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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Missile Defense

Missile Defense Cooperation: Seizing the Opportunity



Volume 2, Issue 5, May 24, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet at the G8 Summit in Deauville, France later this week, where they are expected to talk about cooperation on ballistic missile defense. Cooperation with Russia would strengthen U.S. security by enhancing our capabilities to detect a potential missile launch from Iran.

This issue is central to the future of U.S.-Russian relations and the prospects for another round of nuclear arms reductions after New START, including tactical weapons, and continued cooperation on Iran's nuclear program and preventing nuclear terrorism. The timing is critical; presidential elections are looming in both nations, and the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Now is the time for an agreement on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation, and a bipartisan solution is in the offing.

It is in the national security interests of both countries to transform strategic missile defense from a topic of confrontation to cooperation. Doing so requires reinforcing existing assurances that future U.S. missile interceptor systems to be deployed in Europe will not undermine Russia's security. Although the Cold War has been "over" for 20 years, the two sides have so far been unable to build the trust necessary to move beyond this challenge.

The initial SM-3 interceptors that are now being deployed in Europe as part of the Phased Adaptive Approach are not capable of countering Russia's sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). But Russian officials are concerned that more-advanced versions of the SM-3 planned for deployment by 2020 could conceivably shoot down some of Russia's ICBMs, and that more deployments may follow. Russia's leaders, however, have proposed a solution that the United States should embrace.

Russia's Request: "Written Guarantees"
Last week, as reported in The New York Times, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said "We do not want any missiles aimed at Russia" and repeated Moscow's request for "some kind of written guarantees from NATO that the missiles will not threaten Russia."

This is an important diplomatic opening that deserves a serious response. This approach does not require a legally-binding agreement, nor would it create a new limit on U.S. strategic missile defenses. The Obama administration should pursue--and Congress should support--a written political assurance (between the U.S. and Russian presidents and/or a NATO written statement) that communicates the broader political point: U.S.-NATO missile interceptors do not threaten Russia.

At the same time, Moscow needs to recognize that the planned SM-3 interceptors have limited capability against Russian ICBMs. If, as Moscow may worry, the next U.S. president were to expand the program, even legal agreements can be undone, as we saw when the George W. Bush administration rejected the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002. Political solutions are the art of the possible, and both sides should seek to make as much progress as current conditions allow.

A political statement providing mutual assurances that neither side plans to use missile defense capabilities to "target" the others' strategic forces, combined with an agreement to share missile-launch early-warning information, could form the basis of a missile defense cooperation deal to be finalized when NATO and Russian defense ministers meet in Brussels in early June. There is broad bipartisan support, including from the last two administrations, for such an approach.

Bipartisan Support for Not Targeting Russia
A politically-binding agreement not to target Russian missiles with U.S. missile interceptors would not require Senate approval and has a strong precedent: In 1994, the United States and Russia made a political commitment not to target each other with their offensive nuclear weapons.

Moreover, there has been bipartisan support in the Senate for a limited missile defense mission--that is, one not aimed at Russia--since at least 1999, when the Senate passed the "National Missile Defense Act." That law directs the United States to "deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)..."

A limited--and unproven--ground-based mid-course defense (GMD) system was ultimately deployed by the Bush administration. The law expresses bipartisan support for missile interceptors against limited attacks by states such as North Korea and Iran, not an all-out, deliberate attack from Russia.

The Bush administration shared this view. For example, President Bush said in April 2008 that his proposed missile interceptor system for Europe was "not designed to deal with Russia's capacity to launch multiple rockets." In February of that year, President Bush said that "It's in our interests to try to figure out a way for the Russians to understand the system is not aimed at them, but aimed at the real threats of the 21st century."

Comparing President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative to the Bush administration's limited approach, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in 2008: "This is not that program. This is not the son of that program. This is not the grandson of that program. This is a very different program that is meant to deal with limited threats. There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have. And there is no intent to do so."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, testified last summer in reference to the idea of mounting a defense against a full Russian attack: "That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive."

The New START resolution of ratification, which was approved last Dec. 22 by a bipartisan vote of the Senate, states that U.S. missile defenses are to "defend against missile threats from nations such as North Korea and Iran," and that U.S. systems "do not and will not threaten the strategic balance with the Russian Federation."

The bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission concluded in 2009 that U.S. missile defense plans "should not call into question the viability of Russia's nuclear deterrent," since this could lead Moscow to take actions that "increase the threat to the United States and its allies and friends."

Current deployments reflect the bipartisan policy that U.S. missile defenses are not aimed at Russia. The United States fields 30 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in Alaska and California that provide a rudimentary capability against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. Those interceptors would not be able to stop even a partial attack from Russia, which fields more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on hundreds of sophisticated ballistic missiles. Moreover, the U.S. GBI system has failed almost half of its intercept tests since 1999, including the last two attempts, and none of the tests has included realistic threats such as simple countermeasures. The system cannot be considered effective, particularly against a potential Russian attack.

Bipartisan Support for Missile Defense Cooperation

U.S.-Russian efforts to cooperate on missile defense also have bipartisan support, with roots in the Reagan administration's offer to share missile defense technology with the Soviet Union. In 2004, the Bush administration began seeking a Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement (DTCA) with Russia. This agreement would have addressed a broad range of cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense.

The Bush administration's Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Stephen G. Rademaker said in 2004, "We want missile defense cooperation to be an important part of the new relationship the United States and Russia are building for the 21st century." The Obama administration is now continuing the DTCA talks with Russia to provide a basis for potential sharing of early-warning data regarding missile launches by other states, which could improve U.S. capabilities against Iranian missiles.

The New START resolution of ratification states that the Senate "stands ready to cooperate with the Russian Federation on strategic defensive capabilities," as long as such cooperation does not constrain U.S. missile defenses. The Strategic Posture Commission found that the United States should "strengthen international cooperation for missile defense...with Russia."

Joint Data "Fusion" Center
A NATO-Russia agreement on missile defense cooperation could also include the sharing of missile launch early-warning information. Defense Secretary Gates said in March, "This collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation."

The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Under the draft U.S. proposal, the joint data fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites.

Given that early-warning data sharing would improve the United States' and NATO's ability to detect a missile launch from Iran, it is puzzling that a group of Republican Senators wrote to President Obama April 14 asking for his written assurance that he would not provide any "early warning, detection, [or] tracking" information to Russia. Similarly, the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 would prohibit the transfer of such data to Russia. However, Moscow is highly unlikely to provide this information to the U.S. and NATO unless there is a two-way flow of data.

Meeting in the Middle

For missile defense cooperation to succeed, it is in the interest of NATO and the United States to reassure Moscow that future ballistic missile interceptor deployments pose no threat to Russian security. The United States can and should make a political commitment in the strongest possible terms that it will not target its ballistic missile interceptors against Russian missiles. This is consistent with the long-held bipartisan U.S. position--as stated in the Senate's New START resolution and other places--that Moscow has nothing to fear from U.S. missile defenses.  For its part, Russia needs to be open to solutions that do not require the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate.

Striking a deal on missile defense cooperation could be a game-changer with the potential to unlock the door to the next round of negotiations with Russia on nuclear arsenal reductions, including tactical weapons, and further strengthen joint nonproliferation and counter-proliferation efforts. --TOM Z. COLLINA


Volume 2, Issue 5, May 24, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet at the G8 Summit in Deauville, France later this week, where they are expected to talk about cooperation on ballistic missile defense. Cooperation with Russia would strengthen U.S. security by enhancing our capabilities to detect a potential missile launch from Iran.

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Missile Defense Test a ‘Success’: Pentagon

Tom Z. Collina

In the most ambitious test to date of the Obama administration’s planned missile interceptor system for Europe, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced last month that it had conducted a “successful” intercept test of the Phased Adaptive Approach system. The trial essentially clears the way for the first phase of the system to be deployed this year, pending selection of a host country for the forward-based radar in southeastern Europe.

The test, which used the Aegis ship-based defense system and Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA missile, was the first in which an intermediate-range missile was the target, as well as first to rely on remote tracking data, the MDA said in an April 15 press release. Previous tests of the system had primarily used the ship-based radar to track the target. In this test, the target missile was tracked by a radar based hundreds of miles away. The use of a forward-based radar to track a target greatly increases the area that can be defended by an Aegis ship, the MDA said.

According to the MDA, the test involved an intermediate-range (3,000–5,500 kilometers) target missile launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 3,700 kilometers southwest of Hawaii, which was tracked by an AN/TPY-2 X-band mobile radar on Wake Island. The radar sent target missile trajectory information to the command, control, battle management, and communications system, which transmitted remote target data to the Aegis destroyer USS O’Kane, located west of Hawaii.

The destroyer’s on-board AN/SPY-1 radar eventually detected the target missile and sent tracking information to the SM-3 IA interceptor, which was launched approximately 11 minutes after the target, the MDA said. The SM-3 maneuvered to a designated point in space and released its kinetic “hit-to-kill” warhead, which destroyed the target missile, the MDA said.

The first phase of the European system will involve Aegis-capable ships in the Mediterranean Sea armed with SM-3 IA interceptors to be guided by an AN/TPY-2 radar based in southeastern Europe. The first ship, the USS Monterey, was deployed in March (see ACT, April 2011), but the host country for the radar—initially planned to be Turkey—has not been announced. Turkish officials are concerned that the radar could complicate their relationship with Iran, which is the presumed target of the European systems. “In any political process, when we are weighing up options, we certainly take account of our relationship with Iran,” Turkish Ambassador to Iran Umit Yardim said, according to the April 26 Tehran Times.

After host-country details are worked out, the radar itself could be on-site in a matter of weeks, according to a U.S. Senate staffer.

With the success of the April 15 test, those details are likely to determine whether the European system’s first phase can be completed this year as planned. Subsequent phases, involving additional deployment sites and more-advanced interceptors and sensors, are planned for 2015, 2018, and 2020.

