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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

Nuclear Controversies Abound in Wake of Clinton Visit to Europe


Intensive US-Russia discussions in the first half of June appeared to fail to bridge the gulf between the two sides over the future of the ABM Treaty, and with it the whole arms control and broader diplomatic relationship between the two nuclear superpowers. In early June, Presidents Clinton and Putin met in Moscow for discussions in which the ABM issue loomed large; in mid-June, Defense Secretary Cohen visited Moscow for talks, likewise revolving around missile defence matters, with Putin and Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev - see Documents and Sources for extensive coverage of these meetings, plus consideration accorded the issue at NATO Ministerial meetings in May and June.

In sum, the US is seeking to persuade Moscow to allow significant amendments to the ABM Treaty to allow it the option of deploying a national missile defence system to defend against limited ballistic missile attack from 'rogue' states such as North Korea and Iran. Russia does not deny the relevance of working out means of defending against such an attack, although it characterises the US threat-assessment as overblown and simplistic. Instead of a unilateral US defence which acts to undermine the strategic nuclear balance, Moscow is arguing, although not yet in detail, the case for a cooperative Russia-Europe-US deployment of systems capable of intercepting missiles shortly after take-off. The US is deeply sceptical of such a scheme, at least as an alternative rather than a supplement to its own plans. As Washington acknowledges, those plans will struggle to materialise without the cooperation of other states, particularly in Europe and North America; states which are currently lukewarm at best, and on occasion openly hostile, to the Administration's entire NMD strategy. China, too, is an important and outspoken opponent of the scheme, fearing US plans to weaken its nuclear force on the pretence of defending against launches from North Korea.

President Clinton has not yet made a formal commitment to proceed with an initial NMD system - likely to consist of a missile-interceptor complex in Alaska, the beginning of the construction of which lawyers for the White House are now arguing will not violate the ABM Treaty, an interpretation unlikely to be accepted in Moscow. He will make his decision upon receipt of a Deployment Readiness Review (DRR) to be submitted by Defense Secretary William Cohen, originally expected in April or May but postponed due to a number of delays to a test flight of a key component of any NMD system, a missile-intercepting exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). The test was eventually conducted, unsuccessfully, on July 7 - see next issue, and the website of the Acronym Institute, for details and coverage. The accuracy and even integrity of previous Defense Department assessments of the progress of its NMD research and development programme, particularly in relation to the EKV, are fiercely contested by technical and scientific experts in the US and elsewhere.

The connection between missile defence and nuclear cuts is also a matter of swirling debate in the US, with Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush arguing the case (see last issue) both for an ambitious NMD programme and, if need be, unilateral US reductions - a position condemned as ignorant and dangerous by Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore. On June 8, the Senate narrowly (51-47) voted to allow a future US President the freedom - unavailable since legislation passed in 1995 - to implement unilateral cuts if he or she sees fit, although only following and on the basis of a strategic review of US nuclear policy, to be conducted by the Secretary of Defense and unlikely to be completed until late 2001. Many members of the Senate supported a move by Robert Kerrey (Democrat - Nebraska) for an immediate and unconditional lifting of the restriction. The measure adopted - introduced by Senator John Warner (Republican - Virginia), Chair of the Armed Services Committee, appears also to prevent the US from pursuing the option of de-alerting all or a portion of its warheads until the completion, and on the basis of, the new strategic review.

The issue is pressing because, despite Russia's April endorsement of the START II Treaty (reducing strategic nuclear warheads per side to a maximum of 3,500), the ratification legislation adopted by the Duma contains a number of conditions unacceptable to the Congress, particularly ratification of 1997 changes to the status and sub-strategic scope of the ABM Treaty which the current Senate would be certain, regarding them as a 'plot' to limit NMD options, to reject. Moreover, Senator Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has stated he will refuse to consider any US-Russia arms control agreements while President Clinton remains in office. Thus, the US is bound by its own legislation to the terms of the START I Treaty, specifying a warhead ceiling of 6,000 per side. Washington and Moscow are both keen to speedily negotiate a START III accord - on June 9, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed his hope that negotiations could be completed this year - although they differ on the steepness of reductions it could provide. In 1997, the two sides agreed a target-range of 2,000-2,500, which the US remains in support of and is reluctant to go below without a major nuclear force posture review; Russia is eager to lower the ceiling to 1,500 or even lower.


