"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

Missile Defense Post-ABM Treaty: No System, No Arms Race

Wade Boese

Last June 13, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, eliminating the treaty’s limits on the U.S. ability to develop and deploy nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles and dampening three decades of contentious debate over whether the United States should pursue such defenses.

In the days and months leading up to the withdrawal, two sharply contrasting forecasts of the potential consequences had clashed. Missile defense proponents, who vilified the ABM Treaty as jeopardizing U.S. security by shackling efforts to protect the country against growing ballistic missile threats, suggested that rapid progress toward the deployment of effective defenses could be achieved once the treaty was abolished. Critics and skeptics of missile defense argued otherwise, warning that the treaty’s demise might make the United States less safe by provoking a new arms race. They asserted Russia might halt or reverse cuts to its nuclear forces and China could respond by expanding its arsenal, which would likely spur India and then Pakistan to follow suit. Those dubious of missile defense also added that the largest impediment to making missile defense work was not the ABM Treaty but the limits of technology.

To date, neither side’s prediction has proven prescient. The United States has not made great strides toward having an operationally reliable nationwide missile defense. The limited missile defense deployment plan for 2004 and 2005 that President George W. Bush announced last December is essentially the same as that proposed by the Clinton administration. Two of the three systems to be fielded under the Bush plan would have been permitted under the ABM Treaty, which barred Washington and Moscow from deploying nationwide defenses against long-range or strategic ballistic missiles but allowed limited defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. The third system to be deployed was originally designated as part of a new test site and possibly could have been legal under the treaty. On the other hand, negative repercussions from the treaty withdrawal appear minimal. Russia criticized the move as a mistake, but no country is known to have launched or expanded a weapons buildup in response to the U.S. withdrawal.

It is still too soon to draw definitive conclusions about whether the United States will derive any significant advantage from abrogating the ABM Treaty or reap more benefits than costs. Missile defense programs initiated in the withdrawal’s wake could take years to show results. Likewise, another country’s arms buildup or hostile attitude in response to the treaty’s end might take some time to become apparent. Nevertheless, preliminary assessments can be made about both sides’ claims.

Assessing the Case for Withdrawal

Since Bush’s December 13, 2001, announcement of his intention to withdraw the United States from the ABM Treaty, as well as the subsequent withdrawal, Bush administration officials have identified three main benefits of exiting the treaty. First and foremost, the United States secured the freedom to deploy any and all strategic missile defense systems that it wants, anywhere it wants. Under the treaty, the United States could deploy no more than 100 ground-based interceptors in North Dakota to protect against long-range ballistic missiles. Second, the Pentagon gained a freer hand to explore and test technologies and basing modes, such as sea- or space-based systems, that were proscribed against long-range ballistic missiles. Third, the Pentagon received greater license to pursue foreign cooperation on missile defense. Though the rhetoric has soared with the treaty’s end—J. D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, described the United States as being “liberated” in a March 2003 address—measurable results have been modest.

Deploying a Test Bed

The most visible move by the Bush administration since the ABM Treaty withdrawal has been Bush’s December 17, 2002, missile defense deployment announcement. Under the plan, the Pentagon will seek to deploy a total of 10 ground-based strategic missile interceptors in 2004. Six of the interceptors are to be located at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The Pentagon also aims to field another 10 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely in 2005, up to 20 sea-based interceptors on three ships, and an undisclosed number of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors.

With the exception of the second wave of ground-based interceptors in 2005, the administration’s deployment plan might have been permissible under the ABM Treaty. Both the PAC-3 and the sea-based missile interceptors are designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which is a mission known as theater missile defense (TMD). The ABM Treaty did not prohibit TMD systems. And prior to the treaty withdrawal, the Pentagon had unveiled a plan to station six ground-based strategic missile interceptors at Fort Greely as elements of a new test site. The ABM Treaty permitted the addition of new test sites, although there was uncertainty within the State Department over whether the United States simply needed to notify Russia of a new test site or gain Moscow’s approval to establish it. Pentagon statements that the test site could possibly be used in an emergency situation, blurring its status as an operational or test site, complicated the matter. Ultimately, what had been conceptualized and first described as a test site before the decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty then became a deployment following the treaty’s end. Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), has been frank about Fort Greely’s dual nature. He testified before a Senate subcommittee April 9 that “[i]n other words, instead of building a test bed that might be used operationally, we are fielding an initial defensive capability that we will continue to test.”

Although the ground-based interceptors scheduled for deployment at Fort Greely were a key element of the Clinton administration’s National Missile Defense (NMD) program and have been under development for years, they have not been tested in their final form yet. The interceptor’s booster, which carries the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that is to collide with a warhead in space, has not been flight-tested or selected. A surrogate booster has been used in all eight intercept tests to date. Originally, the Pentagon was supposed to have a new booster for intercept testing by early 2001. However, the booster’s development has been significantly delayed. Two competing models are each to be flight-tested twice this summer. Depending on their performance, the Pentagon will choose one or keep both for future intercept testing and deployment.

In general, the strategic ground-based system to be deployed beginning in 2004 is unproven. Thomas Christie, who heads the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation, reported to Congress in a February report that the proposed defense “has yet to demonstrate significant operational capability.”

The system’s eight intercept tests to date—five of which have proven successful—have not been very challenging or representative of a real-world scenario. Citing range limitations and safety considerations, the Pentagon has essentially been repeating the same test at a lower altitude and slower speeds than what a real intercept is likely to demand. The target in all the tests has been equipped with a C-band transponder, and data from that transponder is used to calculate the intercept plan guiding the interceptor into space toward the target. MDA justifies this practice as necessary due to the lack of a radar in the testing area to track the target in its early stages of flight. Information on the target is also fed into the EKV before the intercept attempt so that it can identify the mock warhead from among the other objects, including decoys, in the target cluster. The decoys used in the testing, balloons that are not vaguely similar to the mock warhead, are also largely considered unrepresentative of the foils a potential enemy might employ.

The Pentagon does not refute these criticisms but argues that such limitations and artificialities are the norm in early weapons testing. Kadish recently described the tests as “very scripted,” and Christie suggested the tests have been “relatively unrealistic.” Both officials say more complicated and stressful testing is soon to come. At the same time, documents submitted with the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2004 budget request reveal that MDA has cut several intercept tests previously planned prior to 2009. Between eight to 10 intercept tests are now planned over the next six years. One Senate Democratic staffer remarked in a May 14 interview that MDA’s testing plans have gone from “impossible to execute to anemic.” The staffer was referring to the fact that in recent years the Pentagon suggested it hoped to conduct up to four or even five intercept tests per year. A MDA spokesperson defended the schedule changes May 20, contending that a test schedule is “always notional, as it is for all weapon systems, and is adjusted to meet program needs.”

Despite the system’s acknowledged rudimentary and relatively untested nature, the Bush administration sees no reason not to deploy it. The underlying rationale is that something is better than nothing and can always be improved. In a May 20 document explaining its missile defense approach, the White House described the 2004 deployment as a “starting point” upon which it will add new systems when they become ready. The White House further contended that it is pursuing an “evolutionary approach” to missile defense and that there will be no “final, fixed missile defense architecture.” Democratic lawmakers have criticized this approach, claiming it results in systems being fielded prematurely.

New Tests, Same Uncertainty

The ABM Treaty specifically ruled out the testing, development, and deployment of strategic missile defense systems or components that were air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based. Recognizing that neither Washington nor Moscow would be able to verify what went on behind closed doors, the treaty’s negotiators did not bar research. Moreover, the treaty did not prohibit work on TMD systems, such as the PAC-3 that saw action in Iraq. Under the treaty, however, TMD systems and their components could not be tested or used against long-range targets.

In addition to the NMD program designed to counter strategic ballistic missiles, the Bush administration inherited several TMD programs from the Clinton administration. Many missile defense advocates inside and outside government were keen to see if some of these systems could contribute to or perform strategic intercepts. The ABM Treaty withdrawal provided the Pentagon with the opportunity to test such possibilities.

Since the treaty withdrawal, the Pentagon has conducted only two strategic missile defense intercept tests; one succeeded and one failed. In both, the Pentagon involved radars and sensors from various TMD systems to check whether they might be able to play a role in future strategic missile defenses. A ship-based radar, the Aegis system’s AN/SPY-1, was incorporated into both tests. A ground-based radar for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and a sensor on the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft—a modified Boeing 747 that is to be outfitted with a powerful laser—were part of the second test. All three systems participated in “shadow mode,” meaning they were used to observe the target, but the data they acquired was not used to aid the intercept attempt. All the sensors performed well, according to the Pentagon, although there has yet to be a determination whether they worked well enough to support a strategic intercept. The MDA spokesperson said May 20, however, that the ship-based radar could provide targeting data to “help” the ground-based interceptor system “develop a better firing solution.”

