese side pointed out that the excuses offered by [the] US did not hold water. The plan was not in the interest of global strategic balance and stability. Nor did it serve regional peace and security. It would not only impair the legitimate security interests of other countries, but also undermine [the] US's own interests. Therefore, it was our hope that the US side should take into consideration the political and strategic price it would have to pay in pursuing the NMD plan and would forego the test and deployment of NMD which was detrimental to stability and would do no good to [the] US while injuring others."

On March 1, the Chinese Government announced it had submitted the CTBT for consideration by the National People's Congress, a probable indication of ratification in the near term.

The Issue of Taiwan

Developments in and tensions over Taiwan are forming an increasingly disturbing backdrop to US-China arms control discussions. On March 18, the Presidential candidate of the ruling Nationalist Party, Vice President Lien Chan, suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party which is in favour of making, at an unspecified time, a formal declaration of Taiwanese independence; a move which many fear could be sufficient to provoke a violent reaction from China. The 'two-state' stance of outgoing President Lee Teng-hui, who promptly announced (March 19) his intention to stand down as Nationalist Party leader in September, had already incurred the considerable wrath of Beijing, which in a White Paper issued on February 21 warns that a continued refusal by Taiwan to begin negotiations on reunification might have the effect of forcing China "to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force…". This formula was repeated by President Jiang Zemin on March 4: "If the Taiwan authorities indefinitely reject negotiations on the peaceful resolution of the reunification question, then the Chinese Government will be forced to take all possible drastic measures." On March 10, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan accused the United States of responsibility for encouraging pro-independence forces in Taiwan: "What the United States has done…has inflated the arrogance of the separatist forces… The United States has increased its weapons sales to Taiwan both in quantitative and qualitative terms… What the US says and does on the question of Taiwan will have a direct bearing on the future direction of the Sino-US relationship." As reported in recent issues, China has expressed particular concern that the US may allow Taiwan to acquire or share theatre-range ballistic missile defence systems (TMD), perhaps as part of a Asia-Pacific system also involving Japan and South Korea. On March 7, a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry noted:

"What must be pointed out is that the Chinese Government and people are firmly opposed to…US arms sales to Taiwan and the US provision to Taiwan of any TMD system and the relevant technologies, equipment and supporting system. This position of the Chinese side is unswerving. We strongly urge the US side…[to] make clear its commitment of not selling destroyers with [the] Aegis system and Patriot III anti-missile system to Taiwan…" Caught between this position and the adoption in February of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act by the House of Representatives - a measure that would greatly increase US military support for the island, including almost certainly a BMD dimension - the Clinton Administration, which has said it will veto the Act, is attempting to reassure and calm both Beijing and Taipei. In the words of Defense Secretary William Cohen, speaking in Japan on March 16: "We recognise a 'one China' policy. We also recognise that we have an obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide for defensive equipment to the Taiwanese people…"

Related Comment & Developments


On March 8, the Japanese Defense Agency's National Institute of Defense Studies published a report, 'East Asia Strategic Overview 2000', defending Japan's commitment to consider limited ballistic missile defence deployment on the basis of potential threats from China and North Korea: "[T]he PRC [People's Republic of China] is strengthening its ballistic missiles and there still remain suspicions about the PRC's export of missiles. It is hard for Japan, which has no ballistic missile, to accept opposition to research on TMD from such a country… [Al]lthough the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea] temporarily froze its missile launch [programme], there is no sign that the DPRK would restrain from its missile development and deployment. It is hard to believe that the DPRK would abandon its missile card or nuclear card until the Kim Jong-il regime becomes confident about its survival."