On June 14, it was reported that lawyers advising President Clinton had reached a determination that the US could proceed with the construction of an NMD system without automatically violating the ABM Treaty. According to the reports, the gist of this interpretation seems to be that whereas completion or deployment of a new ABM system - most likely, a complex of radars and 100 missile-interceptors on Shemya Island in the western Aleutian islands of Alaska - would break the accord, beginning work on it - 'pouring the concrete' - would not constitute a breach, despite a legal understanding provided to the Soviet Union by the Reagan Administration that any work on a system not permitted by the Treaty would be considered a de jure as well as a de facto transgression. In fact, the details of the legal advice seem to point to a view that considerably more than 'pouring concrete' would be allowed before the violation-border was crossed; substantial construction would also be considered permissible. According to an unnamed Administration official: "Basically the Administration is working hard to free up as much wiggle room as it can before it has to make a decision. And that makes sense. There's still a long way to go to come to an arrangement with the Russians." Questioned as to how the Administration had been able to obtain this significantly new and more convenient legal advice, an unnamed Pentagon official told the New York Times: "Better lawyers."

In Washington on June 12, 35 scientists and engineers from across the US addressed members of Congress to argue the technological case against NMD deployment. In the words of Dr. Michael Jones, a nuclear physicist from the University of Hawaii: "Congress has been ill-informed about the science behind national missile defense… Deploying a system of dubious effectiveness will not eliminate the threat but is likely to lead to decreased US and international security." The same day, Representative Curt Weldon (Republican - Pennsylvania) issued an abrasive statement attacking the scientists: "For the longest time, these Luddites insisted that national missile defense would never work." This, of course, remains the position of many scientists, particularly with regard to the ability of NMD tracking and intercept systems to distinguish between missiles armed with real as opposed to decoy warheads. On June 13, Defense Department spokesperson Admiral Craig Quigley insisted: "We have confidence that we will successfully be able to integrate these various technologies and come up with a system that…can discriminate against the projected threat that a rogue nation might possess in the year 2005, which is our target to deploy the system."

The issue of system-discrimination was brought into sharp focus on June 9 when Theodore A. Postol, an arms control expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, revealed details of a confidential Pentagon report on the EKV interceptor tests conducted thus far. In an interview in the New York Times, Postol claims that the report proves the Department of Defense is "systematically lying about the performance of a weapon system that is supposed to defend the people of the United States from nuclear attack." The paper also quoted an unnamed Pentagon official, who was shown the report obtained by Postol, as saying: "It is clear to me that none of the tests address the reasonable range of countermeasures" that an adversary would be likely to deploy. Postol's suggestion of wilful deception by the Pentagon was vehemently refuted by Jacques Gansler, Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, on June 10: "I will categorically deny that we're fixing the flights, that we're lying, that we're cheating…" On May 11, Postol had written to the White House urging an investigation into the Pentagon's handling and presentation of NMD tests, partly in light of claims of faked results, dating back to 1997, made by Dr. Nina Schwartz, former senior engineer at TRW Corporation, a firm involved in the interceptor-development programme. The letter was subsequently classified as secret by the Defense Department, prompting Postol to make it available to the New York Times.

