"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

What If the New Strategic Framework Goes Bad?

Joseph Cirincione and Jon B. Wolfsthal

Events since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington could fundamentally change the U.S.-Russian relationship. A sustained military and diplomatic campaign against terrorism will necessitate a broad international coalition and the close cooperation of nations bordering terrorist operational bases. Russian support and intelligence could prove vital to the success of allied air and ground operations against camps in Afghanistan. In return for such aid, Russia appears to expect that the United States will reciprocate in some fashion, perhaps by compromising on security issues that have recently stressed the relationship.

However, Russian expectations for this new relationship may outpace the willingness of the Bush administration to adapt its positions on key issues. For example, although Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov continues to maintain that Moscow’s strategic partnership with Washington “must be based on strengthening the architecture of treaties,” it is unclear whether President George W. Bush agrees.1 Bush argued during a October 11 press conference that deployment of missile defenses is an urgent issue but said, “We’re restricted from doing that because of an ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty that was signed during a totally different era.... The case is more strong today than it was on September 10th that the ABM is outmoded, outdated, reflects a different time.”

How the United States and Russia work out these delicate issues may well determine if the new warmth in U.S.-Russian relations is truly a sea change or merely a brief lull in ongoing tensions. If the relationship returns to a mixture of cooperation on some issues but antagonism on others, Russia might respond to U.S. deployment of missile defenses—or other provocative actions, such as NATO expansion—more confrontationally than it might have without the current increase in expectations. Even if an adverse reaction is not seen right away, it is important to recognize that Putin has already moved out ahead of Russian military and security thinking by aligning so closely with the anti-terrorism coalition. If his high expectations of the benefits of his new pro-Western policies are not met, there could be a backlash in Moscow over the next few years. For the United States to understand fully the risks of its policies, it is important to detail Russia’s options.

In the run-up to the Washington-Crawford summit meeting in November, the Bush administration will make tough decisions on a host of issues that will affect the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship, including the future of offensive arms reductions and missile defenses. It appears that top officials, including the president, are basing their decisions and their approach to the summit on a series of best-case assumptions on how Russia will react to ABM Treaty withdrawal and unilateral offensive reductions. However, the president would be well served to consider also some worst-case scenarios that, among other things, might result in Russia maintaining larger nuclear forces than would otherwise exist, keeping or expanding the use of multiple warheads on its missiles, operating these forces at a dangerous high-alert status, and perhaps curtailing cooperation in vital non-proliferation matters.

A New Strategic Framework?

Administration officials believe that U.S. nuclear security can be enhanced by adopting a new framework for U.S.-Russian relations that would replace formal, tedious arms control agreements with informal or political understandings. Negotiations would be replaced by consultations and buttressed by economic incentives. Obsolete treaties would be discarded and only vital treaties would remain intact. Not only would such steps enhance U.S. security in the near to midterm, they would also allow ties between Washington and Moscow to grow unfettered by Cold War-type interaction.

Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, argues, “The arms control treaties of the 1970s and 1980s came out of a peculiar, abnormal relationship between the United States and Russia…. [Today] Russia is not a strategic adversary of the United States. We are not enemies. So the process can look different.”2 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explains, “You negotiate a treaty to try to control hostility between two parties…. We don’t have negotiations like that for treaties to not be hostile with Mexico or Canada or France or England”3 Or, more succinctly, “Arms control treaties are not for friends.”4

Pursuit of this less formal strategy, it is argued, would enable the administration to take steps on offenses and defenses that would bolster U.S. security in ways not allowed by the current web of agreements.

First, the administration could withdraw from the ABM Treaty and deploy missile defenses—ostensibly without provoking Russia. Not only would this permit the United States to develop a defense against rogue-state ballistic missiles, it would also cleanse the “balance of terror” from the U.S.-Russian relationship. The administration maintains that, by codifying a relationship of mutual assured destruction between the United States and Russia, the ABM Treaty perpetuates an enmity that hinders the improvement of relations.

Second, the administration believes that it no longer needs to size its offensive nuclear forces against Russia’s and that the formal START negotiation process is simply impeding further strategic reductions. The Bush administration would prefer to reduce dramatically the number of U.S. nuclear weapons to levels based on its own strategic assessments. Although no targets for these reductions have been announced, forces could be reduced below the START III level of 2,500 deployed warheads, depending on the new strategic guidance developed by President Bush for the Strategic Command. The scale of the reductions and the process to be followed could be announced as early as the Bush-Putin meeting in Crawford.

The Bush administration further maintains that negotiated reductions are no longer needed because in the coming decades Russia will rapidly decrease its number of strategic offensive weapons for its own strategic and financial reasons. Current projections estimate that the Russian deployed strategic arsenal will consist of fewer than 1,100 warheads by 2010. (See Table 2.) U.S. officials have even signaled that they would not object to Russia maintaining (and expanding the future deployment of) multiple warheads on its land-based intercontinental missiles as assurance that the Russian force could overwhelm any U.S. defensive systems.

The U.S. announcement of deep reductions, it is believed, should demonstrate to Russia and the world the U.S. commitment to decreasing its reliance on nuclear weapons and should help advance non-proliferation goals. Free of treaty constraints, the United States will be able to adjust its nuclear forces upward, should the need arise, without accusations of breaking treaties.5 Moreover, this flexibility to go up as well as down should deter others, particularly China, from challenging U.S. dominance or seeking strategic parity.

Thus, by reaching agreement with Russia on the elimination of the ABM Treaty and the unilaterally implemented (but bilaterally arranged) reduction of offensive nuclear forces, the United States and Russia would actually accelerate the arms reduction process beyond that envisioned by the START agreements. Although both sides would retain robust nuclear capabilities—Russia’s would be sufficient to overwhelm envisioned U.S. defenses—the nature of the relationship would prevent any concerns about nuclear build-ups, breakout, or strategic instability.

Going beyond purely bilateral aspects, other benefits could accrue from this approach. By the administration’s rationale, beginning deployment of defensive systems, however imperfect at first, will also deter potential rogue state challengers by reducing the attractiveness of ballistic missiles and increasing the perceived likelihood of U.S. response to regional crises, even if the regional powers have weapons of mass destruction. Thus, defense will strengthen, not replace, nuclear deterrence. Within this new, assertive security policy, U.S. allies should, so the argument goes, be reassured that the United States will remain engaged and will not be deterred from its regional security commitments. Far from being an isolationist policy, these measures will ensure continued U.S. military strength and global engagement for decades to come.

In short, the best case is that, by clearing the underbrush of extraneous and counter-productive treaties and negotiations, the United States will be better positioned to construct a new strategic paradigm over the coming years that will preserve its security and allow U.S.-Russian relations to truly move beyond the Cold War.

A Worst-Case Analysis

Of course, things rarely work out as planned. Unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and deployment of missile defenses by the United States could lead to a deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship and could lead Russia to take unilateral steps of its own to ensure its ability to overwhelm any such system or future systems.

Obvious steps include deploying countermeasures and maintaining as many warheads on active platforms as possible. Moreover, Russia could withdraw from those arms control treaties that place constraints on its deployed nuclear arsenal, including START I and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Although Russia could not rebuild its forces to Cold War levels, it could greatly increase the number of weapons it otherwise would likely deploy at the end of the decade. Russia could also slow or end its cooperation with U.S. threat reduction programs and hinder U.S. non-proliferation efforts.

Expanding the Arsenal

Current projections show Russia’s deployed strategic arsenal declining to just over 1,000 weapons by the end of the decade. However, through a variety of means, Russia could maintain a deployed arsenal almost four times larger than actually planned, with a variety of associated concerns for security and strategic stability. Russia could accomplish this by accelerating production of new MIRVed missiles, slowing the pace of dismantlement of current systems, and implementing extraordinary measures to extend the operational life of these systems.

By the end of 2010, given current conditions, Russia’s ICBM force would likely consist of about 230 SS-27s if production immediately increased to 20 missiles per year from 2001 through 2010 (fewer if production stayed at the current 10 per year). Under current conditions, Russia would not field any SS-18s in 2007 and only 72 SS-19s, with only one warhead on each.