On February 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a strongly-worded statement warning Japan against pursuing the BMD option: "The continuing persistent attempts by the United States to expand the military alliance with Japan by imparting a new dimension to it - the development of cooperation with the Japanese side in the creation of a theatre ABM system in the Asia-Pacific region - have not gone unnoticed in Moscow. … The Russian side has already stated its attitude to the new parameters of the military cooperation of the United States with Japan. As to plans to create a regional theatre ABM system, considerable concern is caused by the aim of creating such a system near Russia's borders. Evidently, it is being regarded as a link of the first interception echelon of the future national ABM system of the United States. The idea of creating a regional theatre ABM system in the Asia-Pacific region with a very limited number of participants has already generated concern in Asia and beyond… Such concerns could be eliminated, we believe, by the implementation of Russia's idea to create a global system for monitoring the non-proliferation of missiles and missile technologies. … We also believe it fundamentally important to form in the Asia-Pacific region at some point in the future a multilateral mechanism for ensuring security with equal rights and possibilities for all of its participants."

North Korea

On February 23, KCNA carried a Government statement lambasting plans for the US and Japan to collaborate on missile defence, portraying it as part of a resurgence of Japanese nationalism and militarism: "This [collaboration] clearly proves that it was a very just act pertaining to the sovereignty of the DPRK for it to have increased national defence capabilities… We will sharply watch Japan's reckless moves to become a military giant and take all necessary countermeasures." On February 28, the North Korean Government, in a statement carried on its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), claimed that US missile defence plans, including their collaborative dimension in Asia, had the potential to force Pyongyang to step up its missile development and deployment programme: "[T]he US moves to establish the missile defence system compel the DPRK to reconsider the moratorium on missiles test firings. … The US attitude only hardens the DPRK's will to develop, test and deploy missiles."

Despite these tensions, the latest round of US-North Korea security discussions, led by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan and Ambassador Charles Kartman, reportedly took place constructively in New York from March 7-15. According to a US State Department summary: "[T]he two sides agreed to schedule further talks on preparation for a high-level [DPRK] visit [to Washington] through the New York channel. The two sides also agreed to schedule talks related to US concerns on the DPRK's missile program and talks on Agreed Framework implementation. Finally, the DPRK reconfirmed its agreement for another US visit to Kumchang-ni [which the US has suspected of being a secret nuclear facility]."


On March 13, the Ottawa Citizen claimed that the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) had embarked on a $637 million (Canadian dollars) project designed to provide input into any US NMD system. According to the newspaper, work has begun on the first stage of the "Canadian Forces Joint Space Project", related to space-based military surveillance sensors. The official Canadian position is one of scepticism and unease about US plans. Indeed, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has been prominent among NATO foreign ministers in expressing concern. Speaking to Canadian journalists in Washington on March 15, US Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre stated that any apprehensions about US NMD plans were misplaced, stemming from a "time-frozen perspective that goes back 15 years." According to Hamre: "We'd like to be able to modify the treaty to save the treaty." In a speech in Calgary in February, Hamre remarked bluntly: "I believe we are at an important pivot point in our relationship with each other. … That pivot point is going to revolve around the issue of national missile defense." Existing US-Canadian collaboration on early-warning is extensive, centred around the joint North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) which would be bound to feature as a dimension of any NMD system.

The apparent gulf between military and diplomatic perceptions of the NMD issue in Canada was illustrated in Parliament on February 24 when senior DND official Daniel Bon told the Defence Committee: "We recognize that a threat is developing, and even if it isn't quite as clear and present a danger as some NMD advocates claim, it is likely only a matter of a couple of decades before it becomes one. And all of the technologies in the area of defence take a long time to develop… They [the US] will undoubtedly go ahead with it. It is only a matter of time…" Bon added that an NMD shield covering the whole of North America could protect Canada against stray missiles: "That may be the biggest threat to Canada - that when they aim at Colorado Springs, they may hit Toronto." After hearing Bon, Committee Member George Proud, a Liberal MP, told his colleagues: "I think we should really be proactive in this and ask if we can become involved in this…"

Denmark and Greenland

In Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on March 1, Johan Lund Olsen, a prominent member of the left-wing Inuit party in the home-rule Assembly, expressed concern that US NMD plans may include an upgrading of the US radar complex in Thule in the northwest of the vast Danish-controlled territory: "It would be dangerous for Greenland to permit an upgrade of the Thule radar… Enemies of the United States would try to destroy it. This means that Greenland will be bombed…" On November 18 last year, the Assembly had approved a resolution stating its opposition to any Thule upgrade if US NMD plans violate the ABM Treaty. Danish Foreign Ministry Niels Helveg Petersen insisted to the Danish Parliament on February 25 that any upgrading would have to be consonant with the Treaty, support of which he described as "a firm component" of Danish foreign policy.


