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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

Russia and US Push Clashing Missile Defence Plans


The period under review saw vigorous pursuit by the Bush administration of what appears to be a 'dual-track' approach to its missile defence plans: political emphasis on its determination to proceed with the deployment, as and when technologically viable, of systems capable of defending US territory, forces, allies and friends from limited strategic missile attack; and diplomatic emphasis on securing maximum support for such deployment. As Secretary of State Colin Powell succinctly phrased it on February 24, en route to his first meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: "Before we have to move forward with our concept and programmes, there's more than enough time for consultation with our allies, to discuss this with the Russians and the Chinese. Hopefully we can get them to understand why we will go forward, and find ways to cooperate."

At their meeting, Powell and Ivanov agreed, according to a US State Department official, that that the two sides' "START and ABM people should get together soon", in an attempt to tackle the vexed arms control relationship between the strategic arms reduction process and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, incompatible in its current form with any probable US missile defence deployment.

On February 28, the new administration unveiled the broad outlines of its Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 budget request, seeking $310.5 billion funding for the Defense Department, incorporating around $3.2 billion for spending on missile defence research and development, an increase of over $1 billion from FY 2001. The President's budget summary noted: "America's most pressing national security challenge is to reduce our current vulnerability...[and that] of our deployed forces and allies and friends...by acquiring defence against missile attack. ... Outmoded arms control treaties must not compromise America's security." Setting out his overall budget vision in a speech to both Houses of Congress on February 27, the President noted: "Our nation...needs a clear strategy to confront the threats of the 21st Century... To protect our own people, our allies and our friends, we must develop and we must deploy effective missile defences. And, as we transform our military, we can discard Cold War relics, and reduce our own nuclear forces to reflect today's needs..."

In Moscow on February 20, Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev delivered a confidential paper entitled 'Phases of European Missile Defence' to visiting NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. The paper sketches, in very broad outline, options for elaborating a system to defend against attack from theatre-range ballistic missiles. The three main phases involved were summarised as follows by Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defence Ministry's International Affairs Department, quoted by Itar-Tass on February 20:

"[This plan is] radically different from what the Russians are proposing. ... If experts conclude that there are such threats [from non-strategic missiles] or [that such threats] can emerge, the second stage will set in: construction of a conceptual model of countering or neutralising those threats... Creation of elements of a missile defence system is provided for only at the third stage, if need be... This is not a defence of the entire territory of Europe, or part of it, but a system designed for protecting missile-threatened directions. ... The mobile anti-missile units will be deployed in the directions of the greatest risk of [attack from] missiles, to cover the most important facilities..."

According to media accounts of the proposal, the core of such a defence - to be constructed only after a preliminary experts' threat-assessment study - would consist of mobile land-based missile-interceptors, perhaps along the lines of the Russian S-300 air-defence system, capable of reaching an altitude of 90 miles.

The paper reportedly shies away from an earlier Russian suggestion, put forward by President Putin among others, for a 'boost-phase' component designed to destroy missiles during early stages of their ascent. Such a component, aside from considerable technical difficulties likely to be entailed, may have been sidelined out of fears it would itself be incompatible with the ABM Treaty.

Lord Robertson reacted with polite caution to the Russian paper (see last issue), but has been at pains to stress that NATO does not intend to oppose in principle the far more ambitious US plans. On February 22, Robertson stated bluntly to reporters: "I made it clear [to Russian officials] that the NATO allies accept that the US has made its decision to have an effective missile defence. It would be a complete waste of time to try and split the Alliance." Robertson has been seeking to temper this rather bald resignation with appreciation of US diplomatic efforts at persuasion and promises of inclusion. In Washington on March 7, the Secretary General argued that the "Bush administration's approach, which aims to included Allies and fielded forces in the [missile defence] net - in other words, dropping the 'N' from 'NMD' - and to put missile defence into a larger strategy of nuclear and WMD security, has helped address [our concerns]". Instead of debating 'whether' there should be a missile defence programme, Robertson welcomed the switch to a detailed consideration of 'how' it should be brought into effect - see Documents and Sources for further excerpts. According to Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley, however, discussion of the issue at an Extraordinary Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels on February 27 revealed a less clear-cut sentiment. Interviewed by Reuters on February 28, Manley noted: "I'd say there is still a fair amount of agnosticism [in the Alliance about US missile defence plans]... I didn't detect anyone's mind being closed...and I felt the general tone of the meeting was one that indicated that allies of the United States were prepared to give them some time to do their review and to conduct their consultations before anyone comes down firmly on it. ... I think they're [the US] very much in the stage now of really putting their facts together and deciding what their plans are, and now is the time for their allies to indicate what their concerns or interests may be." Manley added that he was the only Minister at the meeting to appeal directly to US Secretary of State Powell to include China in his consultations.