Some missile defense supporters have suggested that THAAD, ABL, and the ship-based system, which has been renamed twice by the Bush administration and is now known as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), might be able to do more than just track long-range targets—that they could also shoot them down. Yet, the Pentagon has not tested this proposition largely because the three systems have not proven themselves against the missiles they were initially designed to defend against. Long-range missile warheads travel at least seven to eight kilometers per second, which is nearly twice as fast as a medium-range missile, making strategic targets more elusive. The current Aegis BMD interceptor missile is deemed too slow by half to intercept a long-range missile warhead, and it has only been tested three times against relatively big targets moving slower than a medium-range ballistic missile warhead. The THAAD system has not been tested since the summer of 1999, when it destroyed two nonstrategic targets after failing in six straight tests, and is not to be flight-tested again until late 2004. The ABL aircraft has not been equipped with its laser, and the program’s future is clouded. Kadish noted at the April hearing, “[W]e are right on the edge of making this very revolutionary technology either prove itself or fail. And we just don’t know the answer to that question yet.” If the program continues, Kadish is predicting the first ABL test against a nonstrategic target no earlier than the end of 2004. None of the three systems is scheduled to be fired against a strategic target within the next few years.

The U.S. treaty withdrawal sent the Pentagon back to the drawing board for radars and sensors in general. In his April testimony, Kadish said, “I know we’re rethinking the combination of sensors…without the treaty now.” But instead of clarifying plans, the treaty withdrawal appears to have jumbled them, at least in the short term. Kadish admitted as much. “And there is a major debate inside the community…based on affordability reasons and a whole host of other technical issues. In my view, that debate is not resolved yet,” Kadish explained.

During the Clinton administration, Pentagon plans called for the construction of an advanced X-band radar on Alaska’s Shemya Island, a desolate island at the western tip of the Aleutians, and the deployment of two satellite constellations (Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-low and SBIRS-high) to track and discriminate among incoming ballistic missile warheads. Now, the Pentagon is planning to put the X-band radar on a sea-based platform. It has also significantly scaled back SBIRS-low and renamed it the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, while SBIRS-high has experienced a series of delays and cost overruns, pushing back its potential availability.

The near-term implication is that the ground-based interceptors to be deployed in 2004 and 2005 will not be supported by sensors that were previously assessed as being important elements for any future strategic missile defense. An upgraded early-warning radar and older model sensor satellites are intended to support the interceptors, but they are less capable than the envisioned systems. The X-band radar and new satellites were not to be available until 2005 or later under the Clinton administration as well, but the nascent and troubled state of the programs has raised greater concern about when they might really be ready. One of the staunchest Senate supporters of missile defense, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), even expressed doubts about the direction of sensor programs, critically questioning Kadish in April about MDA’s plans to put the X-band radar on a sea-based platform.

In addition to re-evaluating what sensors might do the best job of supporting a strategic missile intercept, the Pentagon is also considering new interceptor systems as well. MDA is exploring conceptual designs for miniature kill vehicles to enable multiple ones to be put on a single interceptor so it can engage several targets or decoys. A kill vehicle is the part of the interceptor that separates from the booster lifting it into space and then homes in on a target for a destructive collision. MDA also intends to soon begin evaluating designs for satellites armed with interceptors to shoot down ballistic missiles within the first few minutes after their launch. MDA intends to deploy up to three or five such satellites for testing purposes as early as 2008. Both of these concepts would have eventually run afoul of the ABM Treaty. At the same time, they are both in the preliminary stages and could have been investigated under the treaty for some time, perhaps years, before running up against the accord’s prohibition against testing and development.

A Little Help From Our Friends

The White House also advocated withdrawing from the ABM Treaty so international cooperation on missile defenses could be expanded. Other countries might be invited to participate in joint research, or they could also potentially permit U.S. missile defense assets to be deployed on their territories. Although the United States has sent delegations far and wide to discuss potential missile defense cooperation, the Pentagon has few results to show for its efforts.

The most tangible accomplishment has been the British government’s February decision to permit the United States to upgrade the Fylingdales early-warning radar on British territory. A similar request to the Danish government to do the same to a radar located at Thule, Greenland, has not been answered. The Pentagon’s aim is to improve the two radars’ tracking ability against missiles fired from the Middle East and enable them to guide interceptors to potential targets. Currently, the radars are limited to spotting missile launches and tracking missiles during their first few minutes of flight.

State Department and Pentagon officials said they could not name any other new programs initiated with foreign governments, but they said discussions were underway. While claiming that there has been “a good deal of progress” on international cooperation, one Pentagon official interviewed May 13 remarked, “[B]ut in the terms of getting into the details of specific countries, specific programs, specific discussions, the status of programs and discussions, we’re not ready to do that.” A State Department official interviewed May 19 reported that no “blueprint-type data” has been shared with foreign governments—an action Kadish frequently cites as one of the key benefits of the treaty withdrawal. The official added that some European countries have volunteered their territory for the deployment of missile defense assets.

Although only London has publicly signed up for new cooperation, Washington’s treaty withdrawal has quieted most overseas criticism of its missile defense plans. The State Department official interviewed May 19 characterized the change in tone as “remarkable,” noting that vehement opposition no longer exists and countries are more interested in exploring and discussing operational aspects of missile defenses, such as command and control issues. Reflecting this attitude shift, NATO agreed last November to undertake a study of missile defenses to protect allied territories and population against all ranges of ballistic missiles. Two NATO members, France and Germany, were leading missile defense opponents prior to the U.S. treaty withdrawal.

In its May 20 missile defense paper, the Bush administration said that, in order to pursue foreign missile defense cooperation, it would review existing U.S. export regulations that could hinder joint work or the transfer of missile defense technologies abroad. The White House declared it would “seek to eliminate impediments to such cooperation.” It also stated that the United States would implement the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)—an informal regime of 33 countries that aims to restrict the transfer of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more—in a manner so that it would not interfere with international missile defense cooperation. A State Department official interviewed May 22 said how that would be done has not been decided yet. Last summer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen warned in congressional testimony that the United States should be cognizant of the potential precedent it could set if it chose to allow transfers of missile systems that might fall under MTCR controls. Washington might undercut its ability to persuade other countries to abide by their MTCR commitments if the United States is also pursuing deals at odds with the regime, he suggested.

The ABM Treaty did not rule out all U.S. cooperation on missile defenses with foreign governments. Israel, Japan, Italy, and Germany had programs for jointly researching or developing TMD systems underway with the United States when Bush took office. Washington and Moscow also agreed to work together in 1992 on designing two satellites for use in spotting ballistic missile launches. All of these programs are still ongoing, although some, particularly the Russian project, have been troubled.


U.S. Missile Defense: Protection
Against a North Korean Threat?

As the Bush administration seeks to maintain political support for its missile defense plans, it is using the potential threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program as a key element in its sales pitch. President George W. Bush argued during an April 24 interview that a U.S. missile defense “will make it less likely that a nuclear country could blackmail us or Japan or any one of our friends.”

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer added during an April 25 briefing that North Korea’s recent “announcement” that it possesses nuclear weapons “is an important reminder of why missile defense is an important part of our strategy to defend our country.”

A May 20 White House fact sheet on U.S. missile defense policy states that the United States is pursuing such a defense to augment its deterrence capability against states “aggressively pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles as a means of coercing the United States and our allies”—a possible reference to North Korea.

Although North Korea’s long-range missile programs have been a source of concern, both administration officials and other experts have expressed concern that a nuclear-armed North Korea could present security threats that a U.S. missile defense system could not counter, such as selling fissile material to other governments or inspiring other regional powers to acquire nuclear weapons.

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet sounded a new alarm about North Korea’s missile program when he testified during a February congressional hearing that Pyongyang currently possesses a missile capable of reaching the United States.

A CIA spokesperson interviewed in February cited a December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate as the agency’s most recent public assessment of North Korea’s missile program. The estimate says North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 missile could hit parts of the continental United States in a two-stage configuration and all of North America in a three-stage configuration. North Korea has not tested these missiles, the spokesman said.

The longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested is the Taepo Dong-1, which it launched into the Sea of Japan in 1998. As configured, that missile cannot reach the United States. Pyongyang announced in September that it would extend indefinitely a 1999 moratorium on long-range missile testing.

What About Costs?

Although the scorecard appears relatively bare for those who advocated dumping the ABM Treaty, no serious negative repercussions have accumulated either.

Russia and China condemned the U.S. withdrawal and still grumble occasionally about U.S. missile defense plans, but neither has announced new armament plans. There has not been an unraveling of arms control treaties as Russia threatened could happen. In fact, Moscow negotiated a new nuclear arms reduction agreement, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), with Washington after Bush announced his intention to scrap the ABM Treaty. Both Moscow and Beijing seem to have concluded that the technical complexity of missile defenses will hamper the United States from fielding anything in the short term that could threaten their security and therefore have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. To be sure, both countries are strongly pushing for negotiation of a treaty essentially devoted to preventing the deployment of space-based missile defenses. Any U.S. move to test or deploy such systems would generate significant anxiety and ill will, and not just from Russia and China.

Harder to assess is whether the treaty withdrawal impacted other countries’ willingness to cooperate with the United States on other international security issues, such as confronting and disarming Iraq. Many countries have expressed dismay with what they perceive as the Bush administration’s unilateralist style, but the ABM Treaty withdrawal is just one of a series of actions that have elicited foreign consternation. One European diplomat based in Washington and interviewed May 16 speculated that Washington’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol regarding global warming ranked as the U.S. act that most upset other countries. The diplomat went on to say that, politically, the withdrawal would seem to have been largely positive so far, taking into account the shift in tone surrounding missile defense globally.

What Has Not Happened

Nearly a year after the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, it is as easy to identify what has not happened as what has. The United States appears no closer to deploying a working defense against strategic ballistic missiles than it was before withdrawing from the treaty. The sole system on the horizon is the same one inherited from the Clinton administration, and it still remains unproven. The possible deployment of sensors and radars for tracking long-range ballistic missiles has slipped further. Despite concerted attempts to sell other countries on the merits of missile defenses, few have bought in, although that could change. But no countries have also taken up arms against the United States for its move, and none have copied the U.S. action. North Korea’s announced withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty earlier this year cannot be attributed to the U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal, and Russia’s June 2002 declaration that it would no longer be bound by the START II nuclear arms reduction accord, which had not entered into force and was effectively superseded by SORT, was more symbolic than substantive.

While not agreeing on much, some missile defense proponents and critics have contended that the U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal, coupled with Bush’s December 2002 deployment announcement, has ended the long debate over missile defenses. Until missile defenses are proven to work, however, the expenditure of several billions of dollars per year on their research and development will surely stimulate debate. Furthermore, if the United States ultimately proves successful in fielding effective defenses, the response from other countries could make the original motivation leading to the negotiation of the ABM Treaty—the desire to avoid an offensive-defensive arms race—relevant again.

Whether the United States can deploy effective defenses remains unknown. Notwithstanding the Patriot systems’ purported success in the latest Iraq conflict, technical challenges and obstacles did not disappear with the ABM Treaty. The objective of hitting a relatively slow-moving short-range ballistic missile warhead differs significantly from destroying a long-range ballistic missile warhead potentially accompanied by sophisticated countermeasures speeding through space. Philip Coyle, who reviewed all Pentagon weapons testing for six years during the Clinton administration, describes missile defense as the hardest thing the Pentagon has ever tried to do. One person who probably understands this better than anybody else is Kadish, who noted at a March 2003 missile defense conference that, with the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the Bush administration “has taken our excuses away.”


Last June 13, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, eliminating the treaty’s limits on the U.S. ability to develop...

GAO Faults Missile Defense Satellite Plan

Wade Boese

Despite a recent revamping and name change, a satellite program to aid missile defense missions is still not on the right path, according to a May report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Formerly known as the Space-Based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low), the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) is set to have its first two satellites launched in 2007. GAO, which conducts studies for Congress, reported that the two satellites are to be built from equipment shelved four years ago and that they will not serve as the design model for future STSS satellites. Focusing near-term efforts on building these two satellites rather than exploring and developing a new satellite design is not the best strategy, GAO indicated.

GAO explained that putting off work on a newer satellite “will merely delay the opportunity to learn more about a design that could offer a future operational capability.”

Over the next six years, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has budgeted roughly $1 billion to complete work on the first two satellites and $1.3 billion for developing the next generation satellite, which is supposed to be launched in 2011. Projected spending for fiscal year 2004 calls for using 92 percent of STSS funding to make the first two satellites operational.

STSS is intended to be a system capable of detecting a missile launch, tracking the missile’s entire flight, and relaying that information quickly to missile defense systems so they can try to intercept the missile. As SBIRS-low, the system was also intended to be able to discriminate a warhead from any decoys that might be accompanying it, but that requirement has been dropped for now. SBIRS-low was overhauled because of cost overruns, schedule delays, and poor performance.

GAO noted that developing space-based systems for missile defense has proved difficult. Despite spending billions of dollars since 1984 on such projects, GAO noted that the Pentagon “has not launched a single satellite or demonstrated any space-based missile tracking capabilities from space using technologies similar to those to be used by STSS.” GAO further identified seven specific capabilities that still needed to be demonstrated for satellites tasked with missile defense missions. Those include an ability to track a missile warhead in space from thousands of kilometers away and passing that tracking data to other satellites and systems.

GAO warned that the current STSS approach is ill conceived. The Pentagon is “at risk of repeating past mistakes because it has made decisions that are largely focused on meeting its 2007 launch date rather than making sure the satellites and ground station can work as intended and that it can gain the maximum knowledge at the lowest cost.”



Despite a recent revamping and name change, a satellite program to aid missile defense missions is still not on the right path, according to a May report by the General Accounting Office (GAO)...

Senate Endorses Nuclear Reductions Treaty; Duma Delays

Christine Kucia

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) March 6, paving the way for U.S. participation in the pact with Russia to slash nuclear arsenals by roughly two-thirds over the next decade. Meanwhile, citing disagreement with the U.S. decision to enter into war with Iraq, the Russian Duma postponed consideration of the treaty March 18.

Under the treaty, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002, each side will reduce its deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,700-2,200 by 2012—cutting the present deployment of 6,000 warheads in each country.

Several Democratic senators strongly criticized the treaty’s provisions during the floor debate, alleging that the pact contained serious flaws. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) called SORT “as flimsy a treaty as the Senate has ever considered.” Senators also highlighted recent Bush administration nuclear policy changes that, according to Richard Durbin (D-IL), “threaten to make nuclear weapons appear to be useful, legitimate, offensive first-strike weapons.” Even the opponents, however, concurred with Senator Joseph Biden’s (D-DE) assessment: “The arms reductions in [SORT] do not go far enough…but they are better than nothing.” The Senate voted 95-0 to recommend the treaty’s ratification.

Senate critics noted that SORT forgoes several important provisions contained in prior nuclear arms control agreements. The treaty contains no additional means of verifying the reductions that each side promises to make and does not include a schedule for achieving the reductions by the December 31, 2012, end date. SORT also does not require dismantlement or elimination of warheads or delivery systems, whereas prior treaties mandated delivery vehicle destruction. The Bush administration has indicated that it will take weapons off operational deployment temporarily or put them in storage in order to meet the treaty’s conditions.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised SORT, saying it is “simple, straight-forward, and gives each party maximum flexibility.” The agreement demonstrates the improved relations between Washington and Moscow after the Cold War, Lugar said, adding, “This treaty utilizes confidence-building measures based on trust and friendship…. It is a signal that the hostility of the Cold War has been buried and forgotten.”

Several Democratic senators introduced amendments to help remedy some of SORT’s perceived shortcomings. An amendment by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) required presidential consultation with the Senate prior to withdrawing from or making a substantive change to the treaty. In December 2001, Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without requesting the Senate’s approval, and critics charged the Senate should be consulted not only on ratification but also on treaty withdrawal. The amendment lost by a 50-44 vote.

An amendment from Kerry stipulated verification measures and required the United States to declare its confidence in monitoring Russian nuclear weapons deployments. Citing recent concerns over protecting nuclear weapons and materials from transfer to terrorists and adversaries, Kerry argued that “it is critical we have an understanding, in order to protect the security interests of our own country, of our own ability to monitor Russian compliance.” Lugar maintained that the measures suggested by Kerry are already included as part of the U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, which provides U.S. assistance for securing and dismantling Russian weapons of mass destruction. The proposal was voted down 50-45.

