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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Strategic Missile Defense

Anti-Missile Test Shelved By Technical Glitch

Wade Boese

A technical glitch led the Pentagon to scrub its most recently planned test of a long-range ballistic missile interceptor system. The mid-May cancellation came on the heels of a sharp round of congressional debate on the system's capability and the release of a governmental watchdog report that found the system remains unproven and needs more rigorous testing.

Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Arms Control Today May 15 that the agency canceled the experiment of the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) due to a faulty telemetry unit on the test interceptor's exoatmospheric kill vehicle. Lehner said the unit plays no role in helping the kill vehicle locate and collide with a target in space but relays data back to testers so they can later evaluate the kill vehicle's performance.

The intercept test would have been the first for the system since destroying a mock warhead last September. (See ACT, November 2007 .) Including that success, the system has compiled a record of seven intercepts in a dozen attempts.

Just four of those tests have occurred after December 2002 when President George W. Bush ordered the system's deployment. The MDA has fielded roughly two dozen GMD interceptors in Alaska and California to counter what the administration claims are growing missile threats from Iran and North Korea. The most advanced missiles successfully flight-tested by either country are medium-range missiles.

Lehner said the next system intercept test will take place later this fall as previously scheduled, but before that, the MDA plans to conduct a target flight test to vet some of the system's radars. Lehner noted that the target would be accompanied by decoys, a practice that the MDA suspended at the end of 2002 as it transitioned to an upgraded interceptor and kill vehicle.

An adversary might employ decoys to trick a missile defense into engaging them while letting a warhead escape unscathed. System critics, such as Philip Coyle, a former director of the Pentagon's independent weapons-testing office, claim that the previous decoys used by the MDA were easily distinguishable from the real target, offered no real discrimination challenge to the GMD system, and did not realistically reflect what a foe could employ.

In recent congressional testimony, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the director of the MDA, defended his agency's past use of decoys and the GMD's ability to deal with decoys and other countermeasures. Appearing April 1 before a subcommittee panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Obering stated the current GMD system has "the ability to deal with simple countermeasures, and we've flown against those in our flight-test program." He also said at an April 30 hearing of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the system is not yet able to deal with "complex countermeasures" but that it could overcome countermeasures that he anticipated Iran and North Korea might employ.

The April 30 hearing was that subcommittee's third missile defense-related hearing convened this year by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), the panel's chairman. Tierney said he was leading an "extensive and sustained" look at missile defense because of its high costs (the most recent annual budget request for the MDA totaled $9.3 billion), previous failed attempts to develop working anti-missile systems, and concerns about the current system's effectiveness and value.

In his remarks, Tierney cited a March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for lawmakers. That report found the MDA had "enhanced the capability of some assets" and conducted experiments that "provide some assurance" that the overarching Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), of which the GMD system is the long-range centerpiece, will work as designed. But the investigative agency also concluded that "performance of the fielded system is as yet not verifiable because too few tests have been conducted to validate the models and simulations that predict BMDS performance." The GAO also stated that "the tests done to date have been developmental in nature, and do not provide sufficient realism for [the Pentagon's] test and evaluation director to fully determine whether the BMDS is suitable and effective for battle."

Obering conceded that the agency had not done enough flight and intercept testing to validate the models and simulations on which it relies to predict the system's performance, but he also contended that past test results have not invalidated those models or simulations either. "We have not seen any showstoppers," Obering declared.

The sharp questioning of Obering during the hearing by Tierney and other Democrats upset the panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.). Decrying the hearing as a "fraud" and "an absolute joke," Shays said that committee members only wanted to "score points" rather than "know how this system works."

Some Democrats contend, however, that the MDA is devoting too much attention to less mature systems at the expense of those that have shown promise. In particular, they have urged the MDA to shift greater spending to the Aegis ship-based system and the mobile land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). Both systems have recent successful testing records and are designed to intercept short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles that Democrats say present a more immediate threat to U.S. troops and allies than the danger posed by long-range missiles to the U.S. homeland. In making their case, the lawmakers have pointed to a 2007 classified Pentagon report that called for nearly doubling the number of Aegis and THAAD system interceptors (133 and 96, respectively) that the MDA planned to procure.

The legislative protests appear to have had some effect. The MDA budget released earlier this year had postponed the acquisition of two THAAD fire units by at least a year (see ACT, March 2008 ), but Obering testified in the recent hearings that the MDA had revised its plans to avoid the delay. Obering and other administration officials also said they intend to alter their long-term plans to acquire additional Aegis and THAAD system interceptors.

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A technical glitch led the Pentagon to scrub its most recently planned test of a long-range ballistic missile interceptor system. The mid-May cancellation came on the heels of a sharp round of congressional debate on the system's capability and the release of a governmental watchdog report that found the system remains unproven and needs more rigorous testing. (Continue)

U.S. Edges Closer to Europe Anti-Missile Deals

Wade Boese

The Bush administration is making progress in negotiating with the Czech Republic and Poland to host controversial U.S. strategic anti-ballistic missile systems. A final deal, however, seems much closer with the Czech Republic than Poland, which is making greater demands on the United States.