The awkward 'agnosticism', or ambivalence, of one key NATO ally, Germany, became apparent in remarks by Chancellor Schroeder in Berlin on February 26. Commenting on US-German relations during a television interview, Schroeder stated: "We see things differently in some areas - such as trade and the feasibility of NMD... If it is developed, then there is naturally for us an eminent economic interest... Will there also be burden-sharing with the technology? ... It is important that we are not left on the outside..."

The shift in terminology away from 'national missile defence' to 'missile defence', referred to by Lord Robertson above, was greeted more guardedly by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on March 2: "[S]peaking of an anti-ballistic missile defence, George Bush no longer mentions the term 'national'. If this reflects a revision of the plans for the deployment of a United States 'territorial' ABM...one can only welcome this. It opens up, in particular, a possibility to cooperate on a 'Euro-ABM' and other non-strategic regional ABM systems."

The Bush administration welcomed the February 20 Russian plan as evidence that Russia was beginning to acknowledge the gravity of the missile proliferation issue, even though the plan itself would add nothing to the protection of US territory. Although Russia, has long advocated multilateral arms control and diplomatic efforts to counter such threats, the White House identified a new recognition of the role of military missile defence systems. In the view of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (February 22): "What I think we're hearing is an admission that there is a threat that might be addressed by missile defence. I won't call it a change in tone, but I think it's a welcome recognition of the condition in which we and the rest of the responsible nations of the world find ourselves." The President also expressed his satisfaction, telling his first White House press conference (February 22) he was "pleased to see comments from [the] Russian leadership that talked about missile defence. Their words indicate that they recognise that there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require theatre-based anti-ballistic missile systems. I felt those words were encouraging... When I meet with Mr. Putin, I'm going to talk with him about exactly what he meant by those words. We have no meeting set up yet, I might add, but I took that to be encouraging."

On February 22, Ivanov expressed the hope that international discussions of appropriate and feasible responses to missile threats and proliferation - within the context of a preserved, unamended ABM Treaty - could take place soon. Ivanov argued: "If we pull out one of the links of [our] security structure, then it could fall apart... I think the whole issue of START and ABM, that we put together under the term strategic stability, requires very serious dialogue with the participation of the United States and other states concerned - European and China... Even the strongest world power cannot solve such problems alone. Historical experience shows that. We propose finding joint paths..."

The difficulties inherent in trying to maintain constructive diplomatic relations on the issue with both Washington and Moscow were illustrated in the period under review by the fall-out from President Putin's visit to South Korea. On February 27, Putin and President Kim Dae-jung issued a joint communiqué reading: "The Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea agreed that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability and an important foundation of international efforts on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Both sides expressed their hope that the START II Treaty will enter into force as soon as possible, and that as soon as possible after that the START III Treaty will be signed, and that the ABM Treaty will be preserved and strengthened." The statement, understandably, was generally taken as implied criticism of US policy. On March 1, however, shortly before President Kim's visit to Washington, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kim Euy-taek told reporters: "I would characterise [our position] as a cautious but sympathetic understanding towards the US thinking on this issue... Since then [the Cold War], new threats from certain countries have arisen... An answer to how to cope with these new threats should be provided by the United States. We have confidence in the leadership of President Bush as he pursues and develops this issue..." Commenting on these remarks, an unnamed US diplomat, quoted in the New York Times on March 2, observed: "We asked them [the South Korean government] to clarify their position, and they clarified it. We said, 'hey, this sounds as though you're opposed to national missile defence', and they said they didn't mean it that way. We're all friends again..."

Statements and Comment

President Bush, March 13: "Missile defence is the...beginning of focussing resources on the true threats facing America..."

US Deputy Defense Secretary-designate Paul Wolfowitz, February 27: "The proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction is a key element in the new strategic environment. We need new concepts and forms of deterrence to deal with it. We need a deterrence based less on massive levels of punishment or retaliation, and more on the use of both defensive and offensive means to deny our adversaries the opportunity and benefits that come from the use of weapons of mass destruction. ... I think one of the things that we need to do - and hopefully the Russians will concur in this and we can do it cooperatively - is to relax a number of the restrictions in the ABM Treaty that I believe [have] prevented us from looking at those options [for change]... What we want to do is find the most effective, least expensive and least provocative way of proceeding in this direction..."

William Perry, US Defense Secretary 1993-97, and Gloria Duffy, paper presented at a conference on nuclear arms control and missile defence, Liu Center for the Study of Global Issues (headed by former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy), Canada, February 16: "A decision to deploy could...actually increase the threat against us...A major increase in Chinese missile defence deployments could heighten Indian concerns and lead it to increase its nuclear arsenal, which could then trigger a response from Pakistan. Harder to forecast, but at least as worrisome, is how Japan, Korea and Taiwan would react to this increase in regional military threat."

