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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

NMD Continues to Dominate Nuclear Arms Control Issues


By mid-August, amidst swirling rumours and conflicting reports, US Defense Secretary William Cohen had still to submit his national missile defence (NMD) Deployment Readiness Review (DRR) to President Clinton. Technical problems with key components of the NMD system under development, chronicled in recent issues, are compounding the Defense Secretary's task. Speculation was strong, however, that the President was considering authorizing preparatory work for the construction next year of an NMD phased-array X-band radar complex on the Alaskan island of Shemya; a move described in reports as a "limited green light" for subsequent deployment. The US argues that if work does not begin next summer, it will be logistically impossible, due to weather and climatic conditions in the Arctic, to keep open the option of deploying a first-stage NMD system of 100 interceptors in Alaska by 2005, the date by which, according to US intelligence assessments, North Korea and other 'states of concern' may have the capacity to attack US territory with ballistic missiles potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction.

At a minimum, a decision to allow work to proceed in Shemya would be likely to be interpreted by Russia, China, and many other states wary of US plans, as the beginning of a withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty - a withdrawal which Washington may only halt in return for major revisions of the accord. When construction on the radar site begins, Moscow may be counted on to consider it a Treaty violation. In a 1976 Protocol, the US named North Dakota as the location of its single permissible ABM site, although it chose not to develop it. The US would like to build a second NMD complex in North Dakota by around 2010, involving the deployment of another 100-150 interceptors, but no such option is made available by the Treaty. Moreover, a legal understanding provided to the Soviet Union by the Reagan Administration concedes the point that work on, and not just entry into operation of, any non-compliant system should be seen as constituting a de jure treaty breach. As reported in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 47, President Clinton has now received legal advice - with which he has not yet declared his agreement - disputing this understanding and arguing that work on an unpermitted facility is commensurate with basic treaty obligations. According to reports, the revised legal advice identifies the 'laying of rails' at the site - scheduled for March 2002 - as marking the Treaty Rubicon, rather than the traditionally identified 'pouring of concrete'. On July 26, Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the independent Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers voiced a widespread suspicion when he observed: "If they're moving in the direction of a reinterpretation of the ABM Treaty as meaning 'construction is not construction'…I think that's going to be hard to sustain." On July 25, however, Cohen insisted that there "is a consensus that there would be no violation of the ABM Treaty until such time as the actual rails are laid down for the radar system itself… In other words, you could actually start site preparation, you could start clearing some of the land, you could do all that without violating the ABM."

Note: on September 1, President Clinton announced that he would not be authorising preparatory work in Alaska, and would defer a deployment decision to his successor - see Documents and Sources.

Developments in the US

On August 7, Cohen issued a statement on progress made toward submitting the DDR: "Components of the Department of Defense are currently completing their assessment of the programme… A number of difficult issues remain to be resolved before they can report to me. I will make no recommendation about the future of the NMD programme until I have analysed their findings. I expect that to happen and to report to the President within the next few weeks. Recent reports that I have made a decision on this matter, preliminary or otherwise, are wrong. There is no immediate or artificial deadline for a recommendation to the President. NMD is an important and complex problem. My goal is to make the best possible recommendation…not the earliest possible recommendation. The President fully supports this approach."

Domestic political pressure has been building on the President not to make any firm decision on deployment before he leaves office in January 2001. On July 25, 61 members of the House of Representatives write to the President urging him to defer the decision to his successor. The next day, 31 Democratic Senators, including Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, signed a similar letter, noting: "We share the judgement of numerous physicists, security experts, and current and former military and Government officials who have concluded that unresolved questions about the system's effectiveness and the decision's impact on the overall national security of the United States cannot be adequately answered this year…"

Vice-President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for the Presidency, has stated his full support for continued efforts to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty accommodating US plans, although he has been careful not to rule out a withdrawal from the Treaty if need be. His Vice-Presidential nominee, Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut), is a strong supporter of NMD, while also stressing the importance of not letting the issue damage relations with Russia. Republican Presidential nominee George W. Bush has expressed his keen determination to proceed at full-speed with NMD deployment unhampered by any treaty restrictions.