However, ABM Treaty withdrawal by the United States would end any chance that START II, which bans the deployment of ICBMs with multiple warheads, would come into force. Without the constraints of START II, Russia could MIRV its growing number of SS-27 missiles, expand production to 50 per year (the limits of current facilities), and—in the extreme—take extraordinary measures to extend the service life of the SS-18 (with 10 warheads each) and the SS-19 (with 6 warheads each). It is therefore possible that, by the end of 2010, Russia could field 440 SS-27s with 1,320 warheads;6 72 SS-19s with 432 warheads; and perhaps as many as 90 SS-18s with 900 warheads (this would require cannibalizing parts from other SS-18s slated for destruction). This is not a prediction of the future force, merely a description of the physically possible force, given sufficient finances.

The obvious question is, so what? Why should the United States care how many warheads Russia deploys, or vice versa? Does it matter if somehow Russia manages to deploy 3,850 rather than 1,000 warheads? The Bush administration argues that the nuclear arsenals of each state have little if any bearing on the deployments of the other and that, because the United States and Russia are not enemies, the United States should deploy those nuclear forces it deems necessary without consideration of the Russian arsenal.

In reality, however, the nuclear arsenals of both countries do affect one another. The reluctance of the U.S. Strategic Command to agree to a deployed nuclear arsenal much below the proposed START III level of 2,500 deployed strategic warheads is based primarily on its nuclear exchange calculations vis-à-vis Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its requirement to hold Russia’s nuclear and military targets at risk.7 Likewise, Russia, even in a cooperative environment with the United States, will continue to view U.S. deployments (offensive and defensive) as the primary factor in sizing its future force.

There are real dangers associated with large, deployed forces. Missiles with multiple warheads are considered high-value targets. In order to protect these assets, military commands in both countries keep such missiles on high alert, ready to launch within minutes. Given the poor and degrading state of the Russian early-warning system, the continued deployment of MIRVed ICBMs poses a major risk of accidental launch or launch-in-error, even during periods of strategic stability. Such risk could rise exponentially if U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate.

The United States has offered to assist Russia with enhancing its early-warning capabilities—and may offer again. But progress to date in this area has been poor, and security, bureaucratic, and political obstacles to major progress remain. It is unlikely that Russia’s early-warning network is likely to improve in the near to midterm. Reductions in the number of Russian missiles, maintaining the START II ban on MIRVed land-based missiles, and encouraging the de-alerting of the majority of the forces would substantially decrease serious, existing nuclear threats to the United States.

In addition, there are serious concerns about the physical security of Russia’s nuclear weapons. Currently, deployed weapons are guarded by elite troops and considered highly secure, but the same cannot be said of nuclear materials in storage, despite U.S. cooperative threat reduction efforts. A larger deployed Russian arsenal requires Moscow to maintain larger numbers of reserve warheads and nuclear materials, with security concerns growing in direct proportion to the size of those assets. The storage of warheads, assembled plutonium “pits” for warheads, and supplies of nuclear materials outside of weapons continue to pose a major security risk. Only dismantling the weapons and permanently disposing of the materials will eliminate this threat.

The End of Threat Reduction?

This threat from a large, inadequately secured Russian arsenal would be significantly compounded if the deterioration in strategic U.S.-Russian relations led Moscow to slow or even stop its participation in cooperative threat reduction programs.

The dramatic reductions in the Russian arsenal under the START I agreement have been carried out, in large part, through the successful implementation of U.S. cooperative threat reduction programs, which provide financing and equipment for Russia and other former Soviet states to fulfill their arms reduction obligations and dismantle unwanted weapons. As of mid-2001, these programs had resulted in the elimination of 423 ballistic missiles, 383 ballistic missile launchers, 85 bombers, 483 long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, 352 submarine missile launchers, 209 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and 19 strategic missile submarines. (See Table 3.)

But a significant amount of work remains, and a slide in the relationship might lead Russia to rethink its participation in these programs—particularly those that directly reduce the size and flexibility of the Russian nuclear arsenal, such as ICBM, SLBM, and bomber elimination. Although Russia could extend the service lives of some systems, such as the SS-18, to some extent now, they could extend them further by cannibalizing parts from some missiles to sustain others. However, this could not be done if missile systems were eliminated, as is now planned under cooperative threat reduction. The same is true of the schedules to decommission strategic submarine launchers, which could remain active—in port if needed.

Even if Russia wanted to continue cooperation with the threat reduction programs, continued U.S. funding would be highly questionable because Russia would be expending resources deploying up to 50 new missiles per year. Political support within the United States for these programs would likely dry up if such a confrontational and uncooperative relationship were to develop. Already skeptical of U.S. funds for cooperative threat reduction programs, key members of Congress would have an effective new argument to constrain cooperative efforts.

Beyond assistance to eliminate specific weapons systems, this loss of support would hamper other nuclear security matters covered by cooperative threat reduction. Besides the warheads and delivery systems themselves, hundreds of tons of Russian nuclear weapons-usable materials are at risk of being stolen or diverted. The immense task of disposing of excess nuclear materials has been a mixed success. More than 100 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) have been diluted and sold to the United States as part of the “HEU Purchase Agreement,” but an agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 tons each of weapons-grade plutonium is in great peril due to lack of funds and waning political support in Washington. Another potential threat lies with the tens of thousands of Russian workers who have knowledge in the production of, or potential access to, nuclear weapons and who are demoralized, underemployed, and underpaid.

International Implications

Beyond the immediate U.S.-Russian context, the maintenance of larger nuclear arsenals has other implications. The size of the Russian and U.S. arsenals directly and indirectly affect the size of nuclear arsenals in China, India, Pakistan, and potential nuclear weapons states, as well as nuclear weapons research and development programs and pressures to resume nuclear testing. Hard-liners in China will argue that the combined reality of U.S. missile defense deployments and still large U.S. and Russian deployed forces requires a dramatic expansion of China’s nuclear modernization programs. This will then have serious implications for India, which in turn will affect Pakistan, as well as Japan, the Koreas, and Iran.9

This cascading effect would undoubtedly weaken the already strained international non-proliferation regime. Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires all states to “negotiate in good faith” efforts toward nuclear disarmament. It can (and probably will) be argued that the United States’ refusal to negotiate with Russia on further arms reductions is a material breech of the NPT, a treaty the Bush administration supports. Some already believe the United States has reneged on its obligations under the NPT and the agreements reached at the 1995 and 2000 review conferences—for example, through the Senate’s rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999. U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, followed by Russian withdrawal from the START and INF agreements, could seriously undermine confidence in and compliance with international arms control and restraints.

Proliferating Countermeasures

Russia also has the ability to complicate the potential effect of U.S. missile defense deployment in other ways. As an advanced nuclear-weapon state, Russia has developed significant expertise in the area of missile defense countermeasures. From systems as simple as wire “chaff” or reflective balloons to more complex designs, such as maneuverable or simulated warheads, Russia could deploy a wide variety of effective countermeasures to any U.S. system currently contemplated.

More serious for U.S. planners, Russia could decide to sell such systems to other missile-possessing states. It could also provide technical expertise to advise such nations on likely U.S. defensive systems and techniques for overcoming these defenses. Such a development could further complicate relations between the United States and Russia and have a direct negative effect on the utility of any U.S. missile defense system. Thus, in the worst case, Russia could thwart the effectiveness of a U.S. missile defense system not just against its own warheads but also against missiles fielded by other countries.

More Missile Sales

The United States has long been concerned that Russia has not adequately prevented its missile technology from benefiting states developing missile capabilities. The Russian government does not officially condone the transfer of ballistic missile technology and material to states such as Iran or North Korea, but the United States has imposed sanctions against Russian institutes and companies for allegedly engaging in just these sort of activities with Iran.

It is possible that Russia, in seeking to further complicate U.S. efforts to deploy an effective missile defense against such systems, might be even less inclined to enforce effective export controls on missile technology. Although unlikely, Russia might even adopt a more aggressive policy of expanding its direct involvement in missile programs in India, Iran, and other countries, possibly using the guise of aiding their development of space-launch vehicles.

U.S. appeals to Russian officials to constrain this sort of activity, now only marginally effective, could become even less so. Moreover, the United States is less likely to gain allied support for its overall export-control efforts in the ballistic missile field if it has unilaterally pursued a missile defense system at the expense of its relationship with Russia.

Increased Nuclear Reliance

By increasing Russia’s general sense of strategic unease, the U.S. decision to pursue missile defenses unilaterally could also further convince Russia of the need to increase its reliance on nuclear weapons for its current and future security. In part, this process may be inevitable in the near future. The decline of Russia’s conventional forces, as demonstrated in Chechnya, has led to an increased rhetorical reliance on the role of tactical nuclear weapons. This official position also reflects Russian concern over the eastward expansion of NATO, another round of which now appears likely.