These amendments were defeated after Biden, ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined Lugar in supporting the resolution of ratification without further amendments. Biden justified his votes by saying that he had agreed to oppose changes in return for White House agreement to back two conditions and eight declarations the Foreign Relations Committee had added earlier to the resolution of ratification. As approved, the resolution calls on the president to report annually on U.S. treaty implementation efforts and provide an accounting of U.S. assistance to Russia to help secure its nuclear arsenal in order to meet treaty obligations. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Despite indications in early March that U.S.-Iraqi tensions would have no bearing on the treaty’s passage, the Russian Duma deferred consideration of the ratification bill until after it reconvenes April 1. Putin submitted an amended ratification bill to the Duma March 13 for approval after the lower house returned the first Russian resolution to the president with substantial amendments. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said March 26 that Russia should ratify SORT but not until “the situation around Iraq is solved through the UN Security Council,” according to the Interfax news agency.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) March 6, paving the way for U.S. participation in the pact with Russia...

No Appeal in ABM Treaty Case

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and 31 other members of the House of Representatives decided in mid-January not to appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit charging that President George W. Bush could not unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty took effect last year on June 13.

Judge John D. Bates dismissed the lawsuit December 30, 2002. Bates contended that the 32 members could not claim to have suffered personal injuries by the president’s action; therefore they did not have the proper standing to bring a case before the court. He also argued that the issue of treaty withdrawal was a political question and not one for the courts to decide, as long as Congress had not asserted itself on the issue. Bates stated that the 32 representatives could not claim to represent the entire Congress. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The representatives decided against appealing the case largely because of what they believed were some positive aspects of the ruling, according to one of their lawyers. In his decision, Bates left open the question of whether congressional approval is needed for the United States to withdraw from a treaty and did not rule out the possibility that a court might need to make a judgment on such a question if the executive and legislative branches ever reached an impasse on it.

John Burroughs, an attorney for the representatives, noted in a February 19 interview that the decision sends a signal to Congress that “the space is there” for it to assert its role in the treaty withdrawal process.

Other considerations influencing the decision not to appeal included the possibility that a higher court might render a more unfavorable decision and a belief that a court would be less likely to challenge the president’s move as more time passes from when the withdrawal took effect.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and 31 other members of the House of Representatives decided in mid-January not to appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit charging that President George W. Bush could not unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty took effect last year on June 13. (Continue)

The 1997 START II/ABM Package at a Glance

March 2019

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: March 2019

In September 1997, representatives from the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed a package of agreements in New York designed to enhance the prospects for Russian ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II and to clarify issues pertaining to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Efforts to bring the package into force have been terminated, however, following the signing of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) between Moscow and Washington in May 2002, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, and Russia's subsequent announcement that it would no longer be bound by its START II commitments.

The package consisted of the START II extension protocol and associated agreements, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on ABM Treaty succession, the first and second agreed-upon statements on ABM-theater missile defense (TMD) demarcation, a confidence-building measures agreement related to TMD systems, and an agreement updating the regulations of the Standing Consultative Commission, a body composed of treaty party representatives that discusses implementing issues.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin transmitted these agreements to the Duma in April 1998. The Clinton administration stated that it would submit the START II documents, MOU on Succession, and both demarcation agreements to the Senate for its advice and consent on ratification after Russia ratified START II. The Senate failed to do so after Russia approved START II and the 1997 agreements in early 2000.

START II Protocol and Associated Agreements

  • START II Protocol: Extended the time period for the completion of START II reductions from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007.
  • Albright-Primakov letters on early deactivation: Upon START II's entry into force, the United States and Russia would deactivate all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles slated for elimination under the treaty (e.g. SS-18, SS-24, and MX missiles) by December 31, 2003 by "removing their nuclear re-entry vehicles or taking other jointly agreed steps." Primakov's letter also contained a unilateral statement: "Taking into account the supreme national interests of the county, the Russian Federation proceeds from the understanding that well in advance of the above deactivation deadline the START III Treaty will be achieved and enter into force." Albright's letter took note of Russia's position.
  • Joint Agreed Statement: Allowed the United States to "download" (remove warheads from) Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) under START II any time before December 31, 2007, the deadline for all START II-mandated reductions. Previously, the United States was required to download its Minuteman IIIs by December 5, 2001, seven years after START I's entry into force.

MOU on Succession to the ABM Treaty

  • Designated the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as the parties of the ABM Treaty. Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine would assume the rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union under the treaty. Thus they collectively would be limited to ABM deployment at a single site and a total of 15 ABM launchers at test ranges.
  • Broadened the ABM Treaty's membership because a number of ABM-related facilities, required to operate Russia's ABM system, were located outside Russian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine also regarded ABM Treaty membership as a key element of their independent status. The United States viewed the MOU as important because it recognized the ex-Soviet states as bound by the treaty.
  • Although the Clinton administration argued that the ABM Treaty was in force because the power to determine succession lies within the executive branch, it agreed in May 1997 to submit the MOU to the Senate for approval in connection with the ratification of an unrelated agreement associated with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. However, the MOU was never submitted.

First Agreed Statement on Demarcation

  • Permitted the deployment of "lower-velocity" theater missile defense (TMD) systems (those with interceptor velocities of 3 kilometers per second or less) provided that they would not be tested against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 kilometers per second or ranges that exceeded 3,500 kilometers.
  • Enabled the United States to deploy the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, as well as the Navy's Area Defense system. Previously, the United States had reviewed these systems and declared them to be treaty-compliant.

Second Agreed Statement on Demarcation

  • Prohibited the parties from testing "higher-velocity" TMD systems (those with interceptor velocities above 3 kilometers per second) against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 kilometers per second or ranges that exceeded 3,500 kilometers.
  • Prohibited the development, testing or deployment of space-based TMD interceptor missiles, or space-based components based on other physical principles (such as lasers) which could be capable of substituting for such interceptor missiles.
  • Allowed each side to determine its own compliance with respect to higher-velocity TMD systems. The United States had determined that the Navy's Theater-Wide Defense (NTWD) system was compliant with ABM Treaty requirements.

Confidence-Building Measures Agreement (CBMA)

  • Ninety days after entry into force, the parties would conduct an initial exchange of information about TMD systems and components covered by the CBMA: U.S. THAAD and NTWD systems, as well as the Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian SA-12 systems. (Kazakhstan does not possess the SA-12.). This information would be updated annually.
  • Prior to testing, parties would notify one another of the test ranges that would be used to test a system governed under the CBMA. Ten days' advance notification was required prior to a TMD system test using ballistic missile targets.

Regulations of the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC)

  • The United States and Soviet Union established operating regulations for the SCC in 1973. These regulations were revised after Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine agreed to assume the rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty.
Strategic Arms Control and Policy

ABM Lawsuit Dismissed

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit December 30 by 32 members of the House of Representatives charging that President George W. Bush could not unilaterally withdraw the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. It is unclear if the representatives, led by Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), will appeal the decision. (See ACT, July/August 2002.)

Judge John D. Bates, citing two points, rejected hearing the representatives’ claim that Congress needs to give its assent for the United States to withdraw from a treaty. Bates ruled that the representatives did not have the proper standing to bring the case because they were not personally injured by the president’s act and because the issue of treaty termination is a “nonjusticiable ‘political question’ that cannot be resolved by the courts.”

On the first point, Bates asserted that, since the representatives were claiming that they suffered “a grievous institutional injury by being deprived of their constitutional right and duty to participate in treaty termination,” they could not claim personal injury, a prerequisite for bringing a lawsuit. Bates also denied that the representatives could even claim an “institutional” injury, declaring that they “have not been authorized, implicitly or explicitly, to bring this lawsuit on behalf of the House, a committee of the House, or Congress as a whole.” He further observed that, in the time after the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, neither the House nor the Senate has objected as an institution to the president’s action.

Explaining his second reason for dismissing the case, Bates noted that no branch of government is assigned the authority to terminate a treaty but that the Constitution “clearly relegates authority over foreign affairs to the Executive and Legislative Branches, with no role for the Judicial Branch to second-guess or reconsider foreign policy decisions.” He added that, since Congress had not asserted itself on the issue, neither should the court. Doing so “would preempt what is clearly the prerogative of Congress,” Bates concluded.

John Burroughs, a lawyer for the representatives, took heart from one aspect of the judgment, noting in a January 1 statement that Bates’ decision “does not foreclose Congress from asserting its constitutional role in the treaty termination process.”