On June 20, the Department of Defense announced that the crucial next test of the EKV would take place on July 7. According to Defense Secretary Cohen: "The July test will be our most demanding trial to date. It is an important part of our effort to be in a position to deploy a national missile defense system by 2005. The schedule is demanding, and the technical challenges are daunting, but so far we are on track…" The following details of the planned test were provided by the Pentagon:

"A target missile, a modified Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a single warhead target and a single decoy, will be launched from Vandenberg AFB, California. About 20 minutes after the target missile lifts off, an interceptor missile carrying a prototype 'kill vehicle' will launch from Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean and be directed toward the target by data from the system's radars. Approximately 10 minutes after launch, the interceptor is scheduled to demonstrate 'hit to kill' technology, with the kill vehicle discriminating between the target and a decoy, homing in on the target warhead and colliding directly with the warhead to destroy it. The closing speed of the kill vehicle and the target warhead will be more than 12,000 miles per hour. This will be the third in a series of increasingly challenging and realistic tests of NMD hit-to-kill technology. The first intercept flight occurred in October 1999 and tested the ability of an interceptor to discriminate between a target and a decoy and then destroy the target; the test was a success. The second intercept test, which took place in January 2000, was more ambitious; it tested all of the elements of the system except the in-flight communications link to the interceptor. All elements worked successfully together in this first attempt to demonstrate the capability of an integrated system. However, the cooling system for the infrared sensor in the kill vehicle failed, resulting in a miss in the last five seconds. The problem with the cooling system, which had worked in the previous test, has been identified and corrected. The third intercept flight test will be progressively more complex than the previous two. For the first time, the test will integrate the in-flight communications system between the ground and the kill vehicle. The primary purpose of the test is to help NMD program officials assess the state of development of the proposed NMD system in order to provide decision-makers with an analysis of program progress toward demonstrating the overall technical feasibility of the system and of the current schedule. …

In order to deploy a national missile defense system by 2005, the United States would have to build a new radar in Shemya, Alaska. In order to complete the facility in time, a decision to start preparation of a site for that radar would have to be made this year. The Department soon will issue a request for proposals for work at Shemya, subject to a presidential decision to award contracts and begin work. … Other important pre-deployment decisions must be made as progress is reviewed in later years. At least 16 more intercept tests are planned by 2005, with eight intercept tests scheduled to take place prior to 2003, when a decision is scheduled on whether to produce interceptors for operational use. Under the current schedule, the system would achieve initial operational capability in 2005, with the deployment of 20 interceptors. An additional 80 interceptors would be in operation by 2007."

The Clinton Administration has made an extraordinary offer to brief George W. Bush on the complexities of the START/ABM debate and so persuade him of the folly of his strategy of coupling unilateral US nuclear reductions with an NMD programme unrestricted by any arms control agreements. The offer of a briefing came from both Defense Secretary Cohen and Secretary of State Albright. Making his invitation on May 28, Cohen expressed his "hope that national security will not become politicised because it's too important to have a Republican or a Democratic label on it… It would be beneficial [for Governor Bush] to have this information today, before the election, so that there can be a real serious and solid debate on the issue." Bush supporters were quick to point out that the Governor's plans had the strong support of a number of former senior Republican national security officials and military leaders. In the words of Bush campaign spokesperson Mindy Tucker (May 28): "surely Secretary Cohen is not suggesting that [former] Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and [former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Colin Powell, who led our defences, don't understand them… We are confident that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would welcome Governor Bush's proposal, because it allows military planners to be involved in determining the appropriate levels of security based on new guidance in a new security era." In an article ('Unilateral Move is Unwise') in USA Today on June 2, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger reiterated the Administration's concerns:

"Negotiated arms control treaties may take time, but doing so ensures that each side has an understanding of the other side's intentions and capabilities, and helps build the confidence that is necessary for nations to reduce their stockpiles in a way that is transparent and irreversible. … As we consider a limited national missile defense aimed at the emerging ballistic missile threat, we are far more likely to avoid tensions with Russia and enhance our security if we seek to preserve the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and continue the process of negotiated arms control. Abandoning this process and unilaterally reducing nuclear forces while building up a Star Wars-like, full-fledged missile defense sounds tempting, but it's destabilizing. It risks reigniting the arms race and reversing 20 years of arms control gains."

