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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 46, May 2000

Build-Up to US-Russia Summit

There have been intensive preparations for, and discussions surrounding, the summit meeting between President Clinton and President Yeltsin due to be held in Moscow in early June (see next issue, and the website of the Acronym Institute, for extensive coverage and documentation). The meeting is likely to be dominated by arms control issues, and in particular the future of the ABM Treaty and START process. The Duma's ratification of START II has apparently given the nuclear reduction process a crucial push forward. Major obstacles, however, remain in the way of progress. Ratification will not translate into entry into force until the US meets a number of conditions specified by the Duma, most controversially involving minor and technical changes to the ABM Treaty which both the Democratic Administration and Republican-controlled Congress fear will prevent American deployment of a national missile defence system. To exacerbate the crisis, the Administration and Congress are at loggerheads over the approach to the issue, with the Congress prepared to accept no constraints on NMD deployment and dismissing the ABM Treaty as irrelevant to the post-Cold War world, while the Administration's attempt to modernise the ABM Treaty has so far been dismissed in Moscow as an attack on the cornerstone of the entire post-Cold War arms control relationship between the two nuclear superpowers. A large gap also exists between US and Russian designs for START III, with Moscow pressing for reductions to as low as 1,000 warheads per side and Washington apparently insisting on the 2,000-2,5000 range provisionally agreed by Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton in Helsinki in March 1997.

Speculation that the US was considering moving to accommodate the new Russian target for START III in an attempt to broker a deal over ABM modifications have been strongly denied by US officials. On May 11, an unnamed State Department official sought to quash the speculation thus: "Our proposal for START III…is consistent with the Helsinki framework… That is the number we continue to propose in the discussions and which we continue to support. … We have…examined the implications for our force structure and strategic deterrence of what their proposal is, but we have not changed our position." Asked by a reporter whether this stance meant that the President would have no fresh nuclear reduction proposals to bring to the summit, the official stated: "That is essentially the case." Speaking even more candidly, the official added that the START and ABM issues "are not mutually dependent to the point where we feel that the only way that the Russians should be willing to accept amendments to the ABM Treaty is that we somehow make further concessions on START…" The US Department of Defense is reported to be in the final stages of a review of nuclear force disposition options, the results of which are expected to be made available to the President before he flies to Moscow. Also speaking anonymously, a Pentagon official told the press on May 10: "We're trying to get a better understanding of the risk at the lower numbers and whether we can still meet the deterrent strategy… It's a prudent thing to do with the summit coming up." However, officials stress that the remit of the review is to consider the implications of reducing warheads to the Helsinki range. In the words of another official: "We are not looking outside the [Helsinki] range, and no one has come to us yet with pressure to say, 'we need to go below those numbers.'" Senior Republicans, however, have expressed concern that the President might shift his position on START III limits at the summit. On May 11, Representative Curt Weldon (Pennsylvania), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, stated: "My fear is that Clinton is going to go over there to Moscow and give away the store in order to shore up his image…" And on April 26, Jesse Helms (North Carolina), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vowed that the Committee would consider no further US-Russia arms control agreements submitted by the President (see last issue for text of the statement).

It does appear possible that the US is considering moving down to below 2,000 warheads in the longer-term - a move that would probably require a new Presidential Directive on nuclear policy. In late April, both the New York Times and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported details of US proposals submitted to Russia in January 2000 in which an arsenal of 1,500 warheads is referred to - to reassure Moscow as to the safety of significantly expanding the scope of defences permitted under the ABM Treaty - as certain to overwhelm any US NMD system. According to a US position-paper obtained by the Bulletin, the contents of which have neither been confirmed nor denied by the Administration:

"Both the United States of America and the Russian Federation now possess and, as before, will possess under the terms of any possible future arms reduction agreements, large, diversified, viable arsenals of strategic offensive weapons consisting of various types of ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. Specifically, Russia's proposal for START III would make it possible to have 1,500-2,000 warheads and, even according to highly conservative hypotheses, Russia and the United States could deploy more than 1,000 ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads over the next decade and thereafter. … Forces of this size can easily penetrate a limited NMD system of the type that the United States is now developing."

Russia appears to have been singularly unimpressed with the US negotiating stance. On May 5, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Ministry of Defence's Department of International Cooperation, told reporters: "The US side has indeed tried to pull us into a negotiating process on the problem of ABM by sending its proposals to us… These proposals are not constructive and cannot be seen as the basis for future consultations on this problem, as they may ruin the ABM Treaty…" Referring to the 'rogue' states America claims to require NMD to defend itself against, Ivashov added: "These countries, in the near future, will hardly acquire guaranteed means of delivering weapons to US territory… One may get the impression at first glance that the US plans to deploy 'a limited missile defense system' in one region, as the terms of the ABM Treaty require. What is actually meant here is a system with such control and target-acquisition means, including space-based [systems], [that it] can be easily expanded to national dimensions."