Concerns About Testing

This aggressive deployment schedule raises concerns that the system will not be adequately tested, according to April 13 Senate testimony by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The 2015 phase, for example, calls for land-based interceptors, called Aegis Ashore, to be deployed in Romania and is dependent on next-generation versions of Aegis systems and the new SM-3 IB interceptor, all of which are currently under development. According to the GAO, the MDA plans to make production decisions for the Aegis Ashore interceptors to be deployed in Romania before conducting ground and flight tests. The GAO concluded that the MDA’s plans amount to “a highly concurrent effort with significant cost, schedule and performance risk.”

A Senate Democratic staffer countered that the SM-3 IB is essentially the same missile as the IA; the main difference is the new kill vehicle, a nonexplosive guided warhead. Although the new kill vehicle has been having problems with keeping out moisture (a challenge for sea-based systems), they should be resolved before 2015, the staffer said. Moreover, the Aegis Ashore components are essentially the same as those now on Aegis ships, which the Navy knows how to build and deploy, he said. The SM-3 IB is scheduled to have its first intercept test late this summer, and the MDA is building a test version of Aegis Ashore in Hawaii.

The GAO said it has similar concerns with the MDA’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, based in California and Alaska and intended to counter a limited North Korean or Iranian missile attack against the United States. The GAO testified that, in the MDA’s rush to meet President George W. Bush’s directive to field an initial national missile defense capability by 2004, assets were built and deployed before developmental testing was complete. As a result, GMD intercept tests conducted to date already have led “to major hardware or software changes to the interceptors—not all of which have been verified through flight testing,” the GAO said. As an example, the GAO cited a new version of the interceptor’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, called the Capability Enhancement II, which already has been delivered and fielded even though the last two GMD flight tests, which were the only ones to use this new EKV, failed to intercept their targets.

Deliveries of the new EKV, made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems, were halted after the kill vehicle failed to hit its mark in a Dec. 15 flight test, MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said April 5. Future deliveries depend on the results of a “failure review,” Lehner said, and the MDA is likely weeks or months away from releasing a final report. The December test failure followed a failed intercept in January 2010 that was blamed on the EKV and sensors. The next test is planned for late 2012.

In all, the GMD system has been successful in only eight of 15 intercept attempts since 1999, the MDA says. MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly testified to the House Armed Services Committee March 31 that he considers the 30 deployed GMD interceptors essentially to be prototypes.

Seeking to distance itself from the Bush administration’s controversial development strategy that led to GMD deployment before testing was complete, the Obama administration has stated that new capabilities “must undergo testing that enables assessment under realistic operational conditions” before they are deployed, according to the April 13 Senate Armed Services Committee testimony of Brad Roberts, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary for missile defense policy. This commitment, said Roberts, “reflected our assessment that it is no longer necessary to pursue a high-risk acquisition strategy that simultaneously develops and deploys new systems.” Nevertheless, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing, testified April 13 that the current test program was “success-oriented”—meaning it does not allow time for repeat tests in case of failure—and that “the ability to conduct comprehensive quantitative assessments” of U.S. ballistic missile defense system capability “remains a number of years away.”

Missile defense skeptics argue that the MDA should adhere to the principle of “fly before you buy” and that MDA should test both the U.S.-based and European systems against more realistic threats. They say that the United States has to expect that adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, will respond to U.S. missile defenses by adding countermeasures—which are simple means, such as balloon decoys—to defeat the interceptors. They note that the U.S. intelligence community concluded a decade ago that any country capable of fielding long-range ballistic missiles can develop effective countermeasures. Both the U.S. and European systems are designed to intercept targets in space, where countermeasures can be particularly effective at fooling the defense.

The April 15 test of the phased approach did not include countermeasures, and the MDA has given no indication if such tests will take place.


The missile interceptor system that the Obama administration plans to deploy in Europe succeeded in a key test by using remote tracking data to intercept an intermediate-range missile.

China Releases Defense White Paper

Peter Crail and Nik Gebben

China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

During a press briefing that day on the release of the report, entitled “China’s National Defense in 2010,” Chinese military officials highlighted the document as part of Beijing’s efforts at greater military openness. However, it is unclear if the document addresses U.S. concerns about China’s lack of military transparency. An April 5 Congressional Research Service memorandum says that the white paper “did not provide a picture to assess whether China poses a threat [to the United States], because the White Paper is heavy on intentions rather than details on military capabilities.”

For example, the report does not mention China’s development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) capability, believed to be geared toward countering U.S. aircraft carriers. An annual Pentagon report on China’s military released last year said that “when integrated with appropriate command and control systems,” China’s ASBM capability “is intended to provide the [Chinese military] the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”

Much of the white paper’s discussion of China’s strategic nuclear forces and arms control efforts reiterates the policies described in previous versions. Beijing repeated its pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in any conflict and described its adherence to multilateral nonproliferation agreements.

It expanded its criticism of what it calls “the global missile defense program.” Apparently referring to U.S. missile defense cooperation efforts, it said that “China holds that no state should deploy overseas missile defense systems that have strategic missile defense capabilities or potential, or engage in any such international collaboration.”


China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

Nuclear Reductions After New START: Obstacles and Opportunities

Anatoly Diakov, Eugene Miasnikov, and Timur Kadyshev

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February. U.S. and Russian policymakers have indicated that they are preparing for talks on further reductions. At the same time, it is becoming more obvious that the list of issues to be discussed includes more than just strategic offensive arms.

In March 29 remarks prepared for a nuclear policy conference in Washington, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon said the next agreement “should include both non-deployed and nonstrategic nuclear weapons.”[1] The New START resolution of advice and consent approved by the U.S. Senate includes a requirement that the administration seek to initiate negotiations with Russia on an agreement that “would address the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and would secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.”[2]

Russian official statements have indicated a willingness to discuss tactical nuclear weapons, but only in conjunction with other issues. With regard to tactical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We are ready to discuss this very complex topic in the framework of a comprehensive approach to strategic stability.” He also called for “coordinated effort” on missile defense.[3]

The ratification statement of the Russian State Duma says that

questions concerning potential reductions and limitations of non-strategic nuclear arms must be considered in a complex of other problems of arms control, including deployment of a ballistic missile defense system, plans for creation and deployment of strategic delivery vehicles armed with non-nuclear weapons, [and] a risk of space militarization, as well as existing quantitative and qualitative disparity in conventional arms, on the basis of necessity to maintain strategic stability and strict observance of a principle of equal and indivisible security for all.[4]

This article attempts to analyze the critical factors for making deeper bilateral, verifiable nuclear reductions possible, as well as the ways to resolve related problems. In the view of the authors, the most important issues are ballistic missile defenses, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and conventional strategic arms.

Ballistic missile defenses are the key issue. On one hand, reducing the gap in the two sides’ attitudes toward missile defense would promote resolution of the two other issues. On the other hand, a lack of progress on missile defense will block dialogue on tactical weapons and conventional strategic arms as well as on further reductions of strategic nuclear arms.

Ballistic Missile Defense

The Russian expert community generally agrees that missile defenses affect strategic stability. Ballistic missile defenses undermine an adversary’s deterrent capability, giving the adversary incentives to build up offensive nuclear arsenals to compensate. Moreover, because missile defenses work much better against a limited attack, they create a dynamic in which a pre-emptive all-out strike would be an obvious choice for both sides in a crisis situation.

The Russian military is concerned about U.S. plans for the development of a global missile defense system. These concerns are based partly on the known capabilities of existing and planned deployments of U.S. missile defense elements, but even more on the perspective of the further development and augmentation of these elements. The Obama administration’s approach to the development of missile defenses provides for deployment by 2020 of a system capable of intercepting intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[5] U.S. sources admit that the new system will be more effective in countering individual long-range ballistic missiles. According to official Russian views, if such a system is developed, then enhancing it to the point that it would pose a threat to Russia’s deterrence capability would be just a matter of time.

This was the real reason for Russia’s insistence on keeping the statement on the existing interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms in the preamble to New START. Nevertheless, the two parties understand the text of the preamble differently. The Senate’s ratification resolution states that the preamble does not limit the U.S. missile defense deployment plans. In contrast, the Russian law on ratification of this treaty stresses the importance of the preamble and explicitly stipulates the right to withdraw from the treaty in the event of U.S. (or other countries’) deployment of missile defenses that are capable of significantly decreasing the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

Understanding that disagreement on missile defenses can not only block further reductions of nuclear arms, but also destroy New START, the Obama administration invited Russia to participate in the development of NATO’s missile defense system, which would be capable of defending all alliance members. During the November 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, NATO countries reached an agreement to build such a system. Russia agreed to discuss possible cooperation.

What kind of cooperation is possible? Would it help remove Russia’s concerns about missile defenses, as the Obama administration seems to intend?

From Russia’s point of view, the goal of such cooperation must be to build a joint missile defense system, in which each party would have its own zone of responsibility.[6] The parties would participate in the project on equal terms by jointly designing the architecture of the system, its configuration, and working principles. Each party would cover its own sector of responsibility—for Russia, its territory and neighboring states to the south, and for NATO, its southern flank—so that ground-based sensors are not directed toward the interior of the defended area. Therefore, each party would rely on the other in a matter of national security—a situation that requires trust and confidence between close allies rather than the kind of partnership currently existing between Russia and NATO.

The goal of Russia’s offer to build a sectoral missile defense system is to avoid deployment in Europe of missile defenses capable of neutralizing Russia’s strategic capability. It also expresses Russia’s readiness to make a commitment to building a working system capable of defending against intermediate- and long-range missiles. At the same time, the most that Russia can offer now and in foreseeable future for such a system is ground-based early-warning radars; detection, tracking, and identification systems; and relevant technologies. This is clearly not sufficient for building its part of sectoral missile defenses.