On February 22, Alain Richard, France's Defence Minister, expressed the serious misgivings felt in Paris at the implications of the US's NMD project. Addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the US, Richard noted: "We fear that NMD could fuel a new arms race and more generally could serve as a convenient cover by those states that do not want to be strictly bound by non-proliferation norms."

In Moscow on February 18, French and Russian officials held arms control discussions in which common ground on the ABM issue was clearly achieved, as alluded to in the summary provided by the Russian Foreign Ministry: "It was noted that the existing plans to revise cornerstone agreements in the field of strategic stability are capable of drastically aggravating the international situation and bringing the entire disarmament process into a dangerous impasse and that urgent joint efforts are needed to avoid this, especially on the eve of the crucial international conference in New York to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As a result of the conversations the sides confirmed mutual interest to step up consultations pertaining to questions of arms limitation and disarmament on all levels."

Reports: Russian Foreign Ministry statement 39-18-2-2000, February 18; Russian aide opens door a bit to US bid for a missile defense, New York Times, February 18; China warns of force against Taiwan, BBC News Online, February 21; Spokesperson on China-US strategic and security consultation, Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, February 22; Parliamentary hearings on START-2, ABM to be held Mar 21, Itar-Tass, February 22; Missiles and gnashing teeth, Washington Times, February 23; North Korea slams Japan rocket program, Reuters, February 23; Russian Foreign Ministry statement 77-24-2-2000, February 24; Senate targets Russia over weapons sales to Iran, Reuters, February 24; Canada official warns of eventual missile threats, Reuters, February 24; Russia - US missile system strong, Associated Press (AP), February 25; North Korea threatens to resume missile tests, Agence France Presse, February 28; Danish opposition may impede US National Missile Defense, BASIC http://www.basicint.org, March; China submits N-Test ban to Parliament, Reuters, March 1; Greenland seeks say on US missile defense, Reuters, March 1; House approves modified Iran sanctions bill, Reuters, March 1; Congress passes Iran sanctions bill, AP, March 2.; US, Russia continue arms talks, AP, March 2; Russian Foreign Ministry statement 117-3-3-2000, March 3; Russians mull status of START pacts, AP, March 4; China's Jiang renews Taiwan threat, Reuters, March 4; US missile shield would unravel arms pact - Russia, Reuters, March 5; Spokesperson on the reported US selling of destroyers with 'Aegis' system and 'Patriot III' anti-missile system to Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, March 7; Biden joins G.O.P. in call for a delay in missile-defense plan, New York Times, March 8; Spokesperson on the reported US arms sale to Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, March 9; National Institute of Defense Studies argues for TMD against PRC, Sankei Shimbun, March 9; China says US to blame for Taiwan tensions, Reuters, March 10; Canadian forces back missile shield project, Ottawa Citizen, March 13; Canadian Defence works on missile shield, report says, Xinhua, March 13; Statement by the President, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 14; Law limits space station funds, AP, March 14; China's Premier warns Taiwanese, AP, March 15; Russian Foreign Ministry statement 153-15-3-2000, March 15; Russian Foreign Ministry statement 154-15-3-2000; US-DPRK bilateral talks adjourn, US State Department (Office of International Information Programs), March 15; Canada accused of Cold War thinking in impasse on missile defence, Globe & Mail, March 15; Cohen tells China not to use force on Taiwan, Reuters, March 16; US eases Iran sanctions, BBC News Online, March 17; Taiwan President to quit party, AP, March 19.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

Return to top of page

Return to List of Contents

Return to Acronym Main Page