A US decision to move from NMD development to deployment is expected before President Clinton leaves office, some time after a test of a crucial missile-interceptor system - the Raytheon Corporation's Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) - scheduled for June 26 or shortly thereafter. Pentagon officials are stressing, however, that should the test fail - as in January this year - a decision to proceed with deployment could still be taken. In the words of Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) spokesperson Mike Biddle (May 4): "It will depend on what caused the failure." On May 9, BMDO Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish told a briefing that if the test fails, "we have another opportunity already scheduled to make it up" in October.

Writing in the Summer issue of Foreign Policy, John Deutch and John White, senior Pentagon officials under President Clinton, and Harold Brown, Defense Secretary under President Carter, stated: "We conclude that the development and testing of the [NMD] system is not mature enough for the United States to make a confident deployment decision this year." A sounder alternative, the authors argue, is the deployment of missile-interceptors on US naval vessels which could be deployed within range of states identified as a threat. Such a ship-based system, targeting the boost-phase of a missile launch, would be both "cheaper" and "technically less risky" than the system currently envisaged as well as being "arguably" compatible with the ABM Treaty.

To this background of technical uncertainty and political suspense, former US political leaders have been passing on their advice to the President in advance of the June summit. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on May 15, former Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger cautioned: "President Clinton has implied another objective on his visit to Moscow: a breakthrough on arms control, specifically regarding the ABM Treaty, missile defense and reductions of offensive weapons. A word of caution is in order. The Administration is highly uncomfortable with missile defense. If unavoidable for domestic political reasons, it clearly prefers to squeeze it into a framework where it is confined to threats from so-called rogue states such as North Korea. Yet an ABM system aimed at North Korea also will be useful against China, and a strategic defense against China that omits Russia implies a definition of national security that will profoundly affect all other international relationships. A lame-duck President should not attempt definitive breakthroughs on so controversial a subject. As for offensive limitations, the Administration is proceeding with the same avoidance of public and Congressional consultations that wrecked the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. …Among the priorities of a new Administration must be to develop a [new] nuclear strategy…without resorting to stale numbers inherited from the Cold War." Writing in the Washington Post on May 5, former Democratic National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued:

"The Clinton Administration gives evident signs of wishing to reach a spectacular accommodation with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, perhaps at the forthcoming summit, thus enabling it to proceed with the missile-defense deployment. … Yet the decision to deploy on the basis of an agreement with Russia could prove troublesome. It would most probably involve an arrangement permitting the United States to use Alaska as the site for a partial missile defense deployment. That would provide protection for America against an eventual North Korean threat… It would also protect America against the existing Chinese nuclear forces. But the Chinese quite naturally would view [such a system]…as directed primarily against them… The bottom line is that at this stage there is no urgent strategic need for a largely domestically driven decision regarding the deployment… If the long-standing policy of nuclear deterrence is to be replaced with missile defense, that strategic revolution should be pursued on a comprehensive basis, not just for America itself but for its allies, and with its allies."

For his part, President Clinton has raised questions about the NMD policy of Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush. Speaking on May 11, Clinton argued that the Texas Governor "wants to build a much bigger missile defense system than the evidence warrants right now - it may support it later - no matter what the consequences are to the efforts we're making to reduce the nuclear weapons threat around the world. So I think that gives me some pause. I think that's troublesome, because it could cause the country a lot of trouble in the next four or five years…"

For the reasons Brzezinski and Kissinger refer to, US NMD plans have come under sustained and widespread international criticism. On May 11, Sha Zukang, Director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Arms Control and Disarmament Department, told reporters that although Washington had assured Beijing its NMD programme "is not directed at China," the Government "cannot base its security on assurances only." Sha added: "We cannot sit on our hands, watching our interests compromised… Impossible. … [A US NMD system could] neutralize [China's] very small arsenal… [It] will have a serious effect and therefore it could affect China's security. I have been told we could have a series of options. One of the options can be maybe to increase the number of our warheads. That increase certainly does not mean that China will participate in a nuclear arms race. But, with this understanding, China could take this option to have more warheads. … Those are the last things we want to do. We have still millions of people living under the poverty line… That's why we are strongly advising the Americans not to go ahead with this program." The following day, an unnamed US State Department official responded by observing: "Whether or not we proceed with national missile defense, China's nuclear forces would expand in a way that would make this system less threatening to China…" The same day, Senator Helms responded furiously to Sha's remarks: "After issuing nuclear threat after nuclear threat, China now has the nerve to complain that a US missile defense is a threat to their security? To the contrary, leaving the American people vulnerable to Beijing's nuclear blackmail is a threat to US national security."

Among America's allies, France has been a vocal critic of US policy. On April 26, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne Gazeau-Secret, re-emphasised Paris's "fear that the American national missile defense project could indeed result in the resumption of the arms race." The same day, Defence Ministry spokesperson Jean-Francois Bureau argued that deterrence obviated the need for such defences: "We remain convinced that the deterrence doctrine remains the right answer… The end of the Cold War showed that such a doctrine was successful toward the Soviet Union." Gazeau-Secret and Bureau were speaking at the launch of a 111-page document - published in both English and French - summarising French nuclear policy (see Documents and Sources for more details).

