Courtesy Reuters

The Missile-Defense Mistake: Undermining Strategic Stability and the ABM Treaty

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Among the global challenges of the twentieth century, none was more important than eliminating the danger of nuclear war. Together, Russia, the United States, and other countries substantially minimized this threat and began the process of limiting and reducing nuclear arsenals. This effort resulted from

a universal recognition of the strategic stability concept, the cornerstone of which is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Strategic stability stemmed from mutual renunciation of strategic defense systems against intercontinental ballistic missiles, which eliminated incentives for the Soviet Union and the United States to build up offensive nuclear capabilities. Both states switched instead to a policy of mutual deterrence, at reduced levels of strategic armaments. In other words, the rejection of the nuclear "shield" made the nuclear "sword" less dangerous.

With the abm treaty as its root, a system of international accords on arms control and disarmament sprang up in the past decades. It includes the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties -- salt i and salt ii -- as well as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminating two classes of nuclear weapons -- intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. There followed the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaties -- START I and START II -- the implementation of which will reduce nuclear warheads fourfold. Coming next is the drafting of start iii to achieve still deeper cuts in strategic offensive arms.

Inseparable from this process is the creation of global and regional regimes of nuclear nonproliferation and the conclusion of agreements on the prohibition of nuclear tests, the elimination of chemical weapons, and the reduction of conventional armed forces and armaments. These agreements, comprising the modern architecture of international security, rest on the ABM treaty. If the foundation is destroyed, this interconnected system will collapse, nullifying 30 years of efforts by the world community.

In overcoming its ideological division the world has not become more stable. The post-Cold War threats of regional conflicts, aggressive separatism, interethnic strife, international terrorism, and organized crime in conditions of globalization can be effectively met only by the concerted efforts of the world community. This is attainable, however, only when international relations, first of all among the nuclear powers, become stable and predictable. By planning to deploy a national antiballistic missile system prohibited by the ABM treaty, the United States is heading in the opposite direction. This is why such plans gravely concern Russia and many other countries, including the closest allies of the United States. Since the Cold War, the United States has not contemplated an action with such far-reaching international consequences. These consequences need to be thoroughly weighed against the hoped-for advantages of a national antiballistic missile system. Is such a system worth serious deterioration in Russia-U.S. relations, global strategic stability, and, ultimately, U.S. security?

A GAME WITH NO RULES

Washington claims that an antimissile defense system will not be directed against Russia and is a defensive measure to assure U.S. national security against new, post-Cold War threats. Why, then, must the measure be categorically opposed? After all, the United States and Russia no longer consider each other adversaries, and they face virtually the same threats and challenges, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles -- the threat cited by Washington to justify deploying an antimissile defense system. Russia is no less interested than the United States is in finding an effective response to this challenge. But it is convinced that remedies should be sought together or, at a minimum, should not be made to the detriment of each other's interests. Globalization, of course, does not cancel the national interests of Russia or the United States, which do not always coincide. That is why Russia is searching for balanced and well-considered solutions that ensure the security of these two and other countries and international strategic stability as a whole, while preserving the impressive positive results accumulated in recent Russian-American relations.

Does there exist, in principle, the possibility of creating a national antiballistic missile system while preserving the 1972 ABM treaty as the cornerstone of strategic stability? Lifting the ban on deployment would deprive the treaty of its essence. Some compromise modification of the ABM treaty would therefore be illusory. Another crucial element of the treaty calls for continued talks on limiting strategic offensive arms. Here, too, the gutting of its essence would have a destructive domino effect for the existing system of arms control and disarmament agreements. Thus, in accordance with the statement made when START I was signed, Russia will regard the withdrawal of the United States from the ABM treaty or the treaty's substantial violation as an exceptional circumstance giving Russia the right to withdraw from START I. In effect, a similar provision was turned into law by the Russian parliament in ratifying START II. Obviously, a direct link also exists with the drafting of START III.