International Developments

The Shemya complex alone, or even if supported by a second US radar complex in North Dakota, will be insufficient to provide the early-warning and missile-tracking capabilities US planners desire. A substantial international infrastructure would be required, including at least two European X-band radar sites, Fylingdales in the United Kingdom (see Nicola Butler's UK Parliament Update in the last issue) and Thule in Greenland. Article IX of the ABM Treaty prohibits either the US or Russia basing elements of its ABM capability outside its national territory. However, as Secretary Cohen has repeatedly acknowledged, here in Congressional testimony on July 25, without an international dimension, the entire venture collapses: "In order to have a technological effective system, we need to have the support of our allies… [Without such support], you can't see the missiles coming. Therefore, your interceptors really are not worth that much."

On August 13, the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper suggested that a nuclear bomb onboard a US B-52 bomber which crashed into the ocean near the Thule site in 1968 may still be on the seabed. The report appeared a week before talks between US and Danish officials (August 21-24) dedicated to the issue of Thule's potential NMD role. Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman was quick to dismiss the story, telling Reuters (August 15): "We have emphatically stated, repeatedly, that the four bombs [onboard] were destroyed in the crash and fire. The Danish Government monitored our entire clean-up operation…"

Russia is claiming that another X-band radar facility, at Vardo in Norway, is being prepared to form part of the NMD support network. On July 21, General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry's Department of International Cooperation, stated that "in the opinion of our analysts, the [Vardo] station will function as part of the anti-missile system…" Norway insists that the radar is used solely for tracking space debris, and is expressing increasing annoyance at Russia's assumption that a change in its usage has already taken place or been agreed. According to the senior official in charge of radar, Tom Rykken, interviewed in the daily Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende (July 21): "We have an exceptionally clear agreement with the Americans. If they wish to use the radar for another purpose than space surveillance, the whole agreement has to be renegotiated…" Also on July 21, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued another statement making clear that such assurances carried little weight in Moscow:

"According to press reports, the Norwegian Chair of Defense [Staff] Sigurd Fisvold has spoken in favour of studying the question of Norway's participation in the American plans to create a national ABM system. Such views by this high-placed Norwegian military official cannot but cause surprise in the light of Norway's repeated statements of support for the ABM Treaty… Such ideas are the more alarming because an unresolved issue remains in Russian-Norwegian relations, that of the big radar station which is being built near the Russian border in the Norwegian town of Vardo and which can be used in the interests of the US national ABM system. So far the Norwegian side has officially assured at various levels that this radar has nothing to do with [NMD]… But the revelations…make one think that the situation is the opposite one. We proceed from the premise that the actions connected with the implementation of plans to deploy a national ABM system lead to an undermining of the ABM Treaty, pose a potential threat to regional and global stability, and are not in the interests of conscientious and good-neighbourly cooperation in the north of Europe. We hope that Norway, which claims that relations with Russia are a priority for it, will not take a path fraught with negative consequences."

China has long been adamant that a major motivation of US NMD plans has been to neutralise its, rather than North Korea's, missile and nuclear threat. Speaking on July 18, John Holum, the President's senior advisor on arms control, spoke frankly about the depth of Chinese opposition: "The ones that we have to work on most assiduously are the China concerns… It will take considerable work to demonstrate that this system isn't aimed at them. …When we tell them the system is not aimed at them, they can say, 'Yes, but we have to focus on capabilities, not intentions, and it looks to us like…you're building 100 interceptors and we have far fewer [missiles] than that, then you're building a capability against us'… The fact of the matter is, we're not…"

Also on July 18, Presidents Putin and Jiang Zemin issued a joint statement expressing fierce criticism of US plans (see last issue). The following day, a spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry noted the comments contained in the statement, adding: "The French authorities have already had occasion to air their questions about the American NMD project. These focus on fundamental points: How real is the threat and how pertinent the response to it? Is an anti-missile defence liable to have destabilizing effects for arms control and non-proliferation? We are urging the United States to weigh all the possible consequences of this project for the allies and for strategic equilibrium."