What is not yet determined is how far this reliance on nuclear weapons will go. There are elements in Russia (as there are in the United States) that are pushing for the development, testing, and deployment of smaller nuclear weapons, often referred to as “mini-nukes.” There is nothing new about low-yield nuclear weapons; they have been developed and were even deployed widely in the 1950s and 1960s by both the United States and Russia. The possible return to such systems (now mated to precision-guided munitions) raises numerous concerns including the implications of resuming nuclear tests in Russia, the wider deployment of nuclear weapons and associated command and control issues, and possible threats to use—or the actual use of—nuclear weapons in battlefield situations.

Let’s Make a Deal

One cannot deny that it may be possible for the United States to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and contain the damage. It is possible that, as a Russian official recently said, the U.S.-Russian relationship could continue to improve and grow while both hold strongly differing positions on the value of the treaty or even in the treaty’s absence. It is also possible that after withdrawal missile defenses might remain constrained by technological challenges, serious operational difficulties, weak public and military demand, low threat, and high costs. Defenses may be deployed in very low numbers; deployed and then retired (as in the 1970s); or deployed only in specific theaters, not globally.

But there is no need to run the risks that withdrawal and related policies would bring. The worst-case scenario is completely avoidable. The United States and Russia could, while preserving the ABM Treaty, agree at Crawford to permit extensive testing of missile defense systems, leaving the question of large deployments a decade or more in the future. Russian officials and experts have indicated over the past few months that Russia could accept substantial modifications to the ABM Treaty along these lines.9

The outlines of a possible deal are simple. First, Russia and the United States could quickly negotiate a binding agreement for deep reductions to between 1,500 and 2,000 deployed weapons, relying on a modified set of START verification procedures. This likely could be accomplished in weeks, not years. There should be no need for long, drawn-out negotiations, given the history and knowledge both states have of verification measures. A new agreement would, in essence, replace the existing START I limit of 6,000 deployed strategic warheads with a new, lower target. Transparency and verification procedures (possibly streamlined) established by the treaty would continue, including exchange of nuclear force data and mutual inspections. A variety of associated issues could be quickly resolved.

Second, the ABM Treaty constraints on testing could be just as easily settled. The two sides could quickly agree to modify the ABM Treaty to permit expanded testing of land- and sea-based systems (such as the proposed tests of Aegis radars) needed to validate the feasibility of future missile defenses. Future decisions on the deployment of such systems can be safely deferred. With such an agreement, there is little that the Bush administration would like to do over the next five years that it cannot do within the ABM treaty.

Before September 11, President Bush had one major foreign policy priority: withdraw from the ABM Treaty and deploy missile defenses. After the attacks, the war on terrorism and the need to maintain an international anti-terrorism coalition are now at the top of the agenda. By pursuing an agreement with Russia that allows testing but preserves the ABM Treaty’s ban on wide-scale deployment of defenses, President Bush can pursue both priorities. Both nations can rightfully declare a diplomatic success. This course of action will also allow U.S.-Russian strategic reductions to proceed cooperatively and enhance prospects for further threat reduction initiatives


Table 1

Deployed Russian Strategic Weapons, 2001


SS-24 (silo)
SS-24 (rail)
SS-27 (silo)
Tu-96 (ALCM)
Tu-95 (Non-ALCM)

As 2001 draws to a close, Russia remains a major nuclear power, deploying some 5,800 strategic nuclear warheads on almost 1,200 delivery vehicles. The arsenal is well below its Cold War peak of more than 12,000 deployed strategic warheads and has been in decline since 1989. Further substantial reductions in the size of the arsenal are to be expected, given the life expectancy of those systems now deployed and financial and other constraints. The pace and severity of this decline, however, will depend on a number of factors—not the least of which is the overall strategic and political relationship with the United States.

Russia’s nuclear arsenal is deployed in a triad of weapons systems: land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and long-range bombers. All but one of the currently deployed systems (the land based SS-27), however, are older systems that are slowly being retired. Given current projections and adequate funding for weapons dismantlement, Russia’s arsenal could drop to less than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads by the end of the decade. However, although the number of delivery systems will decline, a large number of the warheads themselves (and the nuclear materials within them) will remain in storage. In addition, Russia is currently thought to possess more than 8,000 tactical warheads, and it is not clear how many such warheads Russia plans to maintain in the near future.

Table 2

Projection of Russian Nuclear Forces, 2010
Current Projections for 2010 Deployed Warheads
Upper Limits for 2010 Deployed Warheads

Table 3

Cooperative Threat Reductions:
2001 and Planned
Planned Total
Warheads Deactivated
ICBMs Destroyed
ICBM Silos Eliminated
Mobile ICBM Launchers Destroyed
Bombers Eliminated
Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missiles Destroyed
SLBM Launchers Eliminated
SLBMs Eliminated
SSBNs Eliminated
Nuclear Test Tunnels Sealed

Source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency

1. Andrew Higgins, “Russia Watchers Ponder Whether Shift Toward West Is for Long Haul,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001.
2. Interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, July 29, 2001.
3. Interview on PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, August 16, 2001.
4. Interview on Fox News’ Fox Special Report with Brit Hume, August 10, 2001.
5. For further discussion of this freedom of action, see “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control,” National Institute for Public Policy, January 2001.
6. Assumes the current force is 30 missiles and that the production rate increases to 20 per year in 2002, 40 in 2003, and reaches its maximum of 50 annually from 2004 through 2010.
7. See testimony of Admiral Richard W. Meis, commander-in-chief of U.S. Strategic Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, July 11, 2001.
8. For a more detailed discussion, see Joseph Cirincione, “The Asian Nuclear Reaction Chain,” Foreign Policy, Winter 1999.
9. Interviews with the authors.

Joseph Cirincione is senior associate and director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Jon B. Wolfsthal is an associate at the Non-Proliferation Project.


Events since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington could fundamentally change the U.S.-Russian relationship. A sustained military and diplomatic campaign against terrorism will necessitate a broad international coalition and the close cooperation of nations bordering terrorist operational bases. Russian support and intelligence could prove vital to the success of allied air and ground operations against camps in Afghanistan. In return for such aid, Russia appears to expect that the United States will reciprocate in some fashion, perhaps by compromising on security issues that have recently stressed the relationship. (Continue)

Russia Sends Conflicting Messages on Missile Defenses

Wade Boese

Russian officials sent mixed signals during September about the possible consequences of a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prohibits both countries from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

Interviewed September 1 by the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated the Kremlin’s long-standing position that the ABM Treaty is not “outdated,” as the Bush administration has argued. Yet, Putin said, if the United States determines that it “doesn’t need any talks or any treaties,” Moscow “will not stir up any hysteria.” Putin explained that Russia has enough missiles to “guarantee” its security “for many decades ahead.”

However, during a September 19 interview with a German television station, Putin said that the START agreements, which cap the number of deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads, are linked to the ABM Treaty. If the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty, then the START accords, along with some 30 other agreements and treaties, would be “destroyed overnight,” Putin said.

Although a common refrain from Russian officials throughout this year, the Kremlin had notably avoided such dire predictions over the previous several weeks. Visiting Moscow September 17, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton had even observed that whereas Russian officials used to contend that a U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal “might precipitate the withdrawal of other parties from many other arms control treaties…they’re not saying that anymore.”

Russian Colonel-General Yuriy Baluyevskiy, who has been leading a Russian delegation in talks with Pentagon officials about the treaty and missile defenses, declared September 11 that Russia would continue talks with the United States even if Washington withdrew from the ABM Treaty. After referring to the “trust and openness” in U.S.-Russian relations, Baluyevskiy said, “The withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM Treaty will not cancel these relations.” One week earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had also told an Italian news agency that U.S.-Russian relations should not be “hostage” to one issue.

Yet Russian officials have urged the Bush administration not to act alone and with haste. In his remarks to the Italian news agency, Ivanov said unilateral actions should be avoided and that existing agreements should not be scrapped until better ones are in place. Baluyevskiy echoed Ivanov, telling reporters September 11 that a “new system of treaties and agreements” should be agreed to and “then we decide whether the ABM Treaty hinders us.”

As part of their talks, the United States and Russia are also discussing nuclear reductions. Ivanov told the UN General Assembly September 24 that Russia has reaffirmed to the United States that it wants a “coordinated” reduction down to 1,500 warheads apiece by 2008 with the possibility of subsequent cuts. Washington, according to the Kremlin, has yet to volunteer how low it is willing to go, claiming it first needs to conclude a review of its nuclear posture.