If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the ABM treaty, Russia will no longer be formally bound by its obligations to reduce strategic armaments, and the very process of nuclear disarmament will be inevitably terminated, if not reversed. But Russia's concerns are by no means reduced to formalities. The capability of a national antimissile defense system to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrence is not alleviated by contentions that this system will be of a "thin" or "limited" nature. It is common knowledge that global potentials are built into the architecture of any national antimissile defense system, even at initial stages. For example, a ring of ground radar stations, capable of fulfilling antimissile defense tasks, including those being deployed in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Norway, would be able to block the trajectories of Russian ballistic missiles. Russia would be forced to respond with neutralizing measures to ensure its own security. It is admitted in the United States that even if the U.S. antimissile defense system covers the entire territory of Russia, Russia would have sufficient means to overcome it. Indeed, such possibilities do exist. This factor, among other things, has played a substantial role in the Russian parliament's decision to ratify start ii. But such neutralizing measures are an unwanted option for Russia, which is focused now on solving domestic economic problems and needs a stable international situation, not a renewed arms race.

The American experts recognize that present plans to deploy a national antimissile defense represent the initial stage only; the system will have to be further deployed and upgraded. It will acquire new infrastructure and functional tasks. So with any deployment, the genie would be out of the jar, and then it would be not the evolution of external threats but the progress of military technology in the interests of the military-industrial complex that would dictate the rules of the game -- or, to be more precise, the game with no rules. The history of the Soviet-American nuclear arms race in the 1970s and 1980s is proof of this. As long as nuclear arsenals exist, Russia and the United States will not be able to do without the ABM treaty. Only on this understanding should we search for a solution to the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies.

INFLATING THE THREAT

A realistic assessment of "new missile threats" would characterize them as hypothetical and not sufficient cause for sacrificing the ABM treaty. None of the "problem" states, as they are now referred to in the West, are likely to acquire missiles capable of reaching the United States in the foreseeable future. Moreover, it is doubtful that they would consider using them against the United States, either directly or through "missile blackmail." Their missile programs respond to regional uncertainties. This is why it would be more appropriate to speak of "problem regions" where a military conflict may break out, rather than "problem states." Should there be such a crisis, its settlement would require mainly political and diplomatic efforts.

Nevertheless, the creation of a national antimissile defense system would also have negative international consequences that would destabilize not only Russia-U.S. relations but others as well. China could be expected to take countermeasures. A new nuclear arms race could be expected in South Asia and other parts of the world. Europe would be affected, too. This progression would inevitably raise the question of the future of the INF treaty.

Nuclear nonproliferation would also be dangerously harmed. At the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference held in New York this past spring, many countries called for vigorous measures to cut nuclear weapons stockpiles as a necessary condition for strengthening the treaty. Further nuclear arms reductions will not happen without the ABM treaty, and thus the viability of the NPT itself would be threatened.

Clearly, little deterrent influence could be brought to bear on "problem" countries. Indeed, greater global and regional instability would basically encourage arms races, including the use of technologies that are still only hypothetical. For example, military experts warn of the danger of "suitcase" delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction, which can be stealthily transported to other countries without the risk of retribution for terrorists or the need to penetrate missile defenses. The creation of a national antimissile defense system not only fails to provide an effective response to missile threats but could actually create new security challenges to the United States and the world community.

A sound approach to the problem of missile proliferation starts with the recognition that it is not the cause but the effect of more serious challenges to the world community. In other words, it is necessary to treat the disease rather than its symptoms. This requires effective political and diplomatic mechanisms to govern and legally strengthen global processes that create an international atmosphere of stability and predictability. Russia and the United States must concentrate on creating such mechanisms while it is still possible to prevent and neutralize new threats.