Third Sea-Based Missile Intercept Succeeds

A ship-based missile defense system designed to shoot down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles scored its third consecutive success in a November 21 intercept test off Hawaii.

Unlike the past two tests, which took place in January and June, this latest test required the sea-based midcourse defense system’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor to strike the target while it was still rising minutes after launch rather than when it was descending back toward Earth. The intercept happened after the target’s boost phase, meaning that its rocket engine had stopped firing.

The Pentagon launched the target from Kauai, Hawaii, and about two minutes later the USS Lake Erie, which was stationed approximately 250 kilometers from the target launch site, fired the SM-3. The intercept occurred roughly 90 seconds later when the SM-3’s kill vehicle, a warhead that maneuvers in space to find the target, collided with the Aries missile at an altitude of 150 kilometers. The previous two intercepts took place at about the same altitude, 160 kilometers.

While the two earlier tests spanned eight minutes from start to finish, the latest test totaled three and a half minutes. A spokesperson from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which manages U.S. missile defense programs, said the ship had a 70-85 second window to locate the target after its launch and fire the SM-3 at it.

This test marked the first in a new series of six tests that might eventually involve a target warhead separating from its booster. The Aries type of missile used in all three intercept tests to date remains in one piece and is larger than the missiles the sea-based midcourse defense might have to destroy in a real missile attack by another country.

The new round of six tests is not expected to include any long-range targets, according to the MDA spokesperson. For now, the testing focus is on developing an emergency capability against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles by 2006.

The next intercept attempt for the ship-based system is not yet set, but it will not take place before next spring.

Explaining Mr. Putin: Russia's New Nuclear Diplomacy

Andrew C. Kuchins

Since at least 1999, much of the arms control and Russia-watching communities repeatedly cautioned that U.S. plans to develop and deploy national missile defense would bring on the next “great train wreck” in U.S.-Russian relations (to say nothing of the nonproliferation regime). Some Russian analysts in 2000 and 2001 expressed concern that the one-two punch of killing the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and expanding NATO to include the Baltic states would strike such a blow to U.S.-Russian relations that it risked bringing on another Cold War and an arms race as well as a possible security alliance between Moscow and Beijing.1

The Russians repeated over and over the mantra that the ABM Treaty was “the cornerstone of strategic stability” and, if the United States abandoned it, the entire architecture of arms control would unravel. Russian President Vladimir Putin, like his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, warned his American counterparts that U.S. unilateral action on the ABM Treaty would receive an “adequate response” from the Russian side—a warning that U.S. and Russian analysts often interpreted as including a variety of measures, such as withdrawing from the START regime; putting multiple warheads on the Topol-M ballistic missile; deepening strategic cooperation with China, Iran, and perhaps others; and pulling back from cooperative threat reduction efforts to secure Russian weapons and fissile materials.

Although some of these predictions may come to pass—in fact, it can be argued that some already have, with Moscow’s withdrawal from START II and its talk of increased cooperation with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—it is clear that, at least in the short term, the reaction from the Russians has been much more positive than expected. With the ABM Treaty dead and NATO poised to invite the Baltic states to join its next round of expansion, U.S.-Russian relations and Russia’s ties with the West are arguably better than anytime since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin quietly critiqued the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty as a “mistake” rather than a catastrophe. Despite the withdrawal, he made it clear that he was committed to improving U.S.-Russian relations and supporting the counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. Now one may reasonably assert that U.S.-Russian relations have improved in spite of rather than because of Bush administration policies. The fact remains, however, that the Russians have behaved in a manner contrary to the predictions of most experts in the Russia-watching and arms control communities. As Ricky Ricardo often said in response to Lucy’s vexing antics, “You have a lot of ‘xplaining to do.”

The improvement in U.S.-Russian relations stands as one of the major positive developments from the shock to the international system brought on by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September. It would have raised more than a few eyebrows a year ago to speculate that U.S.-Russian relations would be closer than any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union even after the United States had withdrawn from the ABM Treaty, supported NATO expansion to the Baltic states, established military bases in Central Asia, and sent military advisers to Georgia. September 11 and the decisions of the Putin administration to unconditionally support the United States have had a tremendously catalytic effect toward improving U.S.-Russian relations.

But was it just September 11 that so fundamentally altered the strategic environment from Putin’s perspective that his views on nuclear issues underwent a metamorphosis akin to that of biblical Saul on the road to Damascus? Or did Putin recognize that in Russia’s weakened condition there was little Russia could do in response to U.S. offensive and defensive nuclear strategy that would advance Russian interests? Or did Putin want to distract attention from his decision not to cut a deal with the Clinton administration that might have been more favorable to Russian interests, salvaging the ABM Treaty and generating a new START III agreement?2

As is often the case in explaining complex phenomena, no single explanation is sufficient. To understand the response of the Putin administration to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty we must account for September 11 and changing Russian foreign policy priorities, the post-Cold War structure of the international system, and—to the extent we can—the calculations of Putin in a domestic and foreign political context.

Russia Reassesses Its Priorities

There is no doubt that September 11 increased Russia’s strategic value to the United States and that U.S. and Russian interests were closely aligned in overthrowing the Taliban and destroying al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. In fact, for years Moscow had been stressing to Washington the dangers of terrorism and Islamic-inspired and -supported separatist groups. At the Ljubljana summit in June 2001 where he first met George W. Bush, Putin proposed greater intelligence sharing on nonproliferation and terrorism and specifically addressed the terrorist threat emanating from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.3 Unconditional Russian support for the United States and the international coalition in Afghanistan through intelligence sharing, arms supplies to the Northern Alliance, and acquiescence to the U.S. use of military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan catalyzed the dramatic U.S.-Russian rapprochement of the fall of 2001 that served as the backdrop for discussions and negotiations on the future of the ABM Treaty and nuclear arms reductions.

But the momentum of U.S.-Russian rapprochement predated September 11. The Bush administration realized in the spring of 2001 that to pursue its goals of national missile defense and NATO expansion it needed to somehow bring the Russians on board, in great part to mollify its European allies who feared a breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations.4 Bush made a concerted effort to cast relations between Washington and Moscow in a warm light. At their first meeting in Slovenia, Bush stated, “I said in Poland, and I’ll say it again, Russia is not the enemy of the United States. As a matter of fact, after our meeting today, I’m convinced it can be a strong partner and friend, more so than people could imagine.”5 Putin essentially agreed with these sentiments, but the Russian warmth was more than a function of tactical maneuvering on specific issues. Powerful internal and external changes have contributed to an increasingly pro-West and pro-U.S. orientation in Russian foreign policy that transcends the impact of September 11 and helps us understand the stance Putin has taken on the ABM Treaty and nuclear arms reductions in the past year.

Putin’s foremost preoccupation is the economic recovery and modernization of Russia, and he clearly understands that the West is an essential partner for success in this task. Not only will continuous and stable economic growth be essential for his own political future, but Putin knows that only through strengthening Russia’s global economic position will Russia restore its place as a respected major power in the international system. Putin’s outlook for Russia can be likened to that of Deng Xiaoping, who more than 20 years ago concluded that long-term economic recovery was essential for restoring Chinese international influence as well as bringing prosperity to the Chinese people. In fact, Russia’s continued interaction with Iran and Iraq—which on the one hand could be seen as a strategic rebuff to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty—could also be seen in a purely economic light. Russia makes money from selling arms and civilian nuclear technology to Iran, and it wants to develop oil in Iraq and reclaim its Soviet-era debt from Baghdad.

There is also an increasing tendency in Russia to view the West, notably the United States, as a key security partner in Eurasia. This was most vividly demonstrated by the strong coincidence of interests between Russia and the United States in overthrowing the Taliban and destroying the bases and training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It would be an overstatement to say that Russia is unequivocally pleased with the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and now Georgia; Moscow remains sensitive to the possibility that Russia’s influence could be seriously curtailed in this traditional sphere of influence. But as the Russian president has stated on a number of occasions, there are real dangers and threats emanating from Russia’s southern periphery including terrorism, religious extremism, and drug trafficking. Russia recognizes that it shares an interest with the United States in addressing these threats in Central Asia, including Afghanistan and the Caucasus, and it realizes that alone it does not have the resources to guarantee security and stability there.