In his UN speech, Ivanov also detailed other Russian arms control proposals, including preventing any weapons from being stationed in space. Ivanov noted that the “practical implementation” of the Russian initiatives would require a “responsible and delicate handling” of the ABM Treaty.

Impact of Terrorist Attacks

While expressing sympathy for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Russian officials have also pointed out that the attacks underscore its assertion that terrorism poses a more urgent threat than ballistic missiles. However, Ivanov told CNN September 12 that Russia would not use the terrorist attacks to “exploit” the ongoing talks with the United States, and Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters after meeting with Ivanov September 19 that Russia made “no linkages” between the talks and the terrorist attacks.

For their part, Bush administration officials have argued that the attacks do not lessen the need for missile defenses and that they intend to continue with their testing and development plans. In Moscow September 12, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said, “Threats emerging from long-range missiles…are just as serious today as they were yesterday.”

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld canceled a late September meeting with his Russian counterpart, U.S.-Russian talks on the ABM Treaty and missile defenses will continue. Ivanov noted after meeting with Powell, “We have agreed to continue these consultations to be able to report the first results during the forthcoming summits of our presidents.” President George W. Bush and Putin are scheduled to meet in October and November.

Non-Proliferation Policy and the War on Terrorism

John Parachini

On September 11, a small group of terrorists inflicted the level of death and destruction some feared might result from an attack by terrorists using sophisticated weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The skill of this group lay not in its ability to acquire exotic weapons materials but rather in its planning, organization, teamwork, and commitment to achieve a diabolic objective.

In the span of one hour, a group of 19 men, supported by others whose numbers are still not clear, fundamentally changed the national security landscape of the United States. The number of Americans killed on U.S. soil in these attacks raised a profound and frightening question about the defense of the country: are the suicide hijackings of September 11 just another step in an escalatory process that may lead radical anti-American terrorists to use nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons against American interests at home or abroad?

Since the 1995 attack by the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo against the Tokyo subway with liquid sarin, the United States has had a heightened fear of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. One particular worry has been that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network might exploit the chaos in Central Asia to seek to acquire WMD capabilities from former Soviet republics. The indictment of bin Laden for his alleged involvement in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania claims that he has tried to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons, and one of the prosecution’s witnesses in the bombing trial revealed that he had sought to acquire radioactive material on behalf of bin Laden and al Qaeda.

But turning radioactive material into a nuclear bomb is a hard task, even for a state with considerable industrial infrastructure and expertise, and the six years since the Tokyo subway attack have made that incident seem more like an aberration than a paradigm-breaking event that others copy. Aside from Aum Shinrikyo, open-source literature to date references no other significant terrorist organization that has used unconventional weapons repeatedly.1 Although attacks with weapons of mass destruction are possible, the historical record of states and terrorist groups using exotic unconventional weapons is quite limited.2 Terrorists appear more likely to use what they can readily acquire rather than to go through the difficult process of making weapons from scratch or stealing them from a state’s arsenal.

In the last 25 years, terrorist use of conventional explosives has consistently proved far more deadly than the few instances of terrorism involving unconventional weapons. Many more people died or were injured in the attacks on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the U.S. embassies in East Africa than in the Tokyo subway attack. Although there is some evidence that, in recent years, terrorists have shown an interest in unconventional weapons, thus far they have employed more readily available means in ever more dramatic and deadly ways.

Nevertheless, the consequences of a successful WMD attack on American soil could be so catastrophic that serious government attention is warranted. In recent years, much of the emphasis has been on responding to the consequences of such an attack rather than preventing terrorist use or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Given the relative cost of prevention versus response, this emphasis seems misplaced. In a climate in which officials will go to extraordinary lengths for counterterrorism, spending smart is more important than just spending big.

Non-proliferation measures, cooperative threat reduction, and other arms control initiatives can help limit the opportunities for terrorists to acquire or develop WMD. Although the ability of arms control measures to help in the fight against terrorism should not be oversold, it must not be ignored either.

At the most basic level, the non-proliferation treaties provide normative prohibitions that are valuable. Fundamentally, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention constitute declarations that the international community bans germ and chemical weapons as taboo instruments of war. The norm against nuclear weapons contained in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is more ambiguous because it allows some states to retain nuclear weapons while prohibiting others from acquiring them. Nevertheless, its prohibitions, combined with the strictures of the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear-weapon-free-zones, and other agreements, have contributed to a worldwide belief that nuclear weapons are not acceptable tools of war.

All of these norms have, of course, been violated at times by certain states that had pledged to uphold them, but they still matter. Norms do not shape the behavior of all states or individuals, but they shape that of some. In a struggle to limit the spread of WMD, every tool available must be used. Stigmatizing state acquisition, production, stockpiling, or use of chemical and biological weapons helps stigmatize them for individuals as well.3

The central limitation of using the current arms control regime to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction is that treaties proscribe and prohibit the activities of states, not subnational groups. They focus on thwarting proliferation between states and provide only limited value for preventing proliferation of weapons and weapons materials to terrorists and other substate entities.4 The most effective treaties are those that require signatories to pass national implementing legislation, but even those agreements are hampered by the variances across countries in such legislation and states’ failures to provide the financial and political support to law enforcement authorities that is critical for effective implementation.

It remains to be seen whether the Bush administration will make use of arms control agreements and programs in its fight against terrorism. During the first eight months of his presidency, George W. Bush was decidedly less than enthusiastic about many arms control measures, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the protocol to strengthen the BWC, and even cooperative threat reduction. But it is possible to take a preliminary look at how certain existing arms control regimes can be used or may have been impacted.

Strategic Policy and Missile Defense: The impact of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will probably not change the Bush administration’s approach to broad strategic issues related to missile defenses and nuclear weapons. In fact, Bush’s ballistic missile defense plans may have been given a boost. Less than two weeks after the attacks, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, dropped his effort to reduce missile defense funding and restrict testing. Instead, he restored the funding the administration had requested and removed the testing restrictions in order to underscore bipartisan support for the president during this period of national crisis.

However, the political context in which the administration pursues its strategic agenda is likely to change. The administration may expend valuable political capital on the war on terrorism and find itself politically indebted to other nations—and therefore needing to make concessions on elements of its national security agenda. Alternatively, the tremendous level of cooperation could spill over to areas, like missile defense, that have been the source of some international consternation. A combination of both scenarios is probably the most likely outcome: the unique cooperation developing between the United States and Russia could, for example, give both countries a sense of how to collaborate on devising a new strategic framework.

The Biological Weapons Convention: The great concern over the possibility of bioterrorism suggests the Bush administration will take new initiatives to fight the proliferation of germ weapons. Recent negotiations on a protocol for the BWC, which lacks any enforcement mechanisms, aimed to strengthen the accord with a variety of implementation tools. The United States rejected the text that resulted from these negotiations as inadequate for preventing the proliferation of biological weapons and has called for new tools that are appropriate to the challenge.5 States trying to strengthen the BWC will meet in November. Even though the Bush administration has rejected the current draft text of the protocol, it will need to describe alternative measures to counter the biological weapons proliferation problem.

In lieu of an alternative treaty, the administration will probably describe a number of initiatives. Although the administration is still working on its approach, it will probably fashion a package of measures that include some traditional arms control measures and, given the nature of biological weapons, some measures from the health arena. When the Bush administration rejected the draft protocol for the BWC, it indicated that strengthened export control, increased global disease surveillance, and criminalizing possession and use of biological weapons were ideas warranting further examination.

The administration could salvage some components of the draft protocol that it endorsed and launch them as part of an alternative approach. One component of the protocol that merits attention is the provision for inspections of suspicious outbreaks of disease.6 Enhanced global disease surveillance and internationally agreed-upon rules for investigating suspicious outbreaks are initiatives that would complement one another. Additionally, regulations on international commerce in pathogens must be improved to prevent theft or diversion. This objective must be balanced with the need to permit legitimate scientific and commercial research. Achieving the maximum benefit from this collection of measures will probably require a multilateral approach of some sort.

Cooperative Threat Reduction: One arms control initiative that has helped and will continue to help combat terrorism is the U.S.-Russian cooperative threat reduction effort. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been tremendous concern about unconventional weapons materials or know-how proliferating to terrorists or states that support terrorism. The United States has undertaken a major effort with the states of the former Soviet Union to increase security at weapons-storage and -production facilities, destroy weapons, convert military facilities, and keep scientists from selling their expertise to states or subnational groups.