In mid-May, US intelligence concerns about the broader strategic and diplomatic impact of the Administration's own NMD strategy were leaked to the press. According to the reports, a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), currently being drafted, will warn, in addition to the negative impact of deployment on the US-Russia relationship, of the prospect of damaged relations with Europe, missile build-ups by China, India and Pakistan and accelerated missile-acquisition programmes in the Middle East and other regions. With reference to the effect on Beijing, an unnamed intelligence official was quoted as admitting (May 19): "We can tell the Russians that [NMD] won't affect the viability of their deterrent force. I don't know how we can say that to the Chinese with a straight face." The official added: "If China increases the number of missiles it has, would India think it has to increase its missiles? And if India increases its missiles, then Pakistan does…"


Letter to President Clinton, June 7, from 15 experts and former senior officials - Dr. Gloria Duffy, Susan Eisenhower, Dr. Richard L. Garwin, Ret. General Andrew J. Goodpaster, Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, John D. Isaacs, Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, Ambassador Jack F. Matlock, Dr. Jessica T. Mathews, Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Ret. Admiral William A . Owens, Dr. William J. Perry, Dr. Roald Z. Sagdeev, Ret. General John M. Shalikashvili:

"[W]e are convinced that significant unresolved issues remain concerning the costs, technology, and especially the security and foreign policy implications of a national missile defense system. Recognizing the complexity of the issues that will affect your analysis and ultimate decision, we respectfully urge you to defer a decision to deploy, and not to be forced by artificial deadlines, but to further the debate now begun in earnest.

We support an approach that includes further research on a range of defense system concepts; discussions with a number of countries, especially with our NATO allies, Russia, China and Japan, and with other countries, including India and Pakistan; and vigorous diplomatic initiatives to reduce threats, in the manner of current explorations with North Korea.

A decision on national missile defense deployment has far-reaching implications. We believe it merits transparent evaluation, open discussion, and full consultation with key countries and with the American people."

Vice President Al Gore, June 5: "I think eventually they [the Russians] will change [their position on the ABM Treaty]. There's a difference between ripping it up and throwing it away and making some small modifications to it… The good news is that they're acknowledging and recognizing the problems they could face in the future…similar to the ones we recognize and are preparing for… [The Russians will] make a decision that takes their views into account, but our principal decision will be based on what's right for our country. … I'm not going to rule out whatever step might be necessary to ensure the American people are safe and secure…"

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn, Hong Kong, June 7: "If we proceeded with this limited defense system, it would not in any way be directed at China… We see no reason why the Chinese need to build up their capability beyond the level that they are already building up that capability. … It's not clear that a limited defense and deployment would require any change in China's existing modernization plan. There is talk about stimulating an arms race. We don't necessarily feel that that would be the case. … We believe a limited missile defense can help support deterrence in Asia and help the US defend its allies in the region…"

Senate Democrat leader Thomas Daschle, June 10: "We've got to be able to answer a lot more questions about this [NMD system] prior to the time we commit the resources… Will it work, first of all? What effect will it have on our allies? Can it be protected? … Who's going to answer those questions? … Just this week there was a very important new revelation that we may not know the difference between a phony missile coming toward the United States and a real one… If we can't know the [answers to the] fundamental questions…I don't know that we're ready to commit the resources, the $60 billion. … I think we've got to be concerned about triggering an arms race… Everyone in NATO has said exactly the same thing…"

President Putin, Berlin, June 15: "Our cooperation could take the form of building a non-strategic missile defense system, reliably covering all of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. … Russia is ready for such cooperation and has concrete technical proposals for this. We think this is all possible technically and technologically. All we need is the political will… There is now no risk of all-out war in Europe. But that is no reason for complacency. Realizing plans for a National Missile Defence would be a blow especially in Europe. We must act only together… If we allow ourselves to destroy the balance of forces and interests that exist in global security, this could have very serious consequences… What would Russia do then? … [Because important components of a US NMD system would be based in Europe], it would be obliged to react in an appropriate way as if it were deployed on the territory of Europe and directed against Russia. What would NATO do then? Would Russia respond? And what's that called? It's called a new armament spiral. We think that's very dangerous. Can we find a way out? I'm sure we can."