Because the United States and NATO intend to build a system of their own based on a phased approach and offer to Russia only the option of jointly investigating the possibility of linking existing and planned systems, their response was quite predictable: Russia’s offer goes beyond what they are ready to accept. Judging by statements of U.S. officials, the planned NATO missile defense system apparently will represent the U.S. system supplemented and extended by missile defense elements of European NATO member states. A similar role evidently is intended for Russia. By “cooperation,” the United States apparently means integration of Russian elements (existing and prospective ones) into the U.S. system.[7] However, the phased approach pursued by the Obama administration is still under development, while the joint NATO system is even further from deployment. As for the Russian role in joint missile defense, the United States and its NATO allies have not reached a common understanding so far. In any case, the parties agreed that the issue will be studied by technical experts, who will prepare a comprehensive joint analysis of the future framework for missile defense cooperation. The progress of this analysis will be assessed at the June 2011 meeting of Russian and NATO defense ministers in Brussels.[8]

If a NATO missile defense system is created, equipment for missile launch detection, tracking, and interception will be deployed in Europe. At the same time, taking into account the growing gap between Russian and U.S. capabilities in high-tech weapons, a realistic scenario to consider would be that Russian participation in such a system is limited to sensors. This system, designed to cope with individual missile launches, would not be capable of affecting Russia’s strategic deterrence capability. However, the Russian military is concerned that the U.S.-NATO missile defense system will be improved significantly and that the improvement, combined with the reduction in Russian nuclear forces, will significantly weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent capability.[9]

Thus, the approaches of the parties to the missile defense problem are radically different, making the problem difficult to solve in the near future. However, it is possible and essential to undertake steps that would help to reduce the acuteness of the problem gradually.

First of all, it is necessary to renew the confidence-building measures and efforts to develop cooperation in missile defenses that were declared several times during the last 10 years. An important step in this direction would be the joint work on assessment of capabilities of third countries in the area of missile defenses in order to develop a common understanding of emerging threats. In particular, implementation of the Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) for the exchange of data from early-warning systems and notifications of missile launches agreed in 2000 or even of two centers (in Moscow and Brussels), as was proposed by President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with President George W. Bush in 2007, would facilitate that. Using these centers, the parties could exchange data on missile launches by third countries. In the future, JDECs and detection and analyses elements linked with them could form the basis of a common information subsystem of the joint missile defense systems that also would include independent command and control and interception systems.

Certain steps already are being taken. The United States proposed possible cooperation with Moscow that could include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data-fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to NATO’s missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation.[10] The joint data-fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites.[11]

These steps, if implemented, could alleviate Russian concerns about U.S.-NATO missile defenses in Europe, help develop a common view on potential threats, and serve as a basis for further, closer cooperation on missile defenses and possibly other areas.

Russian military experts also propose the following possible areas of cooperation in missile defenses:

• Renewal of joint computer tests of theater missile defenses, expanding their scope beyond theater missile defense to practical tests of real missile defense systems at test ranges

• Use of Russian test ranges and related infrastructure, as well as experience in the design of target detection and identification systems (and in some other areas) for development of interception systems

• Use of Russian space-launch capabilities, including converted ICBMs, for putting in orbit U.S. space tracking and surveillance system satellites[12]

Along with military cooperation, the parties should undertake joint diplomatic efforts on the limitation and elimination of missile threats within the framework of international regimes, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, and by working directly with countries that could pose a threat.

Confidence-building measures in missile defense could include the search for points of common understanding, which is being conducted within the NATO-Russia Council and in Russian-U.S. dialogue. Work on missile defense projects that may not be ambitious but are mutually profitable, such as the examples listed above, could reduce existing tensions significantly and open even wider possibilities for cooperation.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons

One may find different definitions in the literature describing the class of nonstrategic nuclear weapons—tactical, substrategic, or short-range nuclear weapons. In this paper, the term “nonstrategic nuclear weapons” refers to U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons associated with delivery systems that are not covered by New START.

Although nonstrategic weapons are not covered by arms control agreements, the unilateral and reciprocal initiatives adopted by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, led to a significant reduction of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic stockpiles. Because these initiatives are not legally binding, however, each party carried out the reductions on a voluntary basis, without applying bilateral transparency and verification measures.

The United States and Russia have never declared their holdings of nonstrategic weapons. According to estimates of nongovernmental experts, the United States currently has about 500 such weapons in its active arsenal, of which about 200 are deployed on the territories of U.S. allies in Europe.[13] During the Cold War, the principal mission of U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Europe was providing nuclear assurance for European allies and extended nuclear deterrence against the threat from the superior conventional forces of the Soviet Union and its allies. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, this mission of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe has lost its significance. As a result, a number of European countries (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway) attempted to raise the issue of withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.[14] However, this initiative has not received adequate support; in accordance with the new Strategic Concept approved by NATO at its Lisbon summit, the alliance remains nuclear, and U.S. nuclear weapons continue to be stationed in Europe.[15]

According to Russian officials, the number of Russian nonstrategic weapons currently is less than 25 percent of what it was in 1991.[16] Unofficial estimates of Russia’s nonstrategic arsenal vary from 2,000 to 5,000, but the most reliable sources agree that Russia currently has about 2,000 such weapons in its active stockpile. According to official information, all Russian nonstrategic weapons were removed from their delivery vehicles and placed at central storage facilities located within Russian national territory so that adequate measures to ensure their safety and security are implemented.[17]

The principal U.S. interest in negotiations on nonstrategic weapons is linked to Russia’s numerical superiority in this area.[18] Such a disparity is also worrisome for U.S. allies in Europe. In view of this disparity, even before the conclusion of New START, several official U.S. documents stated that the United States needs to pursue significant numerical reductions of Russian nonstrategic weapons.[19] Some nongovernmental experts and official representatives of certain states expressed concerns with regard to the safety of these weapons and tried to exploit such concerns by referring to the possibility that nonstrategic weapons will be stolen and will fall into terrorists’ hands. This scenario is used to strengthen the argument for adding these weapons to the agenda for negotiations, but such allegations are groundless.

Although the new Russian military doctrine, adopted on February 5, 2010, does not provide any specific information on missions and roles for nonstrategic weapons, many Russian experts believe that Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons, especially nonstrategic ones, because of its geostrategic and economic situation. Russia has to take into account that its territory is within the range of nuclear weapons of other nuclear-weapon states located along its perimeter. The expansion of NATO, the approach of its military structure toward Russian borders, and the technological and numerical superiority of the alliance in conventional forces also are noted.[20] In this context, the Russian political and military leadership is inclined to consider nonstrategic weapons as a means to compensate for the weakness of Russian conventional forces, a tool that plays a vital role in ensuring national security.

Russia’s current approach to establishing control over nonstrategic nuclear weapons is shaped by several factors. First, U.S. nuclear arms deployed in Europe are considered by Moscow as strategic because they have the potential to threaten Russian strategic assets. NATO’s eastward expansion exacerbates the concerns generated by this point of view. For this reason, Moscow considers consolidation of nonstrategic nuclear weapons within national territories to be a precondition for any discussions on the issue of these weapons.[21] This precondition is equivalent to requiring the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

Second, in Moscow’s view, the roles and missions of nonstrategic nuclear weapons make it impossible to consider them in isolation from other types of arms, including conventional arms. Moscow insists that possible further steps with respect to nonstrategic nuclear weapons, including development of transparency measures, can be taken only in the context of the general military-strategic situation and the factors that directly affect the maintenance of the balance of power in the world, including the nuclear weapons capabilities of other states.

Third, Moscow reasonably believes that Washington is unlikely to abandon the principle of parity in possible future negotiations on these types of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the U.S. side will likely insist on equal numbers of nonstrategic weapons for the two sides.

Given these factors, and the recent NATO decision to preserve U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, Moscow has no motivation to start negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

There is a belief in the nongovernmental community that including nondeployed strategic weapons on the agenda of negotiations could induce Russia to enter negotiations on nonstrategic weapons.[22] The United States has more than 2,000 nondeployed strategic weapons, many more than Russia has. In the past, the inventory of U.S. nondeployed weapons was regarded by Russian experts as giving the United States the capability for a rapid buildup of its strategic forces and thus a significant advantage. However, bringing nondeployed strategic weapons into negotiations may not be attractive enough for Russia to agree to negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons for political and technical reasons. Among the political reasons, the most important are NATO’s unwillingness to discuss the Russian proposal for creating a new security system in Europe and the alliance’s recent decision to continue basing U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.

Technical reasons are linked to the fact that establishing control over nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well as nondeployed strategic weapons means application of transparency and verifications measures over nuclear warheads themselves. However, the United States and Russia have no experience yet in warhead monitoring. Moreover, the development and use of an inspection mechanism for nuclear warheads is prevented by the fact that their design, manufacturing, and maintenance are among the most tightly guarded secrets in any nuclear-weapon state. In addition, asymmetries in the Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons production infrastructures and the sensitivity of questions regarding transportation and storage of nuclear weapons should be taken into account. For these reasons, development and implementation of control and verification measures with regard to nuclear warheads is an extremely difficult task from a technical point of view. Its solution will require significant efforts of experts in both countries and can be achieved only if a sufficient level of mutual confidence between the states is established.

Therefore, taking the foregoing into consideration, attempts to include nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Russian-U.S./NATO negotiations do not look promising. Under such circumstances, coordinated unilateral initiatives with regard to nuclear weapons seem preferable, although such initiatives would not be legally binding. First of all, such unilateral initiatives could be aimed at the introduction and development of transparency measures in Russia, the United States, and NATO.

Transparency measures could be implemented in two phases. First, arsenals of U.S. and Russian nondeployed nuclear weapons could be divided into two categories. The first category would include nuclear weapons assigned to deployed delivery systems but placed at storage sites as a hedge (active arsenal). The second category would include nuclear weapons with expired lifetimes and slated for disassembly and disposal.

In the first stage of implementing transparency measures, Russia, the United States, and NATO could voluntarily

• share information about the total number of nondeployed nuclear weapons eliminated since 1992;

• share information about the number of nuclear weapons associated with different types of delivery systems that were completely eliminated in accordance with the unilateral commitments in 1991 (e.g., land mines and artillery shells);

• share information annually on the total number of nuclear weapons in the first category (active arsenal) and on the locations at which the weapons are stored, with each side undertaking commitments that weapons of this category will stay only in declared storage sites; and

• declare that they have no plans to transfer weapons from the second (to-be-eliminated) category to the first category.