After a review of the overall cooperative threat reduction efforts for the republics of the former Soviet Union, the Bush administration endorsed the fundamental character of the effort, but ordered portions of the program cancelled.7 The administration’s 2002 funding request cut $100 million from Energy Department programs and diminished support slightly for the Pentagon’s programs.

Every year, Congress and the executive branch struggle over the funding for cooperative threat reduction. Given increasing budget pressures that loomed prior to September 11 and the additional costs of the new war on terrorism, the struggle over funding levels for these programs will probably continue regardless of their worthiness. The fiscal year 2003 budget is an opportunity for the Bush administration and Congress to sustain and to augment particular programs in the overall effort. The entire program for the republics of the former Soviet Union should be re-examined to determine how to enhance safeguards against proliferation of materials and know-how to terrorists.

Additionally, given the heightened concern with the threat of chemical and biological weapons proliferation to terrorists, more emphasis needs to be placed on destroying and safeguarding the former Soviet Union’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities. Tremendous improvements in threat reduction can be achieved in the chemical and biological weapons area for a fraction of the cost involved in the nuclear weapons area. Many of the scientists in the chemical and biological weapons programs have skills relevant for non-weapons work and could transition to jobs in the commercial sector. Although programs exist to address these dangers, they receive a small fraction of the overall funding.8 A better balance between the various weapons material is needed.

Non-Proliferation in South Asia: How the United States manages the search for the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and the nations that support terrorism may have implications for states that harbor ambitions to develop unconventional weapons capabilities. The implications for the integrity of U.S. non-proliferation policy will be particularly tested in Pakistan and India.

The Bush administration’s decision to lift sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan following their tests of nuclear devices in 1998 is a significant change in U.S. non-proliferation efforts. Many in the administration have long had a dim view of sanctions as a policy tool, and prior to the terrorist attacks, a top policy priority for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton was to repeal the sanctions against India. However, the administration struggled with how to drop sanctions against India and not those against Pakistan until recent events made it easy to lift restrictions against both in order to encourage them to assist with U.S. efforts to destroy al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, the administration has encouraged multilateral lending institutions to provide loans to Pakistan, which provide some much-needed economic relief.

From one perspective, the lifting of sanctions is a setback for non-proliferation policy because it reinforces the perception that countries can get away with violating international non-proliferation norms. Yet, the sanctions against India and Pakistan were not dissuading either country from pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities. Moreover, given the magnitude of the attack against the U.S. homeland, this trade-off is justified.

But the Bush administration will need to manage any military operations in the region so that counterterrorism objectives are accomplished without abandoning U.S. non-proliferation goals or contributing to the nuclear danger by undermining the Pakistani government. The Bush administration would face an even more difficult situation if Pakistan collapsed into a failed state, unable to provide safe and secure control over its nuclear capabilities. Fears of nuclear weapons and materials leaking out of a collapsed Pakistan would present a twist on the security dilemma that the United States has faced in Russia and the other former Soviet republics. Although the United States may make progress on the anti-terrorism front in the short run, it must guard against longer-term proliferation dangers.

Two major conflicts in the last 20 years that provided impetus for enhancing preventive security measures provide some perspective on what may be possible. Following Iraqi use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War in the mid-1980s, a number of countries with major chemical industries formed the Australia Group to enhance coordination of export control policies on chemicals and chemical-production equipment that could be used to produce chemical weapons.

The experience of the Persian Gulf War and revelations about the Iraqi nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs provide a second major boost to the development of the non-proliferation regime. The international community successfully concluded negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention shortly after the conflict. The attacks of September 11 may also spur the development of new non-proliferation tools, but it is not yet clear what impact the attacks will have on the Bush administration’s non-proliferation policy.

President Bush is marshalling all the tools available to the commander-in-chief to demonstrate the resolve of the nation to respond to the attackers and to defend the freedom of Americans to live without fear of attack. The implications for a range of policy tools important to the country’s security are difficult to discern at this juncture. Over the longer term, however, the United States should re-examine the contribution that non-proliferation, cooperative threat reduction, and arms control can make to its counterterrorism goals. Improvement of existing preventive tools and the addition of others can help limit the opportunities of terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

1. For a survey of the main open-source databases on terrorism on this point, see Milton Leitenberg, “An Assessment of the Biological Weapons Threat to the United States,” presentation to the Conference on Emerging Threats Assessment: Biological Terrorism, Institute for Security Technology Studies, Dartmouth College, July 7-9, 2000, www.fas.org/bwc/papers/dartmthb.htm.
2. For an insightful historical discussion of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, see David Rapoport, “Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse,” National Security Studies Quarterly, Summer 1999.
3. For a discussion of the relevance of normative policy for bolstering taboos around chemical and biological weapons, see Leonard A. Cole, “The Poison Weapons Taboo: Biology, Culture and Policy,” Politics and the Life Sciences, September 1998, p. 119-132.
4. For a discussion of the legal tools for addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, see Barry Kellman, “WMD Proliferation: An International Crime?” The Nonproliferation Review, Summer 2001.
5. Statement by Ambassador Donald Mahley to the Ad Hoc Group of Biological Weapons Convention States-Parties, July 25, 2001.
6. Michael Moodie, The BWC Protocol: A Critique, Special Report 1 (Washington: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute), June 2001.
7. Judith Miller with Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Review on Russia Urges Keeping Most Arms Controls,” The New York Times, July 16, 2001, p. A1.
8. For a detailed and reasoned articulation of this argument, see Amy E. Smithson, Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation From the Former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complexes (Washington: Henry L. Stimson Center), September 1999.

John Parachini is a policy analyst in the Washington office of RAND. The views expressed here are his own.


Democrats Withdraw Missile Defense Restrictions

Wade Boese

Seeking to show solidarity with the president after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, congressional Democrats largely shelved legislative efforts to limit the Bush administration’s ballistic missile defense plans.

Although Democrats sought in early September to put conditions on and cut funding for the Bush administration’s nearly $8.3 billion request for missile defense spending, it now appears that the administration’s request will survive virtually unscathed. The Senate is on the verge of approving the full request, while the House passed September 25 a $400 million cut. The funding is included as part of the two houses’ fiscal year 2002 defense spending bills, which must be reconciled in conference and then sent to the president for signature.

Democrats began targeting missile defense funding in July, after the administration announced its proposed missile defense programs would conflict with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty “in months, not years.” President George W. Bush has said that, if the United States does not reach an agreement with Russia to “move beyond” the treaty, the United States will unilaterally withdraw from the accord, which prohibits the two countries from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

Led by Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), in a straight party vote of 13-12 the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a revised version of the administration’s missile defense request on September 7. The bill redistributed $1.3 billion from the request to other Pentagon programs and barred funds for missile defense activities “inconsistent” with the ABM Treaty.

To conduct tests or other activities banned by the ABM Treaty, the bill required the president to certify to Congress that any such action was in the United States’ national security interest. Congress would then have 30 days to vote on whether to fund the activity. According to Levin, this requirement would have applied even if Washington unilaterally withdrew from the treaty. Republicans vowed they would fight this restriction and funding cut.

However, eight days after the terrorist attacks, Levin offered a new version of this bill. The new bill still redistributed $1.3 billion from the administration’s request, but it did not include the controversial missile defense-related limitation. Instead, Levin chose to incorporate this restriction into another new bill that could be debated at a “later and more appropriate time.” Explaining the changes, Levin said, “This is the wrong time for divisive debate on issues of national defense.”

Two days later, Levin and Senator John Warner (R-VA) cosponsored an amendment that restored the $1.3 billion in funding for missile defense, although the amendment gave the president the option to use these funds for anti-terrorism programs. The Senate adopted the amendment September 21 and is expected to pass the full bill in early October.

Although ultimately going along with Levin, a number of Democratic senators were not pleased with removing the ABM language from the defense bill because they feared the move would give Bush too much leeway on missile defense, according to Democratic Senate aides. One of the aides, however, noted that Levin’s action was “understandable,” contending the “politics are overwhelming on this.”

Although he acknowledged in a September 24 speech on the Senate floor that “this is not time to debate the [ABM] language” contained in the original version of the bill, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) warned the administration against withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. He said such an action would be “counterproductive” because the United States needs help from the international community, including Russia and China, in combating global terrorism. Both Moscow and Beijing oppose U.S. missile defense plans and want to preserve the ABM Treaty.