Leon Fuerth, National Security Adviser to Former Vice President Al Gore, article in The Washington Post, February 20: "[S]harp nuclear reductions and a strong nuclear defence are the essence of the arms control proposal put forward by President Bush during his campaign. His position appears to be that we will unilaterally reduce as we see fit, regardless of what the Russians choose to do, and outside the bounds of any formal agreement. His position also appears to be that we will give the Russians an option to sign on to whatever form of defence we decide to build, but if they do not, we will give notice and abandon the ABM Treaty without regret, making it impossible for either side to know how far the other will go in deploying strategic defences. Perhaps the Russians will buy into all of this. If they do, we could have a fatally flawed nuclear relationship, by mutual agreement. ... On the other hand, if the Russians do not buy in, we will end up with an open field for a new arms race: no arms control agreement to formally confine offensive nuclear weapons; no agreement to regulate defensive systems; and no agreement to prevent renewed testing and diversification of nuclear weapons. That's not win-win. It's not even win-lose. It's lose-lose."

President Putin, addressing the South Korean National Assembly, February 27: "[The ABM Treaty is] an essential element of the entire system of global security. I am certain that any attempt to withdraw from it would cause a complete collapse of the entire construction of strategic stability..."

Foreign Minister Ivanov, February 25: "We know what President George Bush and other US administration officials have stated... They believe that NMD meets the national interests of the United States. This is understandable, for every country thinks about its own interests. ... On behalf of President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell [has] confirmed a willingness for dialogue lest either side, in solving the problems associated with national security interests, inflict harm upon the interests of the other side. This is of fundamental importance. To put it most simply, it's the underlying principle of the 1972 ABM Treaty... Since [the Treaty was signed in] 1972, when we had more than 20,000 warheads, we have after all reduced their number by almost three times. Russia and the United States of America are willing to continue the process of reduction of offensive arms. The US Secretary of State said so openly [to me] yesterday. I think this all creates a basis for a vigorous and constructive dialogue on the entire range of these problems."

Colonel General Ivashov, March 12: "Russia will not precipitate the collapse of [the] ABM [Treaty]. We will consult with European and other states and try to stop the process even after the United States clearly begins to deploy the system..."

Australian Shadow Foreign Secretary Laurie Brereton (Labour Party), March 1: "NMD may well fuel a new nuclear arms race in the Asia-Pacific regime and could spark competition in the development of anti-satellite and other weaponry in space. ... Australia must always be prepared to make its own independent judgments on strategic issues and its own national security interests. Labour first highlighted the adverse implications of NMD last year. In stark contrast, the Howard government has endorsed NMD, disregarding the potential implications for nuclear arms control and non-proliferation. Indeed, the government has abandoned Australia's long-standing support for the integrity of the 1972 [ABM Treaty]..."

Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley, February 28: "I think we'll want to be discussing it closely with them because clearly Canada is very much implicated... We do share the continent with them. So between my Ministry and the Defence [Ministry] and Prime Minister's office, we'll want to engage in this. ... The result of this [missile defence] needs to be enhanced global security, not increased global risk. ... I think at the same time, to be balanced in this, nobody thinks Russia or China is entitled to a right of approval over what the United States believes may be necessary for its own defence."

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, March 6: "The United States should come to a recognition of the serious dangers involved [in NMD]... [It should] rein in its wild horse right on the edge of the precipice."

Claudia Roth, newly elected co-leader of the German Green Party, March 9: "[We have to] persuade the Americans that [NMD] doesn't mean more security but more confrontation..."

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, press conference with Secretary of State Powell, Washington, March 6:

"Question: 'A couple of weeks ago, you said that the United States should abandon its plans to build a missile defence. I wondered whether the Secretary has told you anything today which makes you change your mind or reconsider your opinion?'

Minister Lindh: 'I haven't changed my mind, but I was talking with my Swedish hat on in the Swedish Parliament. When standing here, I'm talking with the hat of the EU Presidency, and the position...of the EU has been that we do see the ABM Treaty as very strategic, and we don't want this ABM Treaty threatened."

Notes: on February 28, the US General Accounting Office released a critical report into the US Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System-low (SBIRS Low) missile-tracking satellite system, envisaged by the Pentagon as a key NMD component. In all, the programme aims to deploy 24 SBIRS Low satellites in orbit from 2006-2010, maintaining them in operation until 2022, at a total project cost of $11.8 billion. The GAO Report, however, cautions that "increasing programme costs and...schedule delays" may result from the Air Force's decision - taken in order to keep to the deployment timetable - to commence production of the satellites before testing is complete.