U.S. talks with the two governments to station missile defense components on their territories date back at least four years (see ACT, July/August 2004), but official negotiations began early last year. At that time, Bush administration officials predicted the talks might only take months and U.S. site construction could start as early as this year. Now, early next year is the soonest construction may start, pending agreements with the two countries and funding from Congress. In its February budget request for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the Bush administration asked lawmakers for $719 million to fund the project after Congress cut spending last year that would have gone toward construction activities. (See ACT, March 2008 .)

The U.S. proposal aims to deploy 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland and an advanced missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic to counter what the United States asserts is a growing Iranian missile threat. The Missile Defense Agency has projected that Iran could develop an ICBM able to strike the United States by 2015, while Vice President Dick Cheney March 11 gave a longer estimate of “late in the next decade.”

Polish officials have indicated that Iran is not a significant factor in their willingness to explore hosting the U.S. interceptors, which are a modified and untested version of U.S. systems deployed in Alaska and California. Speaking Jan. 31 in Washington, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said that his country “does not feel directly threatened by Iran.”

One motivation behind Poland’s interest in the project is the belief that it will bolster ties with the United States. Sikorski argued that hosting the U.S. base “will make [U.S. and Polish] security mutually dependent for decades.”

Poland also sees the initiative as opening the door to additional U.S. weapons and military assistance. Visiting President George W. Bush March 10, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk noted that the “missile defense system and the modernization of the Polish forces…come in one package.” Bush promised Tusk that the United States would develop a “concrete and tangible” modernization plan for Poland “before my watch is over.”

Determining precisely what U.S. arms will be made available to Poland is a crucial issue in the U.S.-Polish negotiations. Michael Wyganowski, a former Polish diplomat and current executive director of the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, told Arms Control Today March 20 that “what goodies the [United States] is willing to provide” will be important to Tusk’s ability to sell any outcome as a success to the Polish electorate.

Ambassador Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, is leading a U.S. assessment of Polish military modernization requirements. The study reportedly will take at least three months. Visiting Poland Feb. 29, Mull said the two sides will focus on “Poland’s air defense, command and control, and mobility needs.” The costs of any new Polish weapons procurement is expected to fall largely on Poland.

Moscow’s threat to target the planned bases is helping spur Warsaw’s interest in improving its air defenses, including the possible acquisition of shorter-range U.S. anti-missile systems. Russia maintains the proposed U.S. systems are secretly intended for use against it.

Poland has urged the Bush administration to sooth Russian anxieties about the project, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Moscow March 17 and 18 with that purpose (see page 33 ). They reiterated past U.S. proposals intended to ease Russian concerns, which include allowing Russian officials to monitor or visit the sites. One reported option is to permit designated officials at the Russian embassies in the two host countries to conduct short-notice inspections of the bases. Gates and Rice stressed that the host government would have to consent to any such arrangement, reflecting Czech and Polish unease with the notion of a Russian presence at military sites within their borders.

Although a Polish-U.S. agreement could take several months to materialize, talks with the Czech Republic seemingly are nearer completion. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary, noted March 10 that it generally had been expected that an agreement would be announced Feb. 27 when Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek visited Washington.

During that visit, however, Topolánek said the two sides were stuck on “three words” related to “environmental protection.” Yet, he downplayed the disagreement as a “technical matter, which is going to be resolved very soon.” A Czech diplomatic source March 18 told Arms Control Today that a “common understanding” exists and all that is required is a “specific formulation.”

The diplomatic source further stated that Prague and Washington are close on both an agreement to host the U.S. base and a separate Status of Forces Agreement, which establishes the legal status of U.S. forces and property stationed in a foreign country. Poland also is negotiating two similar instruments with the United States. The diplomatic source indicated that the Czech Republic “will most probably not” link signing its agreements to the status of U.S.-Polish talks.

Both the Czech and Polish governments would prefer to have NATO’s endorsement of the project, but neither country is making that a precondition of concluding agreements with the United States. The 26-member alliance conducted an extensive study assessing the feasibility of protecting all members’ territories and population centers against long-range missile attacks but could not agree in 2006 on pursuing any strategic anti-missile systems. (See ACT, April 2007 .) NATO members are divided over the general issue, as well as the proposed U.S. system, and it is expected to be a point of discussion at NATO’s April 2-4 Bucharest summit.

In a report on the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill, signed into law Jan. 28, lawmakers stressed that NATO should play a “central role” in European missile defenses and urged that any long-range U.S. system located there should be compatible with future NATO systems. That law requires the secretary of defense to certify that any long-range interceptors destined for deployment in Europe have passed operationally realistic flight testing. It also orders an independent study of alternatives to the Bush plan. The report is due to Congress near the end of July.

The Bush administration is making progress in negotiating with the Czech Republic and Poland to host controversial U.S. strategic anti-ballistic missile systems. A final deal, however, seems much closer with the Czech Republic than Poland, which is making greater demands on the United States. (Continue)

Missile Defense Budget Boosts Requested