Putin, interview with Welt am Sonntag, June 11: "The threat of missiles from 'problem countries' in the Middle East or in the Asian region invoked by the US does not exist in principle, neither today nor in the near future… The American calculation on a national missile defence system is a serious error of strategic calculation that could lead to an increase in the strategic threat to both the US and Russia, as well as other states… [With a joint US-Russia-Europe ABM system] we can avoid the destruction of the balance of power and secure the security of all European states…"

Putin, Rome, June 5: "We know that many here in Europe and in the world and the United States are worried about whether the 1972 accord will be kept… We share the point of departure of this discussion… We also thank many European leaders for their position in favour of maintaining this accord. … But, while sharing this position, Russia proposes setting up, together with Europe and NATO, a common, joint, European anti-missile defense system… This will avoid creating problems linked to an imbalance in the equilibrium of forces, and ensure 100 per cent the security of all European countries, with the obvious involvement of our American partners."

General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defence Ministry's Department for International Cooperation, June 14: "We evaluate the threats, the true missile threat, to the United States, as being nil… As far as we know, North Korea has no intention of forcing the United States to its knees."

Ivashov, June 11: "Radar systems could be completed [for a joint US-Russia-Europe ABM system] on the basis of Western European or even US technology and anti-aircraft systems linked with them could be Russian, even with some NATO components… Our Chinese friends have no reason to fear that ideas advanced by Russia for a European ABM system could pose a threat to them and that Moscow is acting behind their backs…"

General Vladimir Yakovlev, Head of Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, June 14: "What is being done in the United States is an invitation to…countries of the nuclear club and the so-called threshold countries to build up their nuclear potential and ability to overcome ABM systems…"

Yakovlev, June 11: "Ideally, we would not like to develop an ABM system. Such a system incites other countries to develop their arsenals or try to circumvent the system. This provides no stability for the world. On the contrary, it destabilises the situation and leads to nuclear anarchy. … We could work out the outlines of a system for a joint anti-missile system if such a political decision is taken. But it must be directed only against a specific threat to either the territory of Russia or Europe."

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, June 6: "Unilateralism in this case [of a US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty] I think would be very serious… [I]f it's not amended by mutual agreement, then it could generate serious consequences, and we've heard from the Russians, the Chinese [and others]…that their only protection and reaction would be to increase the number of warheads. I don't think anybody wants to achieve that, and that's why I think Mr. Clinton has gone to extraordinary lengths…to try to negotiate with the Russians…"

Related Developments

In Washington on June 16, US Secretary of State Albright and Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy exchanged notes extending the joint North American Aerospace Agreement (NORAD) for 5 years beyond its current expiry date of May 12, 2001. Washington would be keen to incorporate NORAD's formidable early-warning resources and infrastructure into any NMD system; however, a Canadian Foreign Ministry press release announcing the extension was at pains to make clear that Ottawa had made no commitment in this regard:

"NORAD has evolved over the years in response to changes in the international security environment. When the Agreement was last renewed in 1996, NORAD was transformed from a Cold War defence agreement to one appropriate to the new security environment. The 1996 Agreement, which will be extended unchanged, acknowledges that progress in strategic nuclear arms control has significantly reduced the threat from ballistic missiles or long-range manned bombers. At the same time, the Agreement takes account of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction…

NORAD has no national missile defence mission, and the extension of NORAD has no bearing on any decision the Government may eventually take on NMD."

