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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 54, February 2001

Rumsfeld Calls Russia 'Active Proliferator'

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has provoked an indignant response from Russia for describing the country as an "active proliferator" during a February 14 interview on PBS television. The crucial passage from the interview with Jim Lehrer was as follows:

"Question: '[Y]ou are going ahead with the missile defence system, are you not?'

Rumsfeld: 'The President has indicated that he intends to deploy a missile defence system. ... He concluded...that vulnerability for the American people is not an appropriate strategy. ... [T]here is no question in my mind that we will be able to evolve a system that will be able to deal with ballistic missiles. We know that the proliferation of these technologies across the globe is pervasive. ... [I]t's appropriate that we develop the capability to deal with relatively small numbers of these things. We are not talking about tens of thousands of these things. And Russia's concern about it...is not really serious because they know for sure that they have thousands of these things and we are talking about dealing with handfuls.'

Question: 'So why have they objected?'

Rumsfeld: 'Oh, I don't know. I don't climb in people's minds. Obviously it's to their advantage to express concern about it. There is the ABM Treaty, which they would have to adjust. I think, before it's over, they will accommodate themselves. Of course, let's be very honest about what Russia is doing. Russia is an active proliferator. They are part of the problem. They are selling and assisting countries like Iran and North Korea and India and other countries with these technologies which are threatening other people including the United States and Western Europe and countries in the Middle East. So why would they be actively proliferating and then complaining when the United States wants to defend itself against the fruit of those proliferation activities?'"

On February 15, asked for his reaction to the comments, Russian Foreign ministry spokesperson Alexander Yakovenko noted: "The vigorous actions by Russia in favour of a continued process of real disarmament - in particular...the ratification of START II and [the] CTBT, and also the protection of the cornerstone ABM Treaty of 1972 - have helped maintain strategic stability and, consequently, the main non-proliferation regimes as well. As to the concerns expressed by Mr. Rumsfeld, for their removal there is the Russian-American consultative mechanism, which has been efficiently operating for several years now. In our opinion, it is hardly worthwhile to reduce such serious questions to a 'propaganda exchange' with the employment of mass communications media."

The same day, General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defence Ministry's International Affairs Department, insisted that "Russia is irreproachably fulfilling its international obligations, including under the regime of non-proliferation of missile technologies," while General Valery Manilov, First Deputy Chief of Staff, stated that "these words are on the conscience of Mr. Rumsfeld... Russia has not violated, does not violate and will not violate its obligations, including in the area of non-proliferation." Sergei Ivanov, Secretary of the Presidential Security Council, was equally outraged, noting (February 15): "Even America's allies do not believe in the fairy tales about the threats from other states which Rumsfeld talks about..."

Reports: Transcript - Rumsfeld deems missile shield feasible, US State Department (Washington File), February 15; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 248-15-02-2001, February 15; US, Russia in new missile spat as talks loom, Reuters, February 15; Russia angry on missile allegations, Associated Press, February 15.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.