This exchange of information could be implemented confidentially, in accordance with the national legislation of each side.

Another initiative that could greatly facilitate progress on establishing a verification regime over nonstrategic nuclear weapons would be unilateral commitments by Russia and the United States not to research, develop, and manufacture new types of such weapons.

In the second stage, the sides could

• exchange information on the number of nondeployed nuclear weapons associated with each type of delivery system;

• permit visits to the facilities where weapons of the first category are stored, the purpose being to confirm that the number of weapons stored does not exceed the declared number;

• provide evidence of elimination of weapons of the second category; and

• permit visits to weapons storage facilities of the second category on completion of weapons elimination procedures.

The implementation of the second phase will require an agreement on the protection of sensitive information provided by the sides, for example, location of storage facilities.

In parallel with the implementation of the above initiatives, Russian and U.S. experts jointly could develop technical means and procedures for nuclear weapons verification. It should be noted that Russian and U.S. specialists already have carried out a joint effort in the mid-1990s aimed at developing verification methods for monitoring nuclear warhead inventories and eliminating them while protecting sensitive information. It had been assumed that the sides would have verification means and procedures at their disposal if Russia and the United States could agree to negotiate monitoring of nondeployed nuclear weapons.

Strategic Conventional Arms

Over the last several years, the Russian side has suggested more than once that further steps in U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions cannot be made without taking into account existing U.S. programs to develop strategic systems armed with non-nuclear weapons.[23] Russian officials also emphasized the existence of a strong link between the Pentagon’s prompt global-strike concept, which serves as a framework for development of strategic non-nuclear arms, and ballistic missile defense programs.[24] Linked together, these developments are seen in Russia as a threat to the survivability of its future strategic forces.

Over the last few years, these types of risks have been accentuated in documents reflecting views of the Russian military-political leadership. Both “The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation Until 2020” and “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” adopted in 2009 and 2010, respectively, list deployment of strategic conventional precision-guided weapons systems as one of the main risks for Russia, along with the development and deployment of strategic missile defense and the militarization of space.

The views on the U.S. side regarding strategic conventional arms fundamentally differ from the Russian views. The U.S. side gives a high priority to development of conventional systems with strategic range as well as ballistic missile defenses, while objecting to any limitation in these areas.

Although the Russian military industry was given the task of developing precision-guided munitions, the relevant budget allocations are not comparable to those assigned to U.S. development programs. Therefore, the existing gap between the United States and Russia will only widen in the future. For this reason, development of strategic conventional arms likely will be one of the major obstacles on the way to deep reductions of nuclear weapons.

The Russian side insisted that the issue of strategic conventional arms become a topic of the New START negotiations. The treaty contains the following measures:

• Numerical limits on ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), ICBM and SLBM launchers, and deployed warheads on conventional ICBMs and SLBMs

• Transparency measures with respect to strategic delivery systems equipped for conventional armaments if similar systems equipped for nuclear armaments exist (ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, heavy bombers)

• Limited transparency measures with respect to strategic delivery systems equipped for conventional armaments if similar systems equipped for nuclear armaments have been eliminated or converted to systems equipped for conventional armaments (cruise-missile submarines, heavy bombers)[25]

One should underscore that New START limits strategic conventional arms to a much lesser extent than did the original START, which expired in 2009. Moreover, the new treaty does not prohibit development of some types of strategic arms that were banned by the previous treaty.

In spite of the agreement reached, the problem of strategic conventional arms may become a sticking point even for implementation of New START. When the Obama administration submitted New START to Congress, it made clear that it does not contain any constraints on testing, development, and deployment of current or planned prompt global-strike systems. Perhaps to reinforce this argument, the Department of Defense has decided not to develop systems for conventional prompt global-strike missions based on traditional ballistic missiles and instead to explore boost-glide concepts that have a nonballistic flight trajectory.[26] According to the article-by-article analysis of New START by the U.S. Department of State, it is the view of the U.S. side that not all new kinds of weapons systems of strategic range would be new kinds of strategic offensive arms subject to New START. Specifically, the Obama administration stated that it would not consider future strategic-range non-nuclear systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of the treaty to be new kinds of strategic offensive arms for purposes of the treaty.[27] A similar understanding was expressed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s and full Senate’s resolutions of advice and consent to ratification.[28]

The Russian side adheres to an entirely different interpretation. The federal law on New START ratification states that all strategic offensive arms, including new types of offensive arms with strategic range, are subject to the treaty provisions.

The question of applicability of the provisions of New START to any new kind of strategic-range offensive arms should be resolved within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission prior to the deployment of such new kinds of arms. Existing differences could be resolved, provided that the sides demonstrate openness and a readiness to build mutual confidence. In particular, transparency in the U.S. programs for development of strategic non-nuclear arms and restraint in the deployment of these weapons would help to alleviate Russian concerns.

Negotiations on limiting strategic non-nuclear arms, which seem possible only within the framework of a wider bilateral dialogue on further nuclear arms reductions, could be an additional mechanism for overcoming disagreements. Although the current U.S. administration’s hands are tied by the Senate resolution, which prohibits making the prompt global-strike programs a bargaining chip in future negotiations, it seems that a bilateral discussion of this issue is necessary.

At the same time, one should acknowledge that Moscow has not yet articulated unambiguously what kind of arms, along with conventional ICBMs and SLBMs, it regards as strategic conventional arms. Its position on the question of whether other existing conventional offensive arms (heavy bombers and long-range air- and sea-launched cruise missiles) also should fall into this category is not defined yet. Some Russian military experts consider these types of arms to be a substantial destabilizing factor because of their covertness and capability to reach targets relatively quickly.

It also is unclear whether Russia would insist that some other destabilizing conventional high-precision arms not covered by arms control measures be a subject of the discussions. In particular, should there be limits on basing tactical strike aircraft on territories of new NATO members? Because they are armed with high-precision weapons and have a short flight time, such aircraft could be seen as a potential threat to Russian strategic forces. Moreover, one cannot rule out the possibility that Russia will propose limiting patrol areas of submarines carrying long-range sea-launched cruise missiles in order to prevent potential deployment of significant numbers of U.S. submarines close to Russian territory. Such a measure also could help in resolving some other problems that Russia has raised in the past—banning covert anti-submarine activity in strategic submarine deployment areas and preventing collisions of nuclear submarines.

Because such problems can only be solved in a context of a broader bilateral dialogue on further nuclear reductions, progress in this direction also depends on Russia’s readiness to discuss the issues of most interest to the United States, in particular, the issue of nonstrategic nuclear arms reduction.


U.S.-Russian cooperation on the search for complex solutions to the problems identified above can be possible only if each side takes into account the other’s security concerns. If such concerns are taken into consideration and the two sides succeed in resolving the issues discussed above, one may be able to speak about the development of more confident relations between the United States and Russia and about the appearance of conditions for further reduction of their nuclear arsenals. The suggested approach also could help to move the two countries away from relations framed by a model of mutual assured destruction, which continues to prevail in the U.S.-Russian dialogue in spite of frequently repeated declarations that the Cold War has ended and the sides have reset their relations.

Anatoly Diakov is director of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where Eugene Miasnikov is a senior research associate and Timur Kadyshev is a senior research scientist.


1. Donilon said, “A priority will be to address Russian tactical nuclear weapons. We will work with our NATO allies to shape an approach to reduce the role and number of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, as Russia takes reciprocal measures to reduce its nonstrategic forces and relocates its nonstrategic forces away from NATO’s borders.” With regard to verification of nondeployed and tactical warheads, he said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round of U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reductions.” Tom Donilon, “The Prague Agenda: The Road Ahead,” Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Washington, D.C., March 29, 2011.

2. Treaty With Russia on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (Treaty Doc. 111–5), 111th Cong., 2d sess., Congressional Record, Vol. 156, No. 173 (December 22, 2010): S10982 (hereinafter New START ratification resolution).

3. David Rising, “U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Treaty Goes Into Effect,” Associated Press, February 6, 2011.

4. “On the attitude of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the RF on questions of reductions and limitations of strategic offensive arms,” January 25, 2011, http://ntc.duma.gov.ru/duma_na/asozd/asozd_text.php?nm=4764-5%20%C3%C4&dt=2011 (text of the statement to the resolution of the State Duma concerning the ratification of New START) (in Russian). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the authors.

5. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy: A ‘Phased, Adaptive Approach’ for Missile Defense in Europe,” September 17, 2009.

6. Viktor Yesin, “Will the European Missile Defense Project Be Implemented?” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, January 19, 2011 (in Russian).

7. Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Keynote speech at the Transatlantic Missile Defense Conference, October 12, 2010.

8. NATO-Russia Council, Joint statement at the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, Lisbon, November 20, 2010.

9. Vasiliy Lata and Vladimir Maltsev, “Missile Defenses: Artificial Deadlock or Window of Opportunities in NATO-Russia Relations,” Indeks Bezopasnosti, N1 (96), Vol. 17 (Spring 2011), pp. 113-122 (in Russian).

10. Robert Gates, Speech at Kuznetzov Naval Academy, St. Petersburg, March 21, 2011.

11. Adam Entous, “U.S. Proposes Defense Deal With Russia,” The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2011.

12. See, in particular, Viktor Yesin, “Will the European Missile Defense Project Be Implemented?” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, January 19, 2011 (in Russian); Vladimir Dvorkin, “Either There Will Be a Joint Missile Defense, or…” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, February 19, 2011 (in Russian).

13. Hans M. Kristensen, “Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, March 25, 2009.

14. David de Sola, “WikiLeaks: Heated Debate in Germany Over Nuclear Weapons on Its Soil,” CNN.com, December 1, 2010.

15. Oliver Meier, “NATO Revises Nuclear Policy,” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

16. Sergey Lavrov, “The New START Treaty in a Matrix of Global Security: The Political Dimension,” Mezhdunarodnyaa Zhizn’, N 7 (July 2010)(in Russian).