On March 2, the Pentagon's Office of Testing and Evaluation submitted an annual report to Congress pointing out a number of inadequacies in the NMD testing programme. The report was written in January by the Office's Director, Philip Coyle, shortly before his resignation. Coyle wrote that elements of the testing programme were "not aggressive enough to match the pace of acquisition to support deployment, and the test content does not yet address important operational questions." Improvements were required "to adequately stress design limits and achieve an effective initial operational capability by the latter half of this decade." Although the test-flight programme for missile-interceptor systems had provided evidence of "a very basic functionality of NMD surrogates and prototypes," the "test programme needs to broaden the scope of countermeasure testing if it is to quantify not only the 'residual' capability that is part of the NMD operational requirements, but also assess the design margin and growth potential of the system design..."

On February 17, the Kyodo news agency reported that programmes in testing US naval-based missile-interceptors had prompted the extension of a US-Japan theatre missile defence (TMD) feasibility study from 2004 to 2006 or later.

On March 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing regret at Russia's exclusion from full participation in a meeting on missile proliferation issues held in Japan. The statement notes: "Moscow has taken note of the recent Asian 'informal meeting' of missile no-proliferation experts in Tokyo attended by the representatives of the PRC [People's Republic of China], the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, and some states outside the region. We assume that the meeting was yet another multilateral event aimed at searching for political-diplomatic and not military answers... At the same time, one regrets to note that Russia was invited to Tokyo only as an observer. ... Full-fledged participation of the Russian Federation...would undoubtedly have contributed to moving forward the international efforts aimed at preventing missile proliferation."

Reports: Ex-US defence boss slams NMD, The Ottawa Citizen, February 16; Theatre missile defense study extended until 2006, Kyodo, February 17; Tampering with strategic stability, by Leon Fuerth, Washington Post, February 20; Russia offers West real alternative to NMD, Itar-Tass, February 20; Russia presses missile defense plan, Associated Press, February 20; Putin invites West to work for a defense on missiles, New York Times, February 21; Moscow signalling a change in tone on missile defense, New York Times, February 22; Russia wants US missile talks, Associated Press, February 22; Transcript - NSC advisor Rice briefing at White House Feb. 22, US State Department (Washington File), February 22; Transcript - first press conference by President Bush, US State Department (Washington File), February 22; Ivanov, Powell discuss defense at first direct talks, Reuters, February 24; Powell says US, Russian missile concepts differ, Reuters, February 24; Transcript of interview granted by Russian Minister of Foreign affairs Igor Ivanov to NTV Television Company in Cairo, February 25, 2001, Russian Foreign Ministry text; Bush, Schroeder to discuss missile shield, Reuters, February 26; Putin swipes at Bush after winning Seoul's support, Reuters, February 27; Text - Deputy Secretary-designate Wolfowitz on defense policy goals, US State Department (Washington File), February 27; Transcript - Bush address to joint session of Congress, US State Department (Washington File), February 27; Bush budget presses national missile defense plan, Reuters, February 28; Bush's plans for the Pentagon include base closings and money for missile defenses, New York Times, February 28; Bush seeks $310,5000 million for FY 2002 defense spending, US State Department (Washington File), February 28; South Korea takes Russia's side in dispute over US missile defense plan, New York Times, February 28; World must speak now on missile defense - Canada, Reuters, February 28; Defence Acquisitions - space-based infrared system-low at risk of missing initial deployment date, US General Accounting Office (GAO) report, GAO-01-6, February 2001; Germany would seek share in US missile shield, Agence France Presse, March 1; Senate Motion on Missile Defence, Press Release from Laurie Brereton, Australian Shadow Foreign Minister, March 1; Russian Minister of Foreign affairs answer to a question from the Russian Media, Russian Foreign Ministry Document 340-02-03-2001, March 2; South Korea talks missile defense, Associated Press, March 2; South Korea now pulls back from Russia on missile shield, New York Times, March 2; Study - air force project has flaws, Associated Press, March 2; GAO shoots holes in plan for deployment of missile defense system, Los Angeles Times, March 3; Pentagon expert says US missile tests too simple, Reuters, March 5; China talks tough to US over Taiwan, Iraq, Reuters, March 6; Transcript - Powell, Swedish Foreign Minister on US-EU meeting, US State Department (Washington File), March 6; Joint Statement between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea, March 7, White House text; Greens leader attacks missile plan, Associated Press, March 9; Russia won't dump ABM if US deploys missile shield, Reuters, March 12; On the Tokyo meeting of missile non-proliferation experts, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 401-12-03-2001, March 12; Bush says Russia not enemy but could be threat, Reuters, March 13.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.