Concomitant with these developments is the view in Moscow that the West, including the United States and NATO, is not a direct threat to Russia. The mentality of the current Russian military leadership was shaped and trained in an environment when the West was the primary threat, and existing documents approved in 2000 in the wake of the war in Kosovo still identify the hegemonic and unbridled power of the United States as a major threat to Russian interests. But increasingly, the formative military experiences of the Russian military leadership will be conflicts in the south, beginning with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Chechnya. In fact, the Russian government has begun discussions on drafting a new security doctrine to reflect this shift in focus.

Finally, Russia is coming to realize that in traditional power terms it cannot compete with the United States. Many analysts, observers, and politicians who have warned for the last decade that withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, expansion of NATO, war in the Balkans, and other possible actions taken by the United States and the West will lead to a new Cold War neglect the essential point that Russia simply lacks the resources to engage in such a pitched battle for any foreseeable future.6 World Bank calculations for 1999 have the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) as more than 20 times the size of that of Russia; even adjusted for purchasing power parity, the U.S. GDP is 9 times that of Russia. For comparison sake, GDP figures for the Soviet Union and the United States in 1982 had the Soviet GDP at about 46 percent of that of the United States.7 Even in its salad days, competing with the United States was beyond the means of the Soviet Union. Soviet efforts to compete with the United States and its NATO allies greatly contributed to the collapse of the Soviet economy, and the Russian leadership is painfully aware of this history.

Russians may not be comfortable with the deep power asymmetry of the U.S.-Russian relationship, but Putin and many Russians have reconciled themselves to Russia’s position in the world and no longer harbor superpower illusions. The Russian leadership also understands that this is not an “equal partnership,” as no country really has such a relationship with a global hegemon such as the United States, whose combination of economic and military power is unparalleled in modern times. Rather than trying to balance the power of the United States as espoused in the multipolar world framework associated with former Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov, Putin has elected to “bandwagon” with U.S. power. It was a highly effective strategy of former U.S. adversaries Germany and Japan after World War II. Putin hopes that by becoming an accepted member of the Western club, Moscow may have more influence on the definition of the “rules of the game” in ways that will better serve Russian interests.

The Impact on Nuclear Strategy

This great power asymmetry means that, when it came time for changes to the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship, in many respects Moscow did not have a choice but to go along with what the Bush administration wanted. For example, Russia’s choice on missile defense was either to withdraw from the ABM Treaty jointly or to watch the United States unilaterally withdraw. Not surprisingly, Putin chose the latter course since the former offered no domestic or foreign political incentives for him.

The situation was similar with the strategic nuclear reductions agreement signed in May. The assessments of the U.S. and Russian arms control communities were fairly unanimous in the view that the treaty leaves much to be desired on counting rules, the speed of reductions, and transparency and verification measures. Because it does not call for the destruction of downloaded warheads, the agreement leaves Russia, which is being forced to reduce its deployed arsenal for economic reasons, facing a United States that will be capable of rapidly reconstituting its forces. But Russia faced a Hobson’s choice between a bad treaty or no treaty at all—between accepting a lightweight treaty that allows maximum flexibility for both the United States and Russia or risking the complete demise of the nuclear arms reduction treaty regime. At least this treaty’s minimalism gave Russia some benefits, such as the ability to keep MIRVs in its arsenal.

John Holum, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, accurately captured Russia’s position when he recently explained why the Russians agreed to such a minimalist arms reductions treaty:

President Putin came to the negotiating table with virtually no leverage. He could not bargain warhead numbers down because it has long been obvious that Russia cannot afford to maintain its existing forces and, in fact, Moscow has for years been pushing for a lower number than the United States would accept. Previously, Putin’s main leverage to extract lower numbers and other concessions had been his ability to withhold amendment of the ABM Treaty, but that card evaporated in December when President Bush gave notice of U.S. withdrawal from that treaty.8

The long-time Russian arms control negotiator, Georgy Mamedov, must have felt a bit like John Maynard Keynes did in World War II negotiating financial terms with the demanding allies in Washington. Keynes dreaded these discussions, and on his last mission he wrote, “May it never fall to my lot [again] to have to persuade anyone to do what I want with so few cards in my hand.”9

Those in the Russian government tasked with defending the arms reduction treaty could muster little enthusiasm. Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov was only slightly disingenuous when he said, “Neither side, neither Russia nor the United States, surrendered any national interests while drafting this agreement…. This agreement is the result of a compromise, like any other international agreement.”10 Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov evaluated the situation a little more honestly in simply concluding, “It was the most that we could get.” 11 Alexei Arbatov, deputy chair of the Duma Defense Committee, agreed with this conclusion, but argued that Russia had weakened its bargaining position by announcing its reductions plans and failing to proceed more rapidly in the development of the Topol-M force, a weapon that he insists is a generation ahead of the Americans’. In Arbatov’s view, if Russia had proceeded more aggressively with the Topol-M, the United States would have likely taken a softer stance both on the ABM Treaty and arms reduction talks.12 Maybe, but it is doubtful.

But Russian acquiescence on the ABM Treaty withdrawal and a suboptimal strategic reductions treaty represents more than just a bitter psychological pill that the Russians have been forced to swallow because of a power imbalance. It also reflects Russia’s increasingly pro-Western foreign policy, as discussed above. If the West is not a potential adversary in any foreseeable future, there is no need for Russia to maintain an anachronistic nuclear posture that emphasizes the ability to destroy the United States. In accepting ABM Treaty withdrawal and signing a new arms control agreement, Putin has effectively agreed with the Bush team’s assertion that nuclear issues, offensive and defensive, are now a relatively smaller piece of a broader and deeper U.S.-Russian relationship. A most insightful commentary on why Putin signed the nuclear arms reduction treaty was offered by Izvestia commentator Georgy Bovt:

In signing such a treaty, Putin does not simply bow to the necessity of taking into account the new realities and limited financial capabilities of the country but tries to literally push Russia to a new relationship level with the United States and the entire world…. The real threats to Russia these days are coming not from the West but from the South….13

The current U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship is truly a Cold War relic that correlates less and less with other key indices of the international balance of power. Neither does the nuclear relationship correspond with the improvement of bilateral relations that has occurred in fits and starts over the last decade or so. Although the United States and Russia may not be “friends,” as Bush administration officials are fond of saying, we certainly are not enemies. Yet, contradicting the quality of the bilateral relationship at its core is enduring nuclear deterrence.14

Getting beyond deterrence, however, is an admirable but very long-term goal. Despite the Bush administration’s claims, the “balance of terror” that characterized the Cold War has not been eliminated. Both the United States and Russia still insist on having the ability to destroy each other.

Rather, the most salient conclusion one can draw from the Russian positions on the ABM Treaty and the signing of the Treaty of Moscow is that the Kremlin is taking a major step toward getting beyond the parity paradigm that has characterized the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship. The Treaty of Moscow maintains the appearance of parity, which remains important for some of Putin’s domestic political constituencies, but in effect it allows both the Russians and the Americans a great deal of flexibility to pursue their own nuclear strategies. Because of financial constraints, Russia is likely to deploy 1,700 or fewer warheads while the United States remains at the 2,200-warhead upper limit allowed by the treaty. Nuclear parity will therefore no longer exist.

Calculations and Miscalculations

In reviewing Putin’s policies on nuclear security with the United States since he came to power nearly three years ago, we cannot understand his motivations without taking into account his domestic political context. The decisions Putin has made not to protest the actions of the Bush administration too loudly can be seen in part as an attempt to deflect attention from what, in retrospect, may seem like miscalculations.

In the months before the United States announced its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Putin had reason to believe that a deal could be reached with the Bush administration. At a June 2001 press conference in Ljubljana, he dismissed comments by U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the United States would deploy a national missile defense, saying,

But we took due note of the other statements of senior administration officials. Now the secretary of state, for example, said….“The United States is not seeking destruction of the ABM Treaty of 1972, but firmly intends to follow the course for creating effective but limited missile defenses.”… I think this is a very serious statement. The U.S. is not seeking the destruction of the ABM Treaty.15

Putin and other Russian officials thought—as did many in Washington—that a deal was even more likely after September 11 since the United States “needed” the Russians. That the United States made the withdrawal decision after the tide had turned in Afghanistan made the Russians feel used. Coming so quickly on the heels of the dramatic post-September 11 U.S.-Russian rapprochement, it was an embarrassing slap in the face and a disappointment for Putin. Putin’s relatively mild response to U.S. withdrawal can thus be seen as an attempt to distract attention from Washington’s poor treatment of Moscow, which seemed to suggest that Russia was not in fact that important in the post-September 11 world.