House action on missile defense funding also changed following the terrorist attacks. Prior to September 11, Representatives Ike Skelton (D-MO) and John Spratt (D-SC) had filed an amendment to cut $918 million from the president’s missile defense request. The cut would have concentrated on plans to build missile defense facilities and silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, beginning in April 2002.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, however, Skelton and Spratt agreed to compromise on the cut because Republican and Democratic leaders wanted to pass the defense bill as quickly as possible with the least possible amount of contentious debate. The party leaders agreed that the full House would consider the defense bill, as passed by the House Armed Services Committee August 1, with only one amendment consisting of several compromises on controversial issues.

One of the compromises was to transfer a total of $400 million from missile defense to counter- and anti-terrorism activities. The reduction largely came from the Space Based Laser and sea-based midcourse interceptor programs and will not affect funding for Fort Greely. Speaking September 25 on the House floor, Spratt described the compromise as “good” and explained that the Fort Greely issue was set aside in the interest of bipartisanship. But Spratt said that he expected the issue would be revisited in the next budget cycle.

Explaining their views on the current climate in Congress, several House and Senate Democratic aides agreed that both missile defense proponents and skeptics felt the terrorist attacks reinforced their positions. Missile defense supporters have said the unexpected nature of the attacks reaffirms that the United States is vulnerable and must be prepared to defend itself against all kinds of attacks. Critics say the attacks underscore that a ballistic missile attack is not the most urgent threat and that funding should be devoted to countering more probable threats.

One House aide predicted that the terrorist attacks would probably make those congressmen who did not feel strongly about missile defense more likely to support missile defense as part of a broader homeland defense and anti-terrorism strategy. The aide, however, added that the most important factor at this time is that nobody wants to oppose the president.

Arms Control and the New 'War'

Daryl G. Kimball

As President George W. Bush and congressional leaders have correctly suggested, the response to the devastating attacks on New York and the Pentagon requires unprecedented international cooperation to prevent future outbreaks of terrorism. This new “war” will consume attention and resources, but Washington cannot lose sight of the related and equally severe threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Although the carnage wrought by the airliners-turned-flying-bombs is staggering, the toll from biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons could be even greater. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged the importance of “seeing that...weapons of vastly greater power...are not used by the kinds of people that attacked the United States.” Nevertheless, the Bush administration has so far failed to present an effective and comprehensive approach.

National, state, and local emergency response and public health systems to help treat the victims of any future attacks must certainly be fortified. But we must recognize that there is no civil defense plan, however robust, that can adequately protect the public against chemical, biological, and especially nuclear attack. The first line of defense is and must be prevention. Success depends on ensuring that the acquisition and delivery of these weapons remains technically challenging and universally unacceptable. This requires a sustained and coordinated international effort to extend and strengthen the multilateral framework of arms control and non-proliferation.

Unfortunately, Bush and his cadre of advisers have spent their first eight months in office dismissing, dismantling, and disavowing proven and promising arms control measures. At times, the Bush team speaks positively about a few treaties, such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, in keeping with its “à la carte” approach, the administration supports only those NPT provisions that constrain the capabilities of others, while it chooses to ignore U.S. non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. To work, this treaty, like so many others, must continue to serve the interests of all treaty partners, not just a few.

If the administration is truly committed to protecting the homeland, it must shed its disdain for multilateral arms control and non-proliferation and build upon the bipartisan mood that has enveloped Capitol Hill.

 Among other actions, the president should reconsider his rejection of the draft protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention and help achieve, not hinder, agreement on a strengthened text. He should utilize a part of the $20 billion approved for anti-terrorism activities to broaden and accelerate programs to secure and dispose of weapons-usable nuclear material and demilitarize chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union. The president should redouble U.S. efforts for strengthened International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and UN Security Council support for on-site inspections to help prevent Iraq from reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction programs. International support for these steps would be greatly enhanced if Bush moved to fulfill key U.S. NPT commitments. In particular, he should reconsider his refusal to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; initiate genuine negotiations with Russia on verifiable, irreversible nuclear force reductions; and agree to operate within the framework of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The latter objective will require an important adjustment in the pace and direction of national missile defense policy, which now calls for deployment of a rudimentary capability by 2004 and possible unilateral ABM Treaty withdrawal within months. Predictably, U.S. officials have resumed their push for deployment. But the airliner attacks highlight that, however capable they may someday become, strategic missile defenses are useless against cheaper and more available means of weapons delivery. Though U.S. officials have “consulted” with their Russian counterparts, they have flatly rejected inquiries about possible treaty modifications to allow for planned anti-missile testing and have not yet made proposals for nuclear reductions. Taking the time necessary to reach a lasting strategic weapons agreement with Russia would, among other benefits, help preserve the long-term cooperation of Moscow, Beijing, and other governments in the new anti-terrorism campaign.

As he tries to root out global terrorism, the president must not create additional proliferation dangers. He should decisively put to rest speculation that the United States might use nuclear weapons against targets in Afghanistan. Even the implied threat of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states could spur some states to seek their own nuclear weapons capability.

Just as the United States cannot combat global terrorism by itself, it cannot alone curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and reduce the risks associated with existing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons stockpiles. If the president and the Congress continue to ignore this reality, they do so at our peril.  

U.S.-Russian Differences Remain On Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

Despite a flurry of summer meetings between top U.S. and Russian officials on offensive and defensive strategic forces, Moscow remains unconvinced by U.S. arguments to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials have tried unsuccessfully since May to sell Russia on the idea of developing a new bilateral strategic framework that would involve, among other things, scrapping the 1972 ABM Treaty, building strategic missile defenses, and lowering offensive nuclear force levels. President George W. Bush first articulated the proposal in a May 1 speech and discussed it with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in June. But Moscow has continued to support maintaining the ABM Treaty, though over the past few months it has hinted that it would consider amending the accord.

Meeting July 22 in Genoa, Italy, on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Bush again lobbied Putin to back his new strategic framework. Putin demurred, but the presidents issued a joint statement saying their countries would “begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems.” At a post-meeting press conference, Putin said the two matters would be discussed as a “set,” and Bush said, “The two go hand-in-hand.”

Nonetheless, there was confusion about what had been agreed. Later that day, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice insisted that the presidents had not agreed to link the issues of offense and defense formally and that Washington would go it alone if Russia refused to work with the United States.

Rice traveled to Moscow a few days later to craft a timetable for continuing the talks and to discuss the strategic framework proposal further with the Kremlin. Although she left Russia with a schedule for consultations, Rice made no headway in getting Russian leaders to accept the U.S. proposal. “We did not hear from Mrs. Rice any new arguments to cause us to review our fundamental approach to the 1972 treaty,” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said July 27.

An August 13 visit to Moscow by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yielded similar results. When asked whether Rumsfeld had persuaded him that the ABM Treaty had outlived its usefulness, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov answered, “I’m afraid not.” Later that day, Ivanov stated, “We feel no compunction to leave one or any other treaty or accord which we currently have signed.”

Throughout these high-level talks and after August meetings of government experts in Washington and Moscow, Russia repeatedly said that it had not received enough detailed information about U.S. plans. Putin, who also met with Rumsfeld August 13, said Moscow wants to be told of the “military and technical parameters of the [missile defense] proposals” and to know how low the United States would be willing to reduce its nuclear forces, along what timeframe, and how such reductions would be verified.

Washington says that it cannot yet answer these questions, asserting that future missile defense deployments will be based on what technologies pan out during research and testing and that the Pentagon is still conducting a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Rumsfeld, however, told various Moscow audiences that he should know the future size of U.S. nuclear forces within the next couple of months.

Russia and the United States are currently implementing START I, which caps each country’s arsenal at 6,000 deployed strategic warheads. START II, which has not yet entered into force, would lower this cap to 3,500 warheads. Although the two countries agreed in March 1997 to pursue an additional follow-on treaty, START III, that would reduce their arsenals to no more than 2,500 strategic warheads each, Russia has since proposed going down to 1,500 warheads. The Bush administration, however, has not yet indicated whether it would go as low as or below the proposed START III numbers.

Russia appears to favor codifying in a formal document any agreements it reaches with the United States. On August 13, Ivanov declared a need for “a system of controllable restraints” and “a series of limits.” But Washington has said it is not seeking a formal agreement on offenses or defenses. A senior defense official explained August 10 to reporters, “We are not seeking a Cold War-style arms control negotiation or treaty in these talks.”