One of the few countries to sound even vaguely supportive of US plans is Australia, which itself possesses an early-warning and radar-tracking facility, at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, which Washington would like to draw into its NMD infrastructure. After talks with Defence Minister John Moore in Sydney on July 17, Defense Secretary Cohen noted: "Australia has played an important role in terms of its early-warning capabilities, and I would expect that should a decision be made to go forward at some point that Australia will continue to play an important role in shared early warning so that that promotes stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region as well as for the United States." On July 26, a commentary published in the Chinese People's Daily newspaper singled out Australia's stance as weak and ill-considered: "The Australian Government should take a lesson from the past and not act as a cat's-paw anymore… Australia has suffered previous losses from jumping on the bandwagon of the United States and Britain…"

Russia is proposing an alternative to US plans, a Global Missile and Missile Technology Non-Proliferation Control System (GCS) combining arms control and confidence-building approaches with cooperation on boost-phase interceptor defences to protect against theatre-range ballistic missiles. The US is politely but clearly sceptical about the technical aspects of the plan, pointing out the basic consideration that it requires protection against long-range missiles. However, general international reaction has been supportive and interested. Speaking in Shanghai on July 24, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov referred to the detailed and positive treatment of the issue at the just-concluded G-8 Summit in Okinawa, Japan (see last issue): "It is of fundamental importance that, thanks to our firm line, the final documents adopted on Okinawa included the provision that the 1972 ABM Treaty remains the cornerstone of world strategic stability and the basis for further cuts in strategic offensive weapons. After intensive negotiations, support was given to Russia's initiative for creating a global system to monitor non-proliferation of missiles and missile technologies. In short, thanks to our vigorous efforts, ensuring strategic stability is really becoming a mission of the whole international community."


United States

Secretary Cohen, July 17: "I believe that we cannot have a situation where the American people are vulnerable to either threats or intimidation… [T]his is an issue that's not going to go away with the elections… [A]nother President will have to face it at some point because the threat will continue to expand."

John Holum, July 18: "We are less confident that deterrence would work against a North Korea or Iran or Iraq than we are with China and Russia… They have less of a history of dealing with these capabilities… They are pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities without a reason that we can see, short of being able to inhibit US ability to protect our alliance relationships or friends…"

Henry Kissinger, former Republican Secretary of State, addressing 135 Ambassadors attending the Republican Party National Convention in Philadelphia, August 3: "I frankly find the attitude of some of our allies incomprehensible… I do not see how anyone can tell the President of the United States that he should keep his people permanently vulnerable. And I don't see why anyone's security is enhanced by our vulnerability…"

Note: after hearing Mr. Kissinger's address, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to the US, Joris M. Vos, told reporters that it was "fair to say the feeling in Europe is that the direct threat from rogue states is less pressing than it is here."

John Warner (Republican - Virginia), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, July 25: "Russia and other nations must understand that the United States policy now calls for an eventual deployment of a system to protect ourselves… It would be in everyone's interest for Russia to join the United States in developing an appropriate set of amendments to the ABM Treaty to allow [it] to remain in place for what value it has…"

Senator Carl Levin (Democrat - Michigan), member of the Armed Services Committee, July 25: "The time has come to acknowledge that the 2005 deployment goal is no longer realistic, and should be adjusted… A unilateral decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty could unleash an offensive arms race and create major new proliferation problems…"

Senator Robert Byrd (Democrat - West Virginia), member of the Armed Services Committee, July 25: "It's clear to me that we're nowhere near ready to make a decision to deploy… It would be a huge mistake…"

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, 'What ABM Treaty?', article in the Washington Post, August 15: "As the Clinton Administration approaches its decision…the public debate has been heavily influenced by the assumption that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty…is still in effect… According to longstanding principles of international law, when one country has a bilateral treaty with another and is then 'succeeded' by a different state…the bilateral treaty remains in effect only if both states so affirm. … So, following the Soviet Union's demise, the question is: has the United States consented to substituting Russia or some group of new states as the new parties to the 1972 treaty? … Let's assume that the new party or parties and the US executive branch have all consented. Is that enough? Not by a long shot. … On substantive changes in treaties, the executive cannot act for the United States by itself. The Constitution requires the consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Are changes in the ABM Treaty 'substantive'…if Russia succeeds to the role of the Soviet Union or…if Russia, together with Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan become the Soviet Union's successor states? … [I]t is impossible to make the argument with a straight face that the changes are not 'substantive.' … For reasons of both history and strategic prudence, the next Administration should confer with our allies and Russia about its plans for missile defence, and seriously consider their views. But the next President need not, indeed he should not, do so from the disadvantaged position that he will have to abrogate a treaty before he proceeds to deployment. The executive branch cannot keep a treaty of this importance in limbo indefinitely: unless some president submits [it]…with its new parties to the Senate and obtains its consent to the substantive changes, there is nothing to abrogate."