Perhaps more importantly, had Putin protested loudly, it might have highlighted what must have seemed, in retrospect, like a serious miscalculation: the fact that he had not made a deal with the Clinton administration that would have preserved the ABM Treaty and provided for a more satisfactory and far-reaching—if not deeper-cutting—treaty on nuclear arms reduction. Did Putin really think that he could possibly get a better deal with a new Bush administration if elected? There was a conventional wisdom running in Russian foreign policy elite circles that it would be easier to do business with the so-called more realistic, hardball Republicans than with the more “romantic” Democrats as the Soviets had cut deals with previous Republican administrations from Nixon to Reagan to Bush the elder.

But this explanation is based on such a fundamentally flawed assumption that it stretches the imagination to believe Putin fully bought into it. The flaw, of course, is that during those earlier Republican administrations—at least Nixon and Reagan (the most frequently noted analogous cases for Russian punditry)—Washington believed that Soviet international power was, if not on the rise, then on par with the United States. In 1999 and 2000, that was obviously no longer the case. Furthermore, dismissive and negative comments about Russia by candidate Bush and some of his leading advisers in 1999 and 2000 should also have led Putin to conclude that an incoming Republican administration would be more difficult to deal with on arms reduction and the ABM Treaty.

A more plausible explanation is that the new and inexperienced Russian president did not feel politically powerful enough to make a bold deal with the Americans in 2000. In an environment of high anti-Americanism in influential Russian circles in the wake of the war in Kosovo, the new president’s popularity was more likely to be enhanced if he was seen as standing tall against the Americans and not budging from defending Russia’s national interest in preserving the “cornerstone of strategic stability,” the ABM Treaty. There was virtually no domestic political upside for Putin to compromise on a modified ABM Treaty that would allow for the United States to pursue a limited national missile defense.


It has almost become conventional wisdom in analysis of Russian foreign and security policymaking that economic imperatives drive much of the decision-making. Whether the issues are energy development, arms sales, or nuclear policy, a lot of mileage can be gotten from an economically driven analysis. Just as the demands of economic modernization led Mikhail Gorbachev to undertake perestroika in the late 1980s, so much of Putin’s foreign policy program is both motivated and constrained by economic factors. But it would be a serious mistake to conclude that economics are the whole story and that politics do not matter in Russia today. Russia is hardly a perfect democracy, but we should not underestimate the importance of public opinion—and not just that of the elites.

Although building good relations with the West, including the United States, remain popularly supported goals in Russia, strengthening those ties at the expense of perceived excessive concessions of Russian national interests is not. For Putin, his high political ratings in Russia constitute essential political capital that he will ration very carefully. On the ABM Treaty, Putin calculated that he was best off letting the United States walk away from the treaty. Reaching a compromise with the Clinton administration or jointly withdrawing with the Bush administration would have been roundly criticized in Russia as kowtowing to the United States. Whether the issue is Kosovo, the ABM Treaty, or now Iraq, Putin can only go so far to accommodate U.S. interests lest he risk, fairly or unfairly, being viewed like Gorbachev, who was pilloried for making many concessions to the United States and getting little in return.

But Putin’s post-September 11 orientation has been reasonably well rewarded, and he can make a plausible argument that Russia is now getting from the West as good as it is giving. First, there is the nuclear arms treaty rather than a handshake. There is a new and potentially tighter institutional relationship between Russia and NATO. Russia has been recognized as a market economy by both the European Union and the United States—important steps in the World Trade Organization accession process. And in July, Russia was accepted as a full member of the G-8 beginning in 2006. Nuclear security is not unimportant, but it is not as important as economic recovery and development for Russia. Not only does Putin understand that his personal political future depends on the latter, but so does Russia’s return as an influential major power.


The author thanks Rose Gottemoeller for comments on an earlier draft and Anne O’Donnell for her research and editorial assistance.

1. See, for example, the comments of Sergei Rogov, director of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace conference, “Russia—Ten Years After,” June 8, 2001.
2. In his recent book The Russia Hand (Random House, 2002), former Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott discusses the efforts of President Clinton to convince Putin to reach such a deal. Relevant sections were excerpted in Arms Control Today, June 2002.
3. This proposal was in response to a question from Patrick Tyler of The New York Times. See “President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin Joint Press Conference,” Federal News Service, June 16, 2001.
4. The rhetorical turning point was the address on national missile defense that President Bush delivered at National Defense University on May 1, 2001, when, after several months of very sharp criticism of Russia, the president spoke very warmly about the importance of close ties with Moscow and joint U.S.-Russian interests.
5. Federal News Service, June 16, 2001.
6. President Putin said as much in his press conference at the Slovenia summit in his discussion about the impact of excessive military spending on the Soviet economy. See “Bush and Putin Joint Press Availability,” Federal News Service, June 16, 2001.
7. For more analysis of these figures, see Andrew C. Kuchins, “Russia Rising” in Russia after the Fall, Andrew C. Kuchins, ed. (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002).
8. John Holum, “Assessing the New U.S.-Russian Pact,” Arms Control Today, June 2002.
9. Robert Skidelsky, “Imbalance of Power,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2002.
10. Angela Charlton, “Russian Defense Minister Insists Arms Control Deal with U.S. Wasn’t a Sellout,” Associated Press, May 15, 2002.
11. Vladimir Isachenkov, “Senior Lawmaker Predicts Swift Ratification of U.S.-Russian Arms Deal in Russian Parliament,” Associated Press, May 21, 2002.
12. Arbatov made this argument on many occasions in 2001 and 2002. See, for example, “Press Conference with Alexei Arbatov, Vice Chairman of the State Duma committee for Defense and Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, Vice President of the Geopolitical Problems Academy on May 2002 Russia-West Summits,” June 28, 2002.
13. Andrei Zolotov, Jr., “Press Puts a Positive Spin on Summit,” The Moscow Times, May 24, 2002.
14. James E. Goodby most eloquently made this argument in his fine book Europe Undivided: The New Logic of Peace in U.S.-Russian Relations, (Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1998).
15. “Putin Interview with American Media,” Federal News Service, June 18, 2001.

Andrew C. Kuchins is the director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Since at least 1999, much of the arms control and Russia-watching communities repeatedly cautioned that U.S. plans to develop and deploy national...

U.S. Withdraws From ABM Treaty; Global Response Muted

July/August 2002

By Wade Boese

The United States withdrew from the landmark 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty on June 13. Little pageantry or protest marked the U.S. move abrogating the treaty and its prohibition against nationwide missile defenses, despite often fierce debate on the accord within Washington and around the world.

President George W. Bush, who had announced the U.S. pullout six months earlier, issued a short written statement the day the treaty expired. In it, he noted that the treaty is “now behind us,” and he reiterated his commitment to deploy missile defenses “as soon as possible” to protect against “growing missile threats.”

The president’s subdued commemoration of the treaty’s passing contrasted sharply with his administration’s earlier fervent attacks on the accord. Bush and other senior officials had frequently described the ABM Treaty as a Cold War relic and painted it as the sole obstacle to building a national missile defense, one of the administration’s top priorities.

Signed in 1972 by Washington and Moscow to slow the nuclear arms race, the ABM Treaty barred both superpowers from deploying national defenses against long-range ballistic missiles and from building the foundation for such a defense. The treaty was based on the premise that if either superpower constructed a strategic defense, the other would build up its offensive nuclear forces to offset the defense. The superpowers would therefore quickly be put on a path toward a never-ending offensive-defensive arms race as each tried to balance its counterpart’s action.

The treaty did, however, allow both sides to build defenses against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Over time, most countries, including the United States until Bush took office, referred to the treaty as a “cornerstone of strategic stability” because it facilitated later agreements limiting and reducing U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear arsenals.

Yet, the treaty’s demise met largely with silence. Even Russia, which had repeatedly criticized the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal, said almost nothing June 13, although the Kremlin announced the next day that it would no longer be bound by the START II offensive arms reduction treaty. (See Russia Declares Itself No Longer Bound by START II.) That move, however, was largely symbolic, given that START II never entered into force and that it was effectively superceded by the May 24 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. (See ACT, June 2002.)

Moscow’s assessment that the United States is unlikely to deploy a national missile defense anytime soon may partially explain its muted reaction. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov described U.S. missile defenses June 14 as being “virtual” and therefore requiring no immediate response, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

In addition, Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, has sought to cement closer ties with the United States and apparently does not want to jeopardize warming relations with Washington by unduly lamenting an action to which the Bush administration was dedicated. Speaking the day of the U.S. withdrawal, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia regrets the action but that “it is now a fait accompli” and “it is our task to minimize the adverse consequences.”