17. “Statement of the Delegation of the Russian Federation at the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference Under Article VI of the Treaty,” New York, April 11, 2002, www.ploughshares.ca/abolish/NPTReports/Russia02-2.pdf.

18. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” May 2009.

19. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010; New START ratification resolution.

20. “Gen. Nikolay Makarov: Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons - A Factor Deterring Enormous Amount of Arms Accumulated in Europe,” ITAR-TASS, December 10, 2008 (in Russian); Alexei Arbatov, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Problems and Solutions,” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, N 17 (333) (May 5, 2010), www.vpk-news.ru/17-333/geopolitics/takticheskoe-jadernoe-oruzhie-problemy-i-reshenija (in Russian).

21. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Information and Press Department, “Remarks and Response to Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference on 2010 Foreign Policy Outcomes,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 13, 2011.

22. Steven Pifer, “After New START: What Next?” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

23. See, in particular, Dmitry Medvedev, Speech at Helsinki University, Helsinki, April 20, 2009, http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2009/04/20/1919_type82912type82914type84779_215323.shtml; Dmitry Medvedev, Address to the 64th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 24, 2009, http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2009/09/24/1638_type82914_221817.shtml.

24. A.I. Antonov, Speaking notes from the NATO-Russia Council meeting, Brussels, October 17, 2007, www.nato-russia-council.info/htm/EN/news_33.shtml.

25. Eugene Miasnikov, “Strategic Conventional Arms: Problems and Solutions,” Indeks Bezopasnosti, N 1 (96), Vol. 17 (2011), pp. 123-130, http://pircenter.org/data/publications/sirus1-11/Analysis-Miasnikov.pdf (in Russian).

26. Tom Collina, “U.S. Alters Non-Nuclear Prompt Strike Plan,” Arms Control Today, April 2011.

27. Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. State Department, “Article-by-Article Analysis of New START Treaty Documents,” May 5, 2010, art. V.

28. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaty With Russia on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty), 111th Cong., 2nd sess., 2010, Exec. Rep. 6, 92-93; New START ratification resolution.


Key issues for the next round of U.S.-Russian arms reductions are ballistic missile defenses, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and strategic conventional weapons. To reach agreement, each side must recognize the other’s security concerns.


Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.


The White House’s top arms control and nonproliferation official discusses the prospects for future U.S.-Russian agreements on nuclear weapons and missile defense, the administration’s strategy for addressing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, the nuclear buildup in Asia, and more.


Pentagon Oversells Missile Defense Test

By Tom Z. Collina Today, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced that it conducted a "successful" intercept test of the Phased Adaptive Approach system to be deployed in Europe starting this year. This test of the SM-3 interceptor might have been considered a significant step toward the deployment an effective missile interceptor system if there were near-term plans to test the system against realistic targets including countermeasures . However, this test did not include countermeasures and MDA has given no indication when or if such tests will take place. As it has done in the...

Whither Strategic Arms Control: Clues from Carnegie

By Greg Thielmann Last week's 2011 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. provided some revealing perspectives on the challenges and opportunities ahead for future strategic arms control agreements between the United States and Russia. The dynamics of strategic force planning described by Carnegie's panel participants suggests a way to enhance prospects for successful negotiations. The United States can easily achieve the modest reductions required by New START in half the seven-year timeframe allowed under the treaty with probable cost savings and no risk. As...

Russia Makes New Proposal on Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Seeking to build a cooperative relationship with the United States on missile defense, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters March 15 that Moscow would like a formal, legally binding agreement with NATO that neither side would target the other’s offensive missiles with missile defense interceptors. According to a senior Obama administration official, a version of this proposal, along with an agreement on sharing missile early-warning information, could form the basis of a deal by this summer.

Since last November, when NATO agreed for the first time to deploy territorial missile defenses against emerging missile threats from Iran, the United States and Russia have been trading proposals on how to cooperate on missile defense. (See ACT, March 2011.) NATO and Russia agreed to develop proposals for cooperation and produce a progress report for a NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense ministers in June.

Although the United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia, Moscow apparently remains unconvinced. Russian leaders are concerned that U.S.-NATO missile defense interceptors could target their strategic nuclear force, “which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in February.

“This is not the first time we are being told, ‘This is not directed against you,’ and then end up with problems on our hands,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said March 2, apparently referring to NATO expansion. Moscow would like to have a legal commitment from NATO before going ahead with missile defense cooperation, Lavrov said. “Needless to say, for our part, we are ready to provide such guarantees,” he said.

The United States insists there should be two independent missile interceptor systems, while Russia had been advocating for a joint system. Moscow’s position, however, seems to be softening. In his March 2 remarks, Lavrov said Moscow’s stance is that NATO should defend the territory of NATO member states while Russia defends its own territory, with no shared authority to launch. “NATO’s [control] button will always be the U.S. button. The same goes for our button. We will have sole control of our button,” Lavrov said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said March 21 at a missile defense conference in Washington that the United States is “eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system.” However, she said, “in the end, NATO will defend NATO, and Russia will defend Russia.”

“We’ve disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said March 21 in a speech to Russian naval officers in St. Petersburg. “However, we’ve mutually committed to resolving these difficulties in order to develop a road map toward truly effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration.”

Political Agreement Has Precedent

Russia’s proposal for a legally binding agreement not to target each other with missile interceptors is a nonstarter on Capitol Hill, according to administration officials and Senate staff, as Senate Republicans have been clear in their opposition to any legally binding limitation on U.S. missile defenses. However, according to Senate staff, politically binding commitments would not require Senate approval and have a precedent: In 1994 the United States and Russia made a political commitment not to target each other with nuclear weapons. Even so, say Senate staffers, a U.S. political commitment not to target Russia’s missiles with U.S.-NATO missile interceptors would not go unnoticed by missile defense supporters. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), for example, has been critical of the Obama administration for not seeking a missile defense capability that could counter Russia’s force of more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. The United States currently fields 30 interceptors in Alaska and California to counter a limited attack from Iran or North Korea. Those interceptors would not be able to stop a full attack from Russia. Moreover, the U.S. system has failed numerous intercept tests, including the last two attempts, and none of the tests has attempted to simulate realistic threats such as simple countermeasures.

It is not clear if a commitment that is not legally binding would be enough to convince Russia to cooperate with NATO’s missile defense plans. On the other hand, as U.S.-NATO missile defense deployment moves ahead, Moscow appears to have little leverage to prevent it, Senate staffers said.

Joint Data “Fusion” Center

In addition to a possible political commitment not to target each other with interceptors, a NATO-Russia agreement on missile defense cooperation could include the sharing of early-warning information and other intelligence data. Gates said in St. Petersburg, “This collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation.”

The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Under the U.S. proposal, the joint data fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats, U.S. officials said. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, on March 7 the United States began deploying its Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe by sending the USS Monterey to the Mediterranean Sea. The guided-missile cruiser is armed with SM-3 BlockIA missile interceptors and the Aegis radar system, which is capable of tracking short- and medium-range missiles. Other Aegis-capable ships have been deployed by the United States to the Mediterranean since 2009, but the Monterey is “the first sustained deployment of a ballistic missile defense-capable ship” to support the phased approach, Tauscher said March 21.

As another part of the first phase of the U.S. approach, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deploy a ground-based AN/TPY-2 radar in southeastern Europe. U.S. plans originally had the radar going to Turkey, but the host country has not been announced. Turkey reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar might be shared with Israel.

Under the current schedule, the MDA will have 23 Aegis-capable ships by the end of this fiscal year, mostly in the Pacific, and 107 SM-3 Block I/IA missile interceptors, according to budget documents. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. According to the documents, the MDA also will have 26 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor missiles for two THAAD batteries that could be deployed in Europe.

In the second phase, land-based interceptors would be deployed in Romania in 2015, followed by interceptors in Poland in the third phase, planned for 2018. Each phase calls for increasingly sophisticated and capable SM-3 interceptors. The fourth phase, planned for 2020, calls for fielding the SM-3 IIB interceptor, which is supposed to be capable of knocking down long-range ballistic missiles. That system, which has drawn the strongest objections from Russia, is still in the early stages of design and development.


New START in Force; Missile Defense Looms

Tom Z. Collina

Two years after pushing the “reset button” on their relations, the United States and Russia on Feb. 5 exchanged the instruments of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), officially bringing the treaty into force. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the treaty documents in Germany during the annual Munich Security Conference.

“With the exchange of these instruments,” Clinton said in Munich, “we commit ourselves to a course of action that builds trust, lessens risks, and improves predictability, stability, and security.” She said the two countries will immediately begin notifying each other of changes in their strategic forces, as required by the treaty. Starting March 22, the countries will exchange full data on their strategic nuclear forces for the first time since July 2009. These data exchanges will include information on the numbers, locations, and “unique identifiers” (serial numbers) for deployed and nondeployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers; the numbers of warheads, aggregated by operating base, on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and counted for deployed heavy bombers (under New START, each deployed bomber is counted as one warhead although it can carry more); the numbers and locations of deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs and SLBMs; and operating bases and test ranges where strategic arms may be located.

With the Feb. 5 entry into force, the United States and Russia, which have not conducted bilateral nuclear inspections since the original START expired on Dec. 5, 2009, can resume inspections in April. New START allows each side to conduct 18 on-site inspections per year and limits each side to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 strategic missiles and bombers. In addition, the sides are limited to 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. New START lowers treaty limits on both sides’ deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent from previous treaty restrictions.

The U.S. Senate approved New START Dec. 22 after a lengthy debate. (See ACT, January/February 2011.) Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, approved the treaty Jan. 26.

Further U.S.-Russian Reductions?

Resolutions on the treaty passed by both legislatures, as well as recent statements by senior officials, indicate that the next round of bilateral arms reductions may be more complicated. Since New START was signed last April, the Obama administration has reiterated its interest in a follow-on round of negotiations with Russia to address further reductions in strategic nuclear weapons and, for the first time, tactical weapons and warheads in storage. When the Senate approved New START, the resolution of ratification conditioned entry into force on a presidential pledge to seek negotiations with Russia within one year “to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner” and not to include missile defense in those talks. President Barack Obama made this certification Feb. 2, along with five others required by the Senate.