In particular, it is important to ensure that no country feels cornered or threatened. This will only prod such a country into looking for ways to defend itself. "Problem" countries should be given a real alternative of positive engagement in global and regional security systems. Actually, this is true of all countries, not only of those the United States considers states of concern. Each should be confident that its security can be effectively ensured by political methods and rests on a solid foundation of international law. Otherwise, many countries, even the most loyal ones, will see no alternative to weapons that have the greatest deterrent potential.

Reducing missile threats requires an approach that, unlike the planned national antimissile defense system, would neither destroy the existing system of arms control agreements nor provoke offensive buildups by threatened countries. The fundamental principle must be the most active engagement of the world community in joint efforts to strengthen strategic stability.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The world community is vitally interested in further cuts in Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons. It is not coincidental that in 1999, when the problem of national missile defense was lower on the international agenda, 80 countries supported the U.N. General Assembly resolution protecting the ABM treaty. At the same time, as the NPT review conference showed, the world is closely watching Russian and U.S. nuclear disarmament.

In addition to parliamentary ratification of start ii and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Russia has assumed an active and constructive position on START III. It is prepared to agree to a ceiling of 1,500 nuclear warheads for each party instead of the 2,000-2,500 previously agreed upon. Russia has ratified agreements reached in 1997 in New York that clearly delimited the difference between strategic and nonstrategic missile defense. These agreements, if ratified by the United States, will foster cooperative defenses against nonstrategic missiles, the threatened use of which may become relevant in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to create a pan-European nonstrategic missile-defense system emerged as a logical follow-up. A number of joint steps would be required: assessment of the nature and scale of missile proliferation and possible missile threats, development of a concept of pan-European nonstrategic missile defense and a procedure for its development and deployment, and establishment of a joint early-warning center. Also part of the proposal are joint staff exercises, joint research and experiments, development of a nonstrategic missile-defense system, and creation of nonstrategic antimissile units to protect peacekeeping forces and noncombatants.

A nonstrategic antimissile system should serve the interests of all Europe, not just one alliance. An added benefit of the Russian approach is that similar multilateral systems could be created in the future in other regions. It is also important to cooperate in creating a global missile and missile-technology control system. An international meeting of experts in Moscow in March confirmed the world's positive response to this Russian initiative. The system of global control is not an attempt to replace the Missile-Technology Control Regime (MTCR). On the contrary, it will strengthen the MTCR by providing a link between its members and nonmembers.

Finally, Russia welcomes efforts to foster constructive dialogue with the countries whose developments in this area concern the United States. In particular, the initiation of such a dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and, especially, the steps taken this year toward national reconciliation between the two Koreas demonstrate that political and diplomatic ways of resolving these concerns can have encouraging results. Russia has also been instrumental in this process, as demonstrated by the recent visit to the DPRK by President Putin.

Thus there is a real alternative to attempts to destroy strategic stability: a program of joint, constructive actions in the interests of Russian, U.S., and global security. Russia firmly believes that such a program can be implemented and that no other reasonable alternative exists.

The discussions, including bilateral meetings, between Presidents Putin and Clinton reaffirm that Russia and the United States should continue seeking mutually acceptable solutions. Despite some difficulties and disagreements, the positive development of Russia-U.S. relations should not change. Initial steps have been taken, such as the bilateral agreement to establish in Moscow the Joint Center for the Exchange of Data from Early Warning Systems and Notification of Missile Launches. Russia believes that representatives of the European Union, China, and other countries should also be involved. More can be done jointly to prevent the proliferation of missile capabilities, including export controls on sensitive technologies. Finally, not only the parties but the entire world will benefit from Russia-U.S. cooperation on nonstrategic missile defense systems. Regional systems could be created with the participation of all interested countries that abide by the NPT and the CTBT.

The maintenance of strategic stability is not a one-time action. It requires constant attention from the world community and leadership from Russia and the United States. The importance of strategic stability for international security is so great that it must not be made subject to politics, domestic considerations, or unilateral foreign policy. This is the only way to ensure stability, prosperity, and a democratic world order in the twenty-first century.

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