Some Russian legislators showed less reserve, claiming the United States had erred tremendously. Alexei Arbatov, vice-chairman of the defense committee in the Russian legislature’s lower, more powerful house, stated in a June 13 Moscow radio interview that the U.S. treaty withdrawal was an “extremely negative event of historical scale.”

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) also termed the move historic, but for a different reason, enthusiastically declaring June 13 that the United States “is no longer handcuffed to a policy that intentionally leaves its own people defenseless to missile attack.” Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and James Inhofe (R-OK) also released statements supporting Bush’s act.

But the single senator to speak on the Senate floor June 13 about the U.S. withdrawal was disapproving. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) said the U.S. pullout was unwarranted because missile defense technologies that would have violated the treaty “are mere concepts that are years away.” He also said that terrorists are more likely to use means other than long-range ballistic missiles, such as planes and ships, to attack the United States.

Two days earlier, a group of 31 House members also registered their opposition to the impending treaty withdrawal. Led by Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), they sued Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to stop the ABM Treaty pullout.

The group, comprised of 30 Democrats and one Independent, charges that the president cannot act alone in pulling out of a treaty. While acknowledging that the Constitution does not explicitly address treaty withdrawal, the lawsuit asserts that “the President has a duty to seek and obtain the concurrence of two thirds of the Senate or a majority of both Houses for the termination of a treaty.” Two-thirds of the Senate must approve a treaty for it to take effect.

A similar 1979 lawsuit by Senator Barry Goldwater against President Jimmy Carter for his decision to abrogate the U.S. mutual defense treaty with Taiwan eventually reached the Supreme Court. But the justices dismissed Goldwater’s suit without ruling whether the president could independently terminate a treaty.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia will hear the ABM lawsuit, but it is uncertain when a decision will be made. The District Court, which was the first court to hear the 1979 case, ruled in favor of Goldwater.

Despite the pending trial, the Pentagon is pressing ahead with its missile defense programs.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), has claimed three benefits of the treaty withdrawal for U.S. missile defense efforts. First, the Pentagon will be permitted to experiment with different types of sensors, such as testing a sea-based radar to see if it can track strategic targets. MDA plans to use the radar in an August test despite past Pentagon assessments that the radar is not capable of supporting strategic intercepts.

Second, the Pentagon says it will now be able to explore greater international cooperation on missile defenses.

Third, the United States will be free to deploy strategic missile defense systems when they are ready. The Pentagon currently has only one missile defense system, the ground-based midcourse program begun by President Bill Clinton, that has been tested against strategic targets. Pentagon plans call for constructing six ground-based midcourse missile interceptor silos—five for missiles and one spare—at Fort Greely, Alaska, by September 2004. Ostensibly for testing purposes, the interceptors could be used in an emergency situation, according to the Pentagon.

Although preparatory work began at Fort Greely last year, Kadish traveled to the site June 15 for a groundbreaking ceremony with Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) to mark the beginning of silo construction this summer. The Fort Greely site would have been legal under the ABM Treaty if built strictly for testing purposes.

Statement by the President on the ABM Treaty

Six months ago, I announced that the United States was withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and today that withdrawal formally takes effect. With the treaty now behind us, our task is to develop and deploy effective defenses against limited missile attacks. As the events of September 11 made clear, we no longer live in the Cold War world for which the ABM Treaty was designed. We now face new threats from terrorists who seek to destroy our civilization by any means available to rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Defending the American people against these threats is my highest priority as commander-in-chief.

The new strategic challenges of the 21st century require us to think differently. But they also require us to act. I call on the Congress to approve the full amount of the funding I have requested in my budget for missile defense. This will permit the United States to work closely with all nations committed to freedom to pursue the policies and capabilities needed to make the world a safer place for generations to come.

I am committed to deploying a missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces against the growing missile threats we face. Because these threats also endanger our allies and friends around the world, it is essential that we work together to defend against them, an important task which the ABM Treaty prohibited. The United States will deepen our dialogue and cooperation with other nations on missile defenses.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin and I agreed that Russia and the United States would look for ways to cooperate on missile defenses, including expanding military exercises, sharing early-warning data, and exploring potential joint research and development of missile defense technologies. Over the past year, our countries have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the Cold War and to dismantle its structures. The United States and Russia are building a new relationship based on common interests and, increasingly, common values. Under the Treaty of Moscow, the nuclear arsenals of our nations will be reduced to their lowest levels in decades. Cooperation on missile defense will also make an important contribution to furthering the relationship we both seek.

Source: White House


U.S. Withdraws From ABM Treaty; Global Response Muted

Outer Space Treaty May Ban Strike Weapons

To the Editor:

In his excellent article on space arms control (ACT, April 2002), James Clay Moltz recommended five core provisions for a new, international space arms control agreement. We believe that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 may already address the third and arguably most important recommendation: no stationing of strike weapons of any sort in low-Earth orbit, including kinetic kill vehicles and lasers.

The Outer Space Treaty was the second multilateral “nonarmament” treaty, following the model of the Antarctica Treaty of 1959. The Eisenhower administration, which negotiated the latter and laid down principles for the former, focused on the objective of prohibiting military competition in Antarctica and space before it occurred. A 1957 proposal by the Eisenhower administration, which was endorsed by Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, sought “to assure that the sending of objects through space will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.” This objective was then agreed internationally in a unanimous 1963 UN General Assembly declaration of legal principles, which stated that “the use of space shall be carried on for the benefit and in the interests of all mankind….”

The Outer Space Treaty was intended to implement this principle. Its first article says that the use of space “shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.” The only weapons it explicitly bans from orbiting around Earth are nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction because they were the primary concern in 1967. Indeed, the negotiating history shows that this prohibition focused on the immediate concern (i.e., nuclear) of the parties in the 1960s—stemming in part from the Cuban missile crisis—but that it did not obviate the broader peaceful-purpose principle of the 1957 proposal.

In fact, the Outer Space Treaty contains one overall rule: space shall be preserved for peaceful purposes for all countries. It requires any state considering activities that “would cause potentially harmful interference” with other states’ activities to undertake appropriate consultations. Similarly, other states may request consultations.

Further provisions for consultation were included to give the parties realistic opportunities to achieve post-1967 agreements on what the general provisions should mean in the future. For instance, if a state decided to test and possibly orbit in space an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) utilizing a laser or kinetic kill vehicle, other states-parties to the space treaty could request consultations. They could conclude that the treaty prohibits the orbiting of the proposed ASAT. We believe that such an interpretation could be a permissible interpretation of the treaty. Indeed, space testing or deployment of other future strike weapons that are inconsistent with “the benefit and in the interests of all countries,” within the meaning of the Outer Space Treaty, might produce a similar interpretation.

The fact that in the 1970s and 1980s both the Soviet Union and the United States toyed with ideas for space weapons that were not weapons of mass destruction does not reverse the overall rule that space should be preserved for peaceful purposes for all countries. There was no agreement by the parties to the space treaty in the 1970s and 1980s to limit the broad rule on preserving space for peaceful purposes.

The parties to the space treaty could decide whether to adopt a position on Earth-orbiting ASATs as a formal interpretation, after a review of state practices since 1967 and the negotiating history of the treaty. Unanimity among parties is not required for any formal interpretations, but a large majority of parties adopting a particular position would be persuasive. Similarly, the United Nations, acting through its First Committee and then through the General Assembly (which recommended the Outer Space Treaty in the first place), could pass a resolution formally interpreting it. If there were significant dissent, pursuant to the UN Charter the General Assembly could request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice at The Hague confirming this interpretation.

Such an interpretation could not cover all missile defense basing options. For example, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty bans land- and air-based missile defenses. The Outer Space Treaty clearly does not deal with them. Furthermore, this interpretation could not prohibit nonstrike Earth-orbiting or geostationary communications or reconnaissance satellites that were well known and in use in 1967. Nevertheless, the interpretation could cover Earth-orbiting weapons designed to strike satellites or missiles. The almost 100 states that are party to the space treaty will have to decide whether they are prepared to seek such an interpretation.

George Bunn
General counsel to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Outer Space Treaty negotiations and director emeritus of the Arms Control Association and the Lawyers Alliance for World Security

John B. Rhinelander
Deputy legal adviser at the Department of State during the ABM Treaty negotiations, legal adviser to the U.S. SALT I delegation, Arms C
ontrol Association director, and vice chairman of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security



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