Part of the administration’s rationale is that it does not have time for such an approach because its ballistic missile defense testing program will “bump up against” the ABM Treaty within months. Pentagon plans call for starting construction in April 2002 on a new Alaskan missile defense test site, which officials also claim will be available for operational use in an emergency. “Time is of the essence,” Bush emphasized July 23.

Claiming it does not want to violate the treaty or slow its testing program, the Bush administration states it would like to reach an agreement soon with Russia to mutually withdraw from the treaty, but failing that outcome, Washington warns it will withdraw unilaterally. Six months’ notice is required to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

Responding August 22 to news stories that the United States had set out a November deadline for concluding the talks—six months before the April construction date—at the Moscow meeting of experts, a State Department spokesperson stated, “There is no deadline.” The next day, Bush also denied any deadlines had been set but left no doubt about U.S. plans, declaring, “We will withdraw from the ABM Treaty on our timetable at a time convenient to America.” He added that Putin is “aware of [U.S.] desires to move beyond the ABM Treaty and we will.”

Russian officials are skeptical of Washington’s abbreviated timeframe. “I don’t see any possible way that we can take something that complicated and do it only in a couple of months,” Ivanov said after meeting with Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell are expected to meet with their Russian counterparts again in September to continue the talks. The two presidents will also meet in October in Shanghai, China, and again in November at Bush’s Texas ranch. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who led the U.S. expert group in Moscow, said August 21 that he believed “the two presidents would be disappointed in us if we didn’t have something for them to consider when they get together in Texas.”

Despite a flurry of summer meetings between top U.S. and Russian officials on offensive and defensive strategic forces, Moscow remains unconvinced by U.S. arguments to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. (Continue)

The Rogue Elephant

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.”

The administration’s actions following the apparently successful personal interaction between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June and July underscore that the administration’s pursuit of national missile defense has become an irrational obsession and not simply a misguided policy. A steady stream of senior U.S. officials has descended on Moscow and reciprocal visits have been encouraged. Great care has been taken, however, to emphasize that these are not negotiations or even discussions, but simply “exchanges of information” intended to persuade Russia that it has nothing to fear from U.S. NMD plans.

The administration is brashly proposing that Russia should join in repudiating the ABM Treaty, which Moscow strongly supports as the foundation of strategic stability. Putin and other senior Russian officials complain that they have received no information on the extent of the U.S. NMD program or future strategic offensive force levels, which U.S. officials say must await the current nuclear policy review. In addition, U.S. representatives have not made clear what, if any, formal agreement might replace the ABM Treaty. Russian officials, including Putin, have stated they are not interested in signing a “blank check” and see no possibility of resolving such a complex issue in time to celebrate agreement at the November summit at Bush’s Texas ranch. Whether the U.S. approach represents the irrational expectations of true believers or is simply a ploy to create an excuse for unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty remains to be seen. But unilateral U.S. withdrawal has garnered no international support, including from close U.S. NATO allies, who have been treated to similar condescending briefings.

While tied to its obsessive NMD craving, the administration’s desire to eliminate the ABM Treaty also reflects its fundamental opposition to all formal arms control treaties. The administration sees such agreements as constraining U.S. flexibility to use its superior technology and economic resources to achieve unchallenged military superiority. Confident of substantial U.S. advantage, it has no interest in constraining the forces of potential adversaries. In this spirit, the administration has dismissed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is not concerned by Putin’s assertion that U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would force Russia to withdraw from START II and even START I. This would eliminate the basis for verifying strategic reductions and allow Russia to retain its land-based MIRVs, including the 10-warhead SS-18 and SS-24 missiles, as well as future replacement MIRVed missiles. This rejection of formal treaties in general and particular disdain for the ABM Treaty because it is a “30-year-old Cold War relic” seems odd for an administration that wants to expand the Cold War NATO alliance to the borders of its new friend.

The administration now plans to unleash the same officials to persuade China that the U.S. NMD would not be a threat. If these briefings are anything like those given to Congress, U.S. allies, and Russia, setting forth a technological buffet from which the United States will construct a multi-layer defense, China will hardly be persuaded that such an undertaking, costing a few hundred billion dollars, is really directed at North Korea. To sweeten this bitter pill, the administration leaked that China would be informed that the United States was prepared to accept modernization of Chinese nuclear forces and would not object if China resumed nuclear testing, which the United States might also find necessary. When this proposal was widely greeted with shocked incredulity, it was denied by another senior official—in the cacophony of contradictory statements that have characterized exposition of U.S. foreign policy.

Having predictably failed to intimidate Russia to join in a crash program to dismantle the ABM Treaty and having found absolutely no international support, President Bush should re-evaluate the wisdom of this approach. Recalling the metamorphoses of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan to support arms control during their presidencies, influential Republican leaders should come to the aid of the Grand Old Party and persuade President Bush to adopt a less confrontational posture and avoid branding his presidency and his party as a Rogue Elephant.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.” (Continue)

Bush Administration Aims to Get Rid of ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

Although some Bush administration officials have claimed that the administration has not ruled out amending the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit U.S. ballistic missile defenses, most official statements over the summer have made clear that this administration is not interested in preserving the treaty in any form or codifying future constraints on missile defenses.

President George W. Bush vowed during his campaign to seek changes to the 1972 ABM Treaty, which forbids Washington and Moscow from deploying nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, by offering amendments to Russia that would enable the United States to field defenses against long-range missile attacks. If the Kremlin rejected the amendments, Bush said he would withdraw from the treaty, giving the required six-month notice.

Since taking office, however, Bush and his senior officials have said almost nothing about amending the accord. Bush declared August 15 that building defenses to protect the United States from missile attacks would require “getting rid of the ABM Treaty once and for all.”

When a reporter suggested July 16 that a “notion” existed that the administration would try to amend the treaty, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher replied, “I think if you look back, you will not find that in the lexicon of the new administration.”

Instead, the administration has repeatedly declared it wants to “move beyond” or “set aside” the ABM Treaty. Yet it has remained vague about what such terms would entail. Suggesting that amendments are not part of that approach, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice explained July 13, “This is not about lining in, lining out the ABM Treaty.” A day earlier, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified before a Senate hearing, “We have either got to withdraw from [the treaty] or replace it.” However, he later maintained at a July 17 hearing that amending the treaty was still an option.

In place of the treaty, Bush has proposed to Russia creating a new “strategic framework,” which would, among other things, permit missile defenses and include nuclear reductions. (See U.S.-Russian Differences Remain On Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty.) If Moscow refuses to work with the United States, the administration says it will withdraw from the ABM Treaty and push ahead with missile defenses alone.

Administration officials have voiced a preference for the new framework to be an “understanding” that is not legally binding. “We don’t see the need for a treaty regime here,” Rice said July 23, claiming the outcome should be more along the lines of “something that looks more like defense planning talks.” The administration’s preferred course of action, officially, is either to withdraw with Russia from the accord mutually or to issue a joint political declaration stating missile defenses are permissible.

Administration Discusses ABM Treaty

Unveiling plans in mid-July to explore missile defenses that are sea-, air-, and space-based, the Bush administration declared its proposed missile defense testing programs would come into conflict with the ABM Treaty in “months, not years.” It later added that a violation would not occur before the end of September. The treaty prohibits the development, testing, and deployment of strategic missile defense systems and components that are air-, sea-, space-, and mobile-land based.

Administration officials contend the ABM Treaty, which they decry as a Cold War relic, has kept the United States defenseless against long-range missile attacks by preventing research and development of promising technologies. “We have allowed our hands to be tied behind our back,” Wolfowitz asserted July 12.

Charged with overseeing U.S. missile defense programs, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) received instructions early this year to develop a testing plan that does not take the ABM Treaty into consideration. Talking points to U.S. missions overseas prepared for circulation in July stated that tests would not be crafted to “conform to, or stay within the confines of the treaty,” although they also said that tests would not be held to violate the treaty intentionally.

Nevertheless, senior administration officials insist that the United States will adhere to the treaty. “The United States is certainly not going to breach the treaty and violate it in any way,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an August 16 interview with PBS Newshour.

If a potential test could raise compliance issues with the treaty, Wolfowitz testified, the test would either be modified to comply with the treaty or be postponed. But the administration is hoping that it can reach an agreement with Russia quickly to remove the treaty’s constraints, if not the accord itself, to keep such a scenario from arising.

Bush Team Assertions Challenged

In July congressional testimony, a number of former government officials disputed the Bush administration’s underlying assumption that the ABM Treaty prevents missile defense testing and development as fast as the administration believes is warranted.