On Feb. 5 in Munich, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said that the administration had begun talking with Russia about the full range of post-New START issues. Senior U.S. officials say, however, that they are in no rush to begin formal negotiations because the administration needs six to nine months to formulate its negotiating positions and that the Russians are not ready for new talks because of their concerns about U.S. missile defense plans.

For its part, Russia has been slow to embrace new talks. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said Feb. 5 in Munich that further arms reductions cannot be achieved without “paying due respect” to factors that could harm strategic stability. He cited the possible U.S. deployment of weapons in outer space, U.S. plans to design nonnuclear strategic missile systems, the U.S.-NATO buildup of strategic missile defenses, and the growing disparity in conventional arms between Russia and NATO. Missile defense, he said, tops the list of Russia’s security concerns. “Any attempt to build a shield inevitably provokes creation of a better sword,” Ivanov said, in reference to U.S. missile defense plans and a possible Russian response. “We can break this vicious cycle only through coordinated efforts,” he said.

Using diplomatic language aimed at lowering expectations for near-term negotiations on tactical weapons, Ivanov said, “[W]e are ready to discuss this very complex topic in the framework of a comprehensive approach to strategic stability.” Referring to the estimated 180 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe, Ivanov said that all tactical weapons should be based only on national territory and that “future hypothetical negotiations on tactical nukes must take into consideration not only Russia’s or NATO’s nuclear arsenals, but weapon systems of all nuclear and threshold states.”

North Korea, China, Pakistan, Israel, they are all our neighbors, they are not American neighbors,” Ivanov said, “so we think differently on this balance of strategic power.” Russia is believed to have roughly 3,000-5,000 tactical nuclear weapons; some are operational, and others are in storage.

“Cooperation” on Missile Defense

On missile defense, the respective resolutions of ratification approved by the U.S. and Russian legislatures highlight the challenges ahead. The U.S. resolution expresses opposition to negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses. But the Russian resolution states that if the United States or “a group of states”—a reference to NATO—deploys a missile defense system “capable of significantly reducing the effectiveness” of Russia’s strategic forces, that would be grounds for Moscow to withdraw from New START and, presumably, reject any future arms reduction treaty.

In other words, the U.S. Senate would likely oppose any future treaty that limits U.S. missile defenses, while Russia’s legislature would not be likely to approve any such treaty unless there were meaningful limits on U.S. defenses. U.S. officials hope this conflict can be at least managed through greater transparency and “cooperation” on missile defense.

The object of Russia’s concern is the U.S.-NATO plan to deploy hundreds of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) theater missile interceptors in Europe and, within a decade, a new version of the SM-3 with limited capability against strategic ballistic missiles. Called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the plan calls for interceptor deployments in four phases of increasing range and capability to counter the evolving Iranian missile threat.

At its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, NATO agreed for the first time to deploy a territorial missile defense, based on the U.S.-supplied SM-3. (See ACT, December 2010.) Moscow is primarily concerned about the last of the four phases, called Early Intercept and Regional ICBM Defense, to be deployed around 2020. The Obama administration says the interceptors deployed during that phase would be capable of intercepting possible future ICBMs from Iran. Lavrov said in Munich that if the last stages of the phased approach are implemented, they would directly infringe on the efficacy of the Russian nuclear deterrent.

To defuse this brewing conflict, NATO has invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense. According to a Dec. 18, 2010, letter from Obama to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), this cooperation “could lead to adding Russian capabilities to those deployed by NATO to enhance our common security against common threats.” The letter points out that a cooperative system with Russia “will not be a joint system, and it will not in any way limit [the] United States’ or NATO’s missile defense capabilities.” The United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia.

Russia apparently remains unconvinced. “We want to be reassured that whatever you do there doesn’t undermine the stability of deterrence, because deterrence is still with us,” Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, said Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va. “We haven’t reached a state...between our two countries that would allow us to abolish it. We would like to see it happen. But that’s going to be a long way [off],” he said.

NATO and Russia agreed in Lisbon to explore ways to cooperate on missile defense and to issue a progress report in June. Clinton, speaking in Munich, said that the United States is talking with Russia about missile defense. “[W]e are eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system. We will work together to ensure that our missile defense systems are mutually reinforcing,” she said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently formed a working group within the Russian government to develop ideas for missile defense collaboration with NATO, according to a Feb. 21 Interfax report. “I hope that by this June, when a meeting of defense ministers of the Russia-NATO Council takes place, the Russian delegation would reach certain progress towards agreements with NATO under which the [missile interceptor] system does not put into question our strategic nuclear potential, which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” said Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, who is leading the effort.

“Living Separately in Different Apartments”

Russia has made clear that it has in mind a deeper type of “cooperation” than NATO does. Rogozin told journalists after a Jan. 25 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defense that NATO’s proposals “could not be called cooperation. It’s not even a marriage of convenience. It’s like living separately in different apartments.”

Moscow has called for a combined “sectoral” missile defense in which NATO and Russia each assumes responsibility for countering missile threats over a specific part of Europe. Russian-NATO missile defense work “must be a joint system with shared responsibilities, information exchange and decision-making in order to make us an equal and responsible member,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Feb. 7, according to the Associated Press.

“If two separate networks are built, things won’t change for us and we will see a situation when the NATO system could potentially be used against Russia’s security interests. Cooperating on such a system would mean hurting ourselves,” Ryabkov said.

Russia apparently wants to prevent NATO’s interceptors from being aimed at Russian ICBMs, which could reduce Moscow’s ability to respond to a first strike.

“The principle ‘take it or leave it’ does not work here,” Lavrov said in Munich. “If our concerns are not taken into account, if no equitable, joint work is achieved, then we will have to compensate for the emergent imbalance,” he said, referring to the possibility that Russia could build up its offensive missile forces.

U.S. and European officials, however, say that Russia’s concept of a “joint system” is unrealistic because NATO must retain responsibility for its own defense and, in any case, Russia does not have operational missile interceptors capable of defending European territory. Meanwhile, they say, the eastern European states that formerly were in the Warsaw Pact and now are in NATO want to be defended by NATO, not Russia. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, the top U.S. arms control negotiator, told the Arlington conference that Obama has decided that “NATO will protect NATO, and that’s the bottom line as far as we’re concerned.”

Alternative to Turkey

Meanwhile, the first phase of the European interceptor deployment, scheduled to be operational later this year, calls for SM-3 interceptors to be based on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and for a forward-based radar in southeastern Europe. Turkey, the United States’ first choice to host the radar, reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar, called the AN/TPY-2, might be shared with Israel.

In a Feb. 3 letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), James Risch (Idaho), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and James Inhofe (Okla.) said they were opposed to Turkey’s conditions and that the United States should consider turning to Georgia to be the host country. “We believe that the Republic of Georgia’s geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey,” the senators wrote. “What’s more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S.Georgia is not a member of NATO, and a proposal to deploy missile defense assets there would likely meet with fierce opposition from Russia.

Delay in finding a suitable host for the AN/TPY-2 radar is just one factor that could cause the schedule for the phased approach to slip. According to a Jan. 26 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the deployment schedule is not adequately synchronized with acquisition, infrastructure, and personnel activities. As a result, the GAO found that the Department of Defense “is at risk of incurring schedule slips, decreased performance, and increased cost as it implements the phases” of the planned approach.


The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty entered into force February 5, but Russia and the United States appear to have difficult negotiations ahead on tactical nuclear weapons and missile defense.

ACA Senior Fellow Talks Missile Defense at Penn State



Siren Song: Strategic Missile Defense

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
Penn State University
March 3, 2011

Most of you in this audience will recognize sirens as mythical creatures from the Greek classics, dangerous bird-women, who lured passing sailors with their enchanting voices to shipwreck on the rocky shore.  Here is the encounter of Odysseus.  Warned in advance, Odysseus had his men stuff wax in their ears and had himself bound to the mast so that he could hear the sublime singing without dooming his crew to destruction.  Those with a more Germanic bent may visualize the maiden depicted by Heinrich Heine in his famous poem “Die Lorelei” -- Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet, and so forth.   The message is the same.  The girl’s face and voice are lovely, but if we don’t take our eyes off her and pay attention to the rocks, we’re all going down.  That is the thrust of my message today with regard to strategic missile defense – a siren song of our era.

Short Course

Before making my case, let me provide some context with a crash course on the weapons we’re talking about and a short review of the arms control treaties that have been reducing our bloated nuclear arsenals from their Cold War peak

First, The Weapons

Strategic offensive missiles are the ICBMs and SLBMs that can be launched from Russia to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental U.S. or vice versa, traveling 5,500 km in some 30 minutes.  The United States has only one missile defense system today that is designed to intercept such weapons, the Ground-Based Interceptor.  The so-called “GBI.” is a large multi-stage missile that destroys an incoming warhead by crashing a refrigerator-sized kill vehicle into it at extremely high speed.  The interceptor is guided by a variety of sensors -- one on the missile itself and others on satellites in space and in radars on the ground, like the Sea-Based X-Band Radar.  By 2020, current plans call for the U.S. to deploy a second type of interceptor missile, which can destroy ICBMs, the Aegis SM-3 IIB.  The other missile defense systems you read and hear about are for tactical or theater threats; they do not offer a means to defend against ICBMs.

Now, the Treaties

Less than one month ago, a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, called “New START,” entered into force between Russia and the United States.  This was the latest way station on the long and rocky journey toward a safer and saner world.  Some would say the journey began in 1963 when the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union signed a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere (LTBT).  That historic milestone was reached shortly after the world came to the brink of the abyss in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  It also followed the circulation of reports showing that fission bi-products from atmospheric nuclear testing, such as Strontium 90, were showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth, all over the world.   Others would point to the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the starting point.  This treaty required the five countries which then had nuclear weapons to start getting rid of them and the states which did not to forego the nuclear option.  While both of these treaties are in New START’s “family tree,” the first binding bilateral limit on strategic arms was the 1972 Interim Agreement coming out of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and known as SALT I.  The parent of New START is the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhael Gorbachev.  This treaty marked the first time the sides had agreed to specific numerical reductions in their strategic arsenals, to be accompanied by on-site inspections.