On May 29, the junior party in Greenland's home-rule Government, adopted a resolution criticising US NMD plans, and in particular the key role therein likely to be played by the US radar and air base at Thule in the northwest of the island. The resolution of the Inuit Ataqatigiit (AI) party stated: "Greenland is a member of global society and the Arctic community… The party cannot accept the United States' plans for a so-called National Missile Defense… Greenland and the entire Polar region should be declared a weapon-free zone with status under the United Nations…"

Norway and the US have been seeking to reassure Russia that the US-built HAVE STARE or Globus II radar in Vardo, Norway, has not been adapted to monitor Russian missiles in contravention of the ABM Treaty (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 45, p. 56, for details of the allegation). Speaking in Oslo on June 19, Deputy Secretary of State Talbott stated simply that the Vardo facility "raises no issues whatsoever with [regard to ABM] compliance." Less reassuringly, on June 6 Tom Rykken, the senior Norwegian military official with responsibility for the Vardo radar project, told a radio audience that there had been pressure from some US officials for the new radar to be used in an ABM capacity: "There were two interest groups in the US air defence forces. One group wanted to transfer the radar to Norway to carry out observation of satellites. The other wanted to use HAVE STARE technology to carry our plans for a rocket defense. The latter group lost. All links to missile defences were cut when we agreed to move the radar to Norway with space surveillance as the clearly defined goal." Russia's unhappiness over the radar was highlighted in mid-May during discussions between the two sides in Moscow between Foreign Ministers Ivanov and Thorbjorn Jagland. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement: "The Norwegian leadership was…cautioned against implications of any involvement in the breach of the ABM Treaty in view of the construction of the US Globus II radar station near the Russian border. It was noted in the course of the discussion that we cannot help being worried by NATO's growing activity in that region of importance to our national interest."

Reports: Physicist calls for antimissile inquiry, Los Angeles Times, May 19; Missile shield analysis warns of arms buildup, Los Angeles Times, May 19; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 438-19-5-2000, May 19; Pentagon classifies a letter critical of antimissile plan, New York Times, May 20; Fears of Asia arms race from US missile plan - paper, Reuters, May 28; Pentagon chief offers to brief Bush, Reuters, May 28; Pentagon offers Bush Pentagon access, Associated Press, May 28; Greenland Cabinet party against US missile shield, Reuters, May 29; Unilateral move is unwise, USA Today, June 2; Gore mounts attack on Bush missile shield plan, Reuters, June 3; Albright renews calls for Bush to have briefing, Reuters, June 4; Putin proposes missile defense, no invite to Pope, Reuters, June 5; Gore - Russia will modify treaty, Associated Press, June 5; Gore would consider scrapping ABM Treaty, Reuters, June 6; Canada cautions US over unilateral ABM withdrawal, Reuters, June 6; US factions wanted Norway radar to track missiles, Reuters, June 6; US may encourage Pakistan, others to build nukes - Cohen, The News International (Pakistan), June 7; Senate wants review before cutting warheads, Reuters, June 7; US says missile defense plan won't fuel arms race, Reuters, June 7; Senate approves unilateral nuclear arsenal cuts, pending review, Congressional Report, June 8; Antimissile testing is rigged to hide a flaw, critics say, New York Times, June 9; Paper - critics say Pentagon rigs antimissile tests, Reuters, June 9; Russia sees START-3 deal in 2000, renews ABM stance, Reuters, June 9; Pentagon concedes decoy allegations, Associated Press, June 10; Democrat leader urges care on missile system, Reuters, June 10; Putin says US missile shield would harm treaties, Reuters, June 10; Putin challenges US fears, denies threat of nuclear rogue states, Agence France Presse, June 11; Russia's strategic rocket chief against ABM shield, Reuters, June 11; Experts to Congress - judge missile defense on science, not politics, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) News Release, June 12; Scientists oppose missile shield, Associated Press, June 12; Pentagon insists missile system will work, Reuters, June 13; Russia - no progress in ABM talks, Associated Press, June 14; Putin says pan-Europe ABM system possible, Reuters, June 15; Clinton lawyers give a go-ahead to missile shield, New York Times, June 15; Lawyers back first stage of anti-missile plan, Reuters, June 15; Missile defense work can begin, Associated Press, June 15; Canada and the United States to extend defence agreement, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade News Release, No. 152/2000, June 16; US hopes for missile progress with Russia, Reuters, June 19; Next national missile defense flight test scheduled, Department of Defense News Release 350-00, June 20.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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