John Rhinelander, who served as the legal adviser for the negotiations that produced the ABM Treaty, noted July 24 in his prepared statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “nothing in the ABM Treaty prevents research of or laboratory work on anything.” The prohibition against “development” of ABM systems in the treaty is understood to apply to field testing of components or systems. The prohibition does not apply to laboratory testing because it would be too difficult to verify compliance.

Philip Coyle, who served for six years as the director of the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation in the Clinton administration, testified July 19 that “in the near-term, the ABM Treaty hinders neither development nor testing.” In addition to pointing out how much work still needs to be done on strategic systems—he estimates, for instance, that building a ship-based defense could take 10 years—Coyle argued that more work needs to be done on treaty-permitted, short- and medium-range missile defenses, which, he argued, are more urgently needed and could have applications for protecting against long-range missiles.

Coyle further contended that perhaps the “greatest challenge…is building realistic simulators” to test how all elements of a missile defense system could function together. Work in this area is “years behind…but not because of the ABM Treaty,” he claimed, saying the problem was technological.

Samuel Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, appeared at the same hearing as Coyle, testifying that the Pentagon’s planned testing schedule creates a very short time frame for working out agreements with Russia to modify or replace the ABM Treaty and sets a “collision course to unilateral breach or abrogation sooner rather than later.” He ventured that the administration’s “principal objective is [to] get rid of the treaty.”

DOD Mulls Missile Defense Test Site; Plan Could Violate ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

The Pentagon is planning to add a missile defense test site in Alaska, a move that could violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

A spokesperson for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) indicated that, as part of the Bush administration’s ballistic missile defense testing program, a “test bed…will be set up” by adding an Alaska test range for “all [missile defense] systems…including ground-based interceptors.” The test bed would encompass, roughly, the triangular area bounded by the new test site in Alaska, the existing U.S. test site in the Marshall Islands, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where test target missiles are launched. It would allow the testing of a greater number of missile trajectories under more realistic conditions and could be ready by a “2004-2007 timeframe,” according to the spokesperson.

At a June 28 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) noted that BMDO Director Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish had briefed senators earlier in June on the option of having up to 10 “test” missiles in Alaska that could be “available for operational deployment.” According to the BMDO spokesperson, placing ground-based interceptors in Alaska would be aimed at improving testing, but the missiles “could be used in an emergency” if the technology had progressed enough.

Under the ABM Treaty, which proscribes Washington and Moscow from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, ABM systems and components under development and testing are to be “located within current or additionally agreed test ranges.” In a common understanding to the treaty, the United States declared two test sites—White Sands, New Mexico, and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands—and stated that “ABM components will not be located at any other test ranges without prior agreement between our Governments.”

However, in 1978, Washington and Moscow agreed—in a deal made public in 1993—that a new test range would be considered “additionally agreed” if it was “consistent” with the treaty’s prohibitions on a nationwide defense or a “base for such a defense.” A party building a new test range would simply have to notify the other party of its plans no later than 30 days after starting “construction or assembly” of ABM launchers or radar at a new range.

Whether Pentagon plans for adding the Alaska test site for a national defense would be permitted by the 1978 agreement is unclear. If any interceptors at the new range could be “available for operational deployment,” as Kadish reportedly told senators, then the new site would presumably violate the treaty, which limits operational U.S. strategic missile interceptors to a single North Dakota site.

In addition, if the Alaska test range is integrated with other test sites, it could, at some point, be viewed as a “base” for a nationwide defense and, hence, a treaty violation.

When asked repeatedly at the June 28 Armed Services Committee hearing whether any of the Pentagon’s new budget request would be used for activities that would violate the ABM Treaty, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded, “We don’t know for sure,” claiming that it would depend, in part, on how fast technologies evolved. Later, the secretary added, “Not to my knowledge.”

Bush Team Reaffirms Missile Defense Plans; Dems Leery

Wade Boese

In June, senior Bush officials reiterated the administration’s intention to press forward with ballistic missile defenses as quickly as possible, but leading Senate Democrats warned against precipitously abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Adding an additional note of caution, the top Pentagon official overseeing missile defense programs warned Congress about the risks of rushed testing.

Preceding President George W. Bush to Europe, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told his counterparts at a June 7 NATO defense ministers’ meeting that the Bush administration would follow through with its commitment to deploy ballistic missile defenses to protect the entire United States, U.S. forces deployed abroad, and U.S. allies and friends. But Rumsfeld did not detail any specific plans, saying the exact types of defenses would be determined by testing and would evolve over time.
In his prepared remarks, the secretary explained that the U.S. objective would be to deploy layered defenses targeted at intercepting “handfuls of missiles, not hundreds” during their various stages of flight—boost, midcourse, and terminal. Rumsfeld contended that even “test assets to provide rudimentary defenses” would likely be deployed.

Rumsfeld told the allied defense ministers that it was “inescapable” that U.S. plans would require “moving beyond” the 1972 ABM Treaty, which proscribes Washington and Moscow from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles or the base for such defenses. The treaty also bars developing, testing, and deploying sea-, air-, space-, and mobile land-based ABM systems or components.

Bush and his senior officials say it is the treaty’s testing prohibitions that pose the most immediate conflict with their missile defense plans, arguing that the treaty blocks a full exploration of all possible defenses. Rumsfeld maintains that the United States must move past the treaty to allow the Pentagon to conduct necessary tests, though he has not specified what planned testing would violate the treaty.

Administration officials admit they are uncertain as to when their missile defense plans would run afoul of the ABM Treaty, but all say it is inevitable. En route to the NATO meeting, Rumsfeld ventured that the point of violation would vary depending on the pace of testing programs and which lawyer one consulted. Secretary of State Colin Powell has simply said that the exact timing is unknown. When that point is reached, however, Washington “will get out of the constraints of the treaty,” Powell declared during a June 17 interview on Fox. He added that Bush has said the United States will not be stopped by an almost 30-year-old treaty.

Speaking a day after Rumsfeld made his case to NATO, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) described himself as “mystified” that the administration wants to commit billions of dollars to an as-yet-unproven concept. He cautioned that, if Republicans “rush” missile defense, it could be an “embarrassment to them, to the country.”

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who now chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and will be in charge of marking up the Pentagon budget, suggested in May that the committee should not support funding for activities that would violate the ABM Treaty.

Levin and other Democrats grilled Powell and Rumsfeld on missile defense in separate June hearings. On June 20, Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned the hurry to abandon the ABM Treaty, saying he was aware of no missile defense tests currently scheduled before 2003 that “even gets us close to a violation of ABM.” Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), at an Armed Services Committee hearing with Rumsfeld the next day, expanded on the same theme, saying, “All of the wringing of hands of the abrogation of the treaty seems to me a little premature before something has been developed.”

Democrats also criticized the administration’s contention that it might deploy a system before it had been fully tested. Both Rumsfeld and Powell said that fielding a system before it has been completely tested is not the same thing as fielding a nonfunctional system. “We of course would not deploy anything…if we didn’t think it would work,” Powell declared. However, he added, that “does not necessarily mean that you have to wait until every last test has been concluded.”

Lieutenant General Kadish Testifies

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, who oversees U.S. missile defense programs, testified June 14 before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that “if we rush development imprudently, I will guarantee that we will get less-than-satisfactory results.” Although he did not rule out “rapid, aggressive development” if done prudently, he said that from his perspective “more testing is always better.”

When questioned about how the ABM Treaty impacts testing, Kadish answered that all testing has complied with the treaty. Referring to the proposed Clinton national missile defense (NMD) system, which employs a ground-based missile interceptor with an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) to destroy an incoming target, Kadish said that the treaty “hasn’t prevented us from doing what we need to do…per se.”

The treaty would bar ship-based interceptors or the Airborne Laser (ABL) from being tested against targets simulating strategic ballistic missiles. Currently, the ABL and U.S. sea-based missile defense programs are geared toward intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, but the administration is believed to be very keen on shifting those programs so they can deal with long-range missiles. (The ABL was the only missile defense project to get extra funding—$153 million—under the Bush administration’s supplemental fiscal year 2001 budget request.)

Kadish, however, said he did not believe that it was feasible in the near term to upgrade existing technology so that a ship-based interceptor could intercept missiles in their boost phase, as some missile defense advocates suggest. “We would have to undertake a major development program to make that happen,” he asserted.

The program furthest along in development and closest to deployment, according to Kadish, is the Clinton NMD system. He then acknowledged, “We have an awful lot of work to do, however.”


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