…and the Dead Ends

The journey to New START has also been marked by some detours and dead-ends.  The Carter Administration’s intention of ratifying the SALT II agreement of June 1979 became politically untenable once the Soviets invaded Afghanistan a few months later.  The START II agreement reached in 1994 was ultimately doomed by George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which had been in effect for 30 years.  And then there was the 2002 Moscow Treaty (aka SORT).  Although this treaty was ratified, it was deeply flawed, lacking verification provisions, a definition of the items being limited, a timetable for reductions, and durability.  (It was, in fact only scheduled to last one day at the end of 2012.)  Good riddance to that one!

The Sound of the Siren

Throughout the long and arduous quest to reduce nuclear arsenals, the strategic defense siren has been singing.  In listening to that song – like the boatman on the Rhine or the heroes of Greek mythology – Americans have been diverted from the deep water channel that provides an eventual way out of our existential dilemma.  Moreover, our boat is taking on water, and may, even now, be heading for the rocks.

The most successful communicator for strategic missile defense was the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  Here are some excerpts from his famous “Star Wars” speech in March 2003:

“…rely[ing] on the specter of retaliation, on mutual threat [is] a sad commentary on the human condition. Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability?

“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

”…isn't it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war?

“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

“… tonight we're launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history.”

Adding to the impact of these stirring words, the Pentagon later provided film footage of ballistic missile interceptors smashing into target warheads at incredible closing speeds, producing brilliant explosions against the blackness of space.  Commentators contributed the powerful metaphor of “hitting a bullet with a bullet.”  A lobbying organization called “High Frontier” offered animated videos showing U.S. x-ray lasers in space zapping swarms of warheads careening toward the American homeland.  These fantasy scenarios were picked up by the mainstream media and run whenever the subject of advanced missile defenses was in the news. When the Cold War deflated the perceptions of nuclear danger, the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on Foreign Ballistic Missile Threats and a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate picked up the slack.   Each offered shrill warnings about the rapidly growing ballistic missile threat to the United States and its allies from “rogue” states.  And for a quarter century, a cheering squad of missile defense enthusiasts has been nourished by Congressional appropriation of some $5-10 billion/year to universities, research labs, and weapons manufacturers.

Physics Lesson

I think it’s now time in my narrative to impart a few observations about rocket science and physics.  The first technical challenge with strategic missile defense is related to the extremely high velocity of warheads once the propulsion phase ends.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) travel on a ballistic trajectory like an artillery shell.  Their “boost phase,” when the rocket engines are firing, lasts only 5-7 minutes.  Then, the warheads’ carrier, or “bus” separates from the large booster stages.  At burnout, the ICBM warheads are traveling 7 kilometers per second through the void of space—much faster than shorter-range ballistic missiles that have been deployed by the North Koreans and Iranians.  ICBM warheads are therefore much harder to intercept.  They even travel faster than the defensive missile interceptors stationed in Alaska and California.  With our current system “architecture,” we would probably get just one chance to look and shoot, before it was too late.

As the warheads travel through the mid-course phase in the vacuum of space, they are relatively small and have no heat signature, which could otherwise reveal their presence to infra-red sensors.  So very powerful radars must be used to detect and track these objects from thousands of kilometers away.  These very expensive and huge tracking radars themselves become very lucrative strategic targets in a crisis, because their destruction renders the entire missile defense system ineffective.  The U.S. system relies heavily on the Shemya radar located in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain and a sea-based X-band radar floating off Alaska in the North Pacific.  Whether or not they can survive at the outset of hostilities is a largely ignored issue.  Moreover, in a nuclear conflict, the radars’ performance can be significantly degraded by detonating a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere.

But the real glass jaw of strategic missile defense comes from the ease of spoofing the sensors.  The “bus” carrying the warheads can emit a cloud of chaff (composed of highly-reflective foil) as it releases one or more warheads so that the exact location of actual warheads is obscured. The bus can also deploy decoys (basically, mylar-coated balloons) along with the warheads.  During the warheads’ flight through space, most of their flight time, these decoys look the same as actual warheads to the radar.  There is much open testimony over the years about their effectiveness from those involved in designing ways to defeat Moscow’s strategic ballistic missile defense system in the late 60s and 70s.  There has been almost no operational testing of the current systems’ ability to discriminate warheads from decoys.

As if the problem were not difficult enough, the offense has another trick up its sleeve to defeat the defense. The warheads can be made to maneuver.  So to return to the earlier metaphor, it’s even harder to hit a bullet with a bullet when the first bullet starts to bob and weave.  Even though the U.S. has conducted flight tests with maneuverable re-entry vehicles, known as “MaRVs,” we never actually deployed any because other penetration aids were judged sufficiently effective.

My bottom line:  Missile defenses against ballistic missiles with conventional warheads may, in certain situations, contribute to national security, whether they are 20% or 80% reliable.  Missile defenses against nuclear-tipped intercontinental range ballistic missiles are worthless in deterring attack – think about “only” 20-40% of nuclear warheads getting through -- and disastrous in curbing the arms race.

The U.S. defense community has not been deaf to the lure of the siren song, but through most of the Cold War, it ultimately turned away.  It first gave up trying to protect the U.S. population from a deliberate Soviet missile attack, changing the mission of its ABM in the mid-sixties to protecting against a deliberate Chinese or accidental Soviet launch.  Then in the late-sixties it gave up population defense entirely by deploying interceptors around ICBM fields.  This was done in the hope of strengthening deterrence by affecting the exchange ratio in the Soviet calculus – how many attacking warheads would be needed to attack warheads in silos.  Finally, the U.S. won limits on the number and location of strategic defense radars and interceptors through the 1972 ABM Treaty, completely banning systems designed to provide ballistic missile defense of national territory.  The Pentagon and Congress later judged that even the U.S. ABM system allowed under the treaty was not worth the effort, and closed it down after only a few months of operation.  Indeed, it ultimately abandoned President Reagan’s “Star Wars” fantasy because Special Advisor Paul Nitze’s criterion could not be satisfied -- missile defense systems would have to be “cost effective at the margin,” meaning that they made no sense if an enemy could more cheaply counter a missile defense interceptor by adding an additional offensive warhead.

But alas, our ship of state did not make it free to open waters.

--  Spooked by a North Korean missile launch, the U.S. Congress passed the 1999 Missile Defense Act, which provided the legislative imprimatur to deploying a strategic missile defense system to defend U.S. territory against limited attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)…”  Senate passage was almost unanimous; the House bill passed by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.

--  In 2001 President George W. Bush announced U.S. withdraws from the ABM Treaty, which had served for 30 years as a linch-pin of strategic arms control.  Previous UN General Assembly voting had shown strong international support for retention of the treaty.

-- At Bush’s direction, the Pentagon rushed to deploy strategic defenses in Alaska and California by 2004, even before they had been operationally tested.

--  This Alaska- and California-based system remain largely irrelevant in defending against the huge potential intercontinental ballistic missile threat we face today (from Russia and China).  And the threat against which they were designed to defend is still not even on the near horizon, seven years after deployment.

--  The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty acknowledges in its preamble the interrelationship between strategic offences and defenses, but the treaty text itself remained missile-defense-friendly – leaving U.S. missile defense plans unaffected and papering over a significant difference between the parties on the impact of strategic defenses.

-- The Senate’s Resolution of Ratification decrees that there will be no negotiation on US missile defenses.

We have thus bought time for implementing New START as the next step in nuclear arms reductions, but we’ve made negotiating follow-on reductions virtually impossible until our divergent views on missile defense are reconciled.

The View from Moscow

Russian reactions to the New START treaty and the U.S. missile defense program are complicated and conflicted. Moscow appears satisfied that it can proceed safely with modest reductions in strategic offensive systems under New START and has accepted NATO’s stated intention to develop territorial missile defenses for Europe.

However, Russian officials continue to voice concerns about future improvements in U.S. missile defense systems, as they did in Russia’s unilateral statement to New START, warning against a “quantitative and qualitative” buildup.  Moscow has been dubious for a long time about U.S. portrayals of a potential strategic threat from Iran and North Korea – in public and in confidential dialogue with the United States.[1] Even after Russia’s acceptance of NATO’s offer to cooperate on missile defense, Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin openly declared, “Russia does not see any missile threats in northern Europe, so the [US] defense systems should not be deployed there.”[2]

Moscow appears to accept the logic of U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense, but remains skeptical such cooperation could ever lead to a safe and truly equitable joint relationship.  Russia demands full equality in the control of any cooperative approach to missile defense.  According to Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov, “We also want to ensure that Russia participates as an equal partner. Only then can a missile defense system be created that satisfies all sides.”[3]

In spite of President Medvedev’s upbeat rhetoric about his conversations at the November 2010 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, his emphasis on “absolute equality” and endorsement of a side-by-side “sector-based” missile defense system appear to go far beyond the evolving concept articulated by NATO.  In fact, Medvedev’s characterization of his discussions does not seem consistent with the territorial defense plan outlined by NATO.  Moreover, his emphasis on the interrelationship between European missile defenses and Russian strategic offenses gives little support for the notion of a fundamental change in Russian strategic thinking.  According to Medvedev: “…countries still have their nuclear forces in place today, and when we look at missile defence we have to look too at the possible effects a European missile defence system could have on our nuclear forces.”[4]

So why are the Russians so paranoid?  The Cold War is over.  We’re both threatened by those crazy people in Iran and North Korea.  Why not cooperate to defend ourselves against the real potential enemy?