Peter Brookes, Republican Congressional advisor on East Asian Affairs, remarks at a Heritage Foundation meeting, Washington, July 26: "The Clinton Administration fears mentioning the 'C' word: China. Washington should stop denying that there is a link between China's nuclear modernisation, conventional military build-up and proliferation practices and the requirement for ballistic missile defence. … Washington must acknowledge the possibility of conflict with China, especially over the issue of Taiwan, or even North Korea, and plan accordingly to preserve and protect US national security interests and those of our friends and allies… Parity or near nuclear parity with the People's Republic of China is not in the United States' interests."


Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, article in the International Herald Tribune, July 28: "There is a delicate balance between America and Russia. Both are committed to reduce their nuclear arsenals. The American missile defence project…would upset that balance. If Washington were prepared to establish such a shield for all nuclear-weapon states, it would be a different matter, but that is not the plan. … The real reason for Washington's interest in a missile defence shield is the widely held belief in the US policy-making environment that war with China will one day be inevitable. I do not say that American policymakers want such a war. But they do not know how to avoid it. Such a war could occur if Taiwan determined to become independent and gained US support. Such a claim by Taiwan would have significant attraction for the democratic left and for conservatives in the Republican Party. Since the end of the Cold War the United States has become more assertive, more convinced in its righteousness and more determined that other countries accept its point of view. In a desire to achieve security for themselves, Americans are now putting world stability and security at risk."


Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, July 29: "The issue is by no means between China and the United States only, but rather it is a dispute between the United States and the rest of the world…"


Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, statement to Parliament, August 1: "Our country for its part understands that the US Administration is studying the NMD plan by taking the proliferation of ballistic missiles in recent years as a serious threat to the security of its nation… We hope that consultation between the United States and Russia on this issue will be coordinated… I also wish that the issue will be handled in a manner conducive to an improvement in the international security environment."

Reports: Transcript - Cohen joint press conference with Australia's Moore, US State Department (Washington File), July 17; US says missile defense not aimed at China, Russia, Reuters, July 18; Negotiator calls China hardest to convince on US missile defense, Associated Press, July 19; France's reaction to the rather hostile statements by the Russian and Chinese Presidents about the American NMD project, Statement by French Foreign Ministry statement, July 19 http://www.france.diplomatie.fr; Transcript - Cohen July 17 on missile technology proliferation, US State Department (Washington File), July 20; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 695-21-7-2000, July 21; Norwegian radar site controversy flares anew, Weekly Defense Monitor, No. 4, Issue #29, July 21; Transcript of the press conference by Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov, Shanghai, July 24, Russian Foreign Ministry, July 24; Cohen plans US missile defense report in 'weeks', Reuters, July 24; Cohen defends national missile defense system, Reuters, July 25; Lawyers - arms treaty allows radar, Associated Press, July 26; Australia a cat's-paw for US, says China, Sydney Morning Herald, July 26; Cohen says missile defense system requires support of allies, New York Times, July 26; Clinton to pass on anti-missile deployment - Cohen, Reuters, July 26; Cohen doubts 2005 missile deadline, Associated Press, July 26; Missile Defense?, opinion piece by Malcolm Fraser, International Herald Tribune, July 28; China 'real reason' for missile shield, Sydney Morning Herald, July 28; Albright hopeful after N. Korea talks, Associated Press, July 29; Japan expresses 'understanding' on US missile shield study, Agence France Presse, August 1; Ambassadors attending GOP Convention, Associated Press, August 3; Cohen may back steps on missile defense, Washington Post, August 6; Cohen issues statement on national missile defense, US Defense Department Press Release 489-00, August 7; Lost US nuclear bomb near planned NMD radar?, Reuters, August 13; US, Denmark reject Thule bomb report, no NMD link, Reuters, August 14; N. Korea admits missile sales, Associated Press, August 14; Danes doubt that Greenland atomic bomb destroyed, Reuters, August 15; What ABM Treaty?, opinion piece by James Woolsey, Washington Post, August 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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