Speaking at a press conference with Secretary of State Albright in Washington on May 11, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine noted: "[W]e do have a number of questions to raise about the issue of what you here call threats… [W]e would like the issues we raise to be taken into account in the decision-making process." Albright responded: "We will be very interested in hearing what you Europeans think about it because, indeed, it is a very important question." Visiting Washington as European Union (EU) representative on May 1, Javier Solana told reporters that any missile shield which did not extend its coverage to Europe would be bound to have a destabilising affect: "If we were not to be defended by the United States, that may risk the beginning of 'decoupling'… [We do not want the issue to] strain trans-Atlantic links…[or lead to] a major crisis with Russia." Solana added: "If you are a country and you have risks and you have the technology, it's very hard for a leader not to use it… [But] you have to weigh the consequences for the rest of the world."

Speaking in Washington on May 5, Germany's President, Johannes Rau, spoke of his concern at the prevalent attitude in the Congress towards post-Cold War arms control: "I am extremely worried by the attitude of those in the Senate who oppose arms control on principle. What is at stake is the fate of the entire world, the joint responsibility of the nuclear powers - not the supposed interests of a country, a party or a group within a party. … Arms control and disarmament must not be allowed to come to a halt. On the contrary, we need to make additional efforts so that one day there will be no more weapons of mass destruction in the world." Rau was addressing the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee which also heard comments on the same theme by Secretary Albright: "[There is] a new spirit of complacency and provincialism [in America]… These new provincialists ask why we should still care about what happens abroad, especially in places many of us have never been, don't intend to go, couldn't find on a map, and can't even spell…"

As reported in recent issues, the NMD issue is also placing strain on US-Canada relations. On May 3, US frustration at criticism of US plans from Canada's Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, was evident in blunt remarks by Vice Admiral Herbert Browne of the US Space Command. Speaking at the US Army's Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, Browne snapped: "Everybody says, 'can Canada participate?' I'm tired of asking that question. I want to know what Canada can contribute." If Canada does not join the US NMD effort by allowing changes to the remit and scope of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Browne warned, US public opinion would ask, "why take our missiles and protect this non-participant nation?" Browne added that the US would want the option to intercept incoming missiles over its neighbour's territory: "[T]here's a good likelihood we'll engage over Canada. …. [T]here's something [desirable] about shooting a missile over another country…"

Note: On April 26, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report estimating a total NMD project cost, through to 2015, of $60 billion, a figure immediately disputed by NMD advocates. The CBO study - Budgetary and Technical Implications of the Administration's Plan for National Missile Defense - assumes a three-phase NMD deployment: the construction and entry into service of 100 interceptors in Alaska by 2005; a major satellite missile-tracking and interceptor-guidance deployment by 2010; and the construction and entry into service of 150 interceptors at a second site, probably Grand Forks in North Dakota, by 2015 or before. The Administration has not yet provided cost estimates for the second and third of these phases - it estimates the first-phase cost at $25.6 billion, a figure raised to $29.5 billion by the CBO.

Reports: France renews attack on US missile defense plan, Reuters, April 26; Missile shield could cost $60 billion, Associated Press, April 26; Text - Helms statement on US-Russia arms agreements, US State Department (Washington File), April 27; Documents detail US plan to alter '72 missile treaty, New York Times, April 28; Russians get briefing on US defense plan, New York Times, April 29; US missile plan could hurt security ties, European says, New York Times, May 1; US aims tough talk on missile shield at Canada, Reuters, May 3; Canadians divided over missile plan, Associated Press, May 3; Pentagon downplays importance of anti-missile test, Reuters, May 4; Indefensible decisions, Washington Post, May 5; Russian criticizes US missile plans, Washington Post, May 5; German leader says US Senators endanger world, Reuters, May 5; Russian General cool on US ABM proposals, Reuters, May 5; Albright says Clinton will approach missile defense with 'open mind,' Associated Press, May 8; Pentagon has extra test for missile defense, United Press International, May 9; Pentagon bends rules on antimissile tests, Washington Post, May 10; Joint Chiefs oppose Russian plan to cut 1,000 US warheads, The Washington Times, May 11; China may deploy more warheads, Associated Press, May 11; China wary on US missile shield, Associated Press, May 11; France questions US missile defense, Associated Press, May 11; Clinton ready to make Russia a deal, Chicago Tribune, May 11; Clinton unlikely to bring new nuke reduction proposals to Moscow - official, Agence France Presse, May 11; US sticks to 1997 nuclear cuts agreement, Reuters, May 11; Clinton launches attack vs. Bush, Associated Press, May 11; Pentagon feels pressure to cut more warheads, New York Times, May 11; China likely to modernize nuclear arms, US believes, New York Times, May 12; US reiterates arms stance with Russians, Chicago Tribune, May 12; Mission to Moscow - Clinton must lay the groundwork for a new relationship with Russia, Los Angeles Times, May 15; Ex-Pentagon officials blast Clinton's 'Star Wars' program, Washington Post, May 17; The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May-June 2000, http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/2000/mj00.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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