The Limits of Cooperation

It is possible that disparate U.S. and Russian assessments of the Iranian threat will begin to merge if the threat grows – and that continually improving US-Russian relations will permit an unprecedented level of missile defense cooperation.  Yet, there is reason to question whether such efforts will bear enough fruit to satisfy Russia’s concerns about the potential long-term effect of U.S. strategic missile defenses on Russia’s deterrent.  Consider the view from Moscow.  The U.S. internal debate on New START revealed great sensitivity within the executive and legislative branches of the US Government to granting Russia access to telemetry involving missile defense flight tests.  (Congress prohibits it.)  The United States has made clear that cooperation does not mean building a “dual key” system, requiring the involvement of each side to operate.  Sergey Rogov, Director of Russia’s USA and Canada Institute, comments that: “Russia and the United States hardly are ready to agree to create a joint missile defense.”[5] Both sides would likely wish to retain their ability to operate missile defenses independently of the other. This independence might actually contribute to stability in a crisis because each side would be confident of the ability to control its own assets, but it would not foster arms race stability because suspicions of intent would linger.

The most compelling reason to believe that cooperation will be insufficient is to imagine the United States in a position similar to Russia’s today.  Remember that the U.S. Senate had trouble even consenting to a nuclear arms control agreement that leaves U.S. missile defenses unlimited.  Unlike past strategic arms reduction treaties, New START did not pass overwhelmingly, even though it was a very good deal for us.  (It requires only modest reductions in U.S. offensive forces; it leaves force structures allowing the US to dominate treaty breakout contingencies; and it requires intrusive inspections that provide the US with critical information on Russian strategic forces otherwise unavailable.)  To expect the Russians to accept additional reductions in their strategic offensive forces without constraining U.S. options for expanding strategic missile defenses is unrealistic.

The Enduring Reality of the Interrelationship Between Missile Offense and Defense

The nuclear age carries a consistent core message concerning the interrelationship between strategic missile offense and strategic missile defense: a defensive buildup creates pressures for offensive countermeasures – and in such a competition, offenses are likely to cancel out the intended benefits of the defenses.  The offensive response occurs for two reasons:  First, because of the obvious need to compensate for the potential degradation in target coverage that could result from the other side’s ability to intercept incoming warheads; And second, because the missile defense programs tend to arouse suspicions about motives.  When the Soviets started deploying missile defenses around Moscow in the 1960s, the US found it “intensely threatening to our security,” according to distinguished scientist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, writing in 1964, “The fear of Soviet ABM[s]…seems to be more deeply felt than the fear of Soviet offensive forces.… This logic …led many people … to consider the Soviet ABM program as primarily intended to allow the Soviet Union to attack the U.S. without fear of retaliation.”[6]

A contemporary reference to the offense-defense interrelationship can be found in September 2010 remarks of U.S. Strategic Forces Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton: “As we develop missile defense capability, we don’t want to develop it in such a manner that the Chinese would feel that their assured response, their deterrent, is put at risk, because that would encourage them to build more intercontinental missiles or capabilities.”[7]

More Shields; More Swords

Although many missile defense advocates contend that missile defenses discourage the proliferation of offensive missiles, empirical evidence shows just the opposite.  Missile defense systems encourage opponents to hold on to their offensive missiles or create more of them.  This is what happened with the U.S. response to the Moscow ABM system in the 1960s; with the Soviet Union’s response to Reagan’s “Star Wars” in the 1980s; with China’s response to Taiwan’s deployment of Patriot anti-tactical missile defenses in the 1990s.  During the last decade, Iran’s considerable build-up of medium-range missiles has occurred in the face of Israel’s extensive build-up of missile defenses; Pakistan’s continuing build-up of nuclear tipped missiles has occurred as India launched its own missile defense effort.

The end of the Cold War and rapprochement between the US and Russia have helped convince the last four U.S. Administrations to alter the original mission of missile defense.  Instead of protecting against a catastrophic potential attack from Russia, the current objective is to protect against much more limited threats from “rogue” states.[8] Technical and budgetary obstacles have kept a lid on some of the more fanciful visions of the Reagan administration regarding lasers, particle-beam weapons, and space-based systems, narrowing the focus to more down-to-earth capabilities such as the GBI missiles currently deployed and a souped-up version of the SM-3 theater system (the Block IIB) that would give it anti-ICBM capabilities.  This system is in early development and is planned for deployment in 2020 under President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach.  [Slide 5] Both systems are likely to be in the spotlight during negotiations of a post-New START agreement.

Some, like former Secretary of State Condi Rice, believe that the offense-defense dynamic was broken by U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002.[9] Yet, this interrelationship cannot be severed by unilateral action or simply dismissed as an attribute of the Cold War, for it flows not from history or treaty language, but from physics and psychology.

The governments in Washington and Moscow, which control the vast majority of the world’s long-range ballistic missiles, demonstrate today the same dynamic on strategic missile defense they have demonstrated for decades.  One side pursues a major missile defense program; the other side seeks to limit it through negotiations and mitigate its impact through improvements in its own offensive forces.  However, there is one major difference: Moscow and Washington have changed sides.

The Siren Song Surges

During a long period of equilibrium under the conceptual foundation of the ABM Treaty, the sides were able to cut in half their huge offensive arsenals.  But the siren song surged and safe passage around the rocks is again threatened.

Following passage of the Missile Defense Act of 1999 and U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty three years later, the conventional wisdom appears to have hardened around the notion that missile defenses should forever remain outside the arms control realm.  The 2010 elections would appear to have increased congressional determination to reject any limits on missile defenses. Changes in the New START resolution of approval constitute evidence of increased Senate resistance to such limits.

If we want further reductions in nuclear weapons and better protection against them spreading to other countries, we need to tone down or tune out the siren song of strategic missile defense.

One Approach

One approach to tackling this dilemma would be simply to create a strategic missile defense interceptor limit in parallel with limits on offenses, for example, reducing to a ceiling of 1,000 strategic offensive warheads and 100 strategic defense interceptors. The limit also could be geographical because the vulnerability of Russian ICBMs to interception by SM-3 IIBs would be affected significantly by the location of deployments.  Limits on the number deployed near Russia’s borders would be superficially similar to the numerical and geographical limits on strategic ABM interceptors in the ABM Treaty.  But the purpose of that treaty was to prevent the deployment of nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses, principally through qualitative limits on radar construction.  Breakout potential then was controlled further by quantitative limits on strategic interceptors—200 in the original treaty, lowered to 100 in 1974—and by clearly demarking the performance characteristics of strategic and nonstrategic interceptors as was done in a 1997 agreement.[10]

In contrast to their position when the ABM Treaty was in force, the Russians now have conceded the principle of permitting nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses.  They acknowledged in New START’s preamble that “current defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the parties.”  Indeed, the number of strategic interceptors that were allowed even under the amended ABM Treaty was much higher than the number of U.S. ground-based strategic interceptors deployed today and it’s probably in the vicinity of the number needed for the US to cope with likely contingencies from Iran and North Korea in the 2020s. Even after adding the upgraded SM-3 IIB systems envisioned for the end of the decade under Obama’s plan, total numbers still would be within the limits on strategic missile interceptors last enumerated in the ABM Treaty.  In 1997, Russia agreed that the performance of the original SM-3 and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)  interceptors were “non-strategic” and therefore should not create an obstacle to continued reductions in strategic nuclear forces as they become operational over the next five years.

We need to begin opening up a public dialogue on the real-world opportunity costs of opposing all missile defense limits. This dialogue should extend to U.S. NATO allies in Europe and the Pacific who directly face shorter-range ballistic missile threats from hostile states.  Let’s check this out.  Consider whether you would be able to answer yes to each of these questions:

-- Is a highly reliable missile defense potential likely to be affordable in the decade ahead, even assuming that it is technically achievable?

-- Is the value of unconstrained U.S. strategic missile defenses superior to the value of achieving additional reductions in Russian strategic offensive systems and of adding strategic nondeployed and tactical systems to the list of weapons to be cut?

-- Is keeping missile defenses unconstrained worth risking the chance of limiting the growth in Chinese strategic forces?

--  Indeed, can one even contemplate successful pursuit of nonproliferation if efforts to stem vertical proliferation grind to a halt as a result of missile defense deployments?

Unless we can confidently answer “yes” to each of these questions, it’s time to consider realistic alternatives to unconstrained growth in strategic missile defenses.  Put some wax in your ears to block out the siren song and let’s head for open water!


[1] A February 24, 2010, Department of State cable, released by WikiLeaks, reporting on December 22, 2009, talks on missile threat assessments between U.S.-Russian delegations in Washington revealed significant differences in the two countries’ official, classified assessments of Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile capabilities.

[2] Mikhail Fomichev, “European Missile Defense System Either With Russia or Against Russia – NATO Envoy,” RIA Novosti, December 2, 2010.

[3] “Moscow Wants to ‘Participate as an Equal Partner,’” Der Spiegel, October 27, 2010.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sergey Mikhaylovich Rogov, “The ‘Window of Opportunity’ Is Open,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 28, 2010.

[6] Freeman J. Dyson, “Ballistic Missiles,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1964, p. 18.

[7] Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, “Nuclear Deterrence, START, Arms Control, Missile Defense and Defense Policy,” Presentation at the NDU Foundation Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series, September 13, 2010.

[8] A small but increasingly influential minority of missile defense advocates, such as Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), have explicitly called for broadening the objectives of missile defense to include providing territorial defense against Russia and China.

[9] See, for example, Condoleezza Rice, “New Start: Ratify, With Caveats,” The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2010.

[10] The “New York Agreements on Theater Missile Defense and ABM Treaty Successor States,” signed by the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine on September 26, 1997, included two “Agreed Statements on Demarcation,” identifying 3 kilometers per second as the critical performance parameter separating prohibited “higher velocity” theater missile defenses from permitted “lower velocity” theater missile defenses. For the text of the agreements and statements, see www.fas.org/nuke/control/abmt/text/abm_scc1.htm and www.fas.org/nuke/control/abmt/text/abm_scc2.htm. For a summary of the agreements and statements, see



Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at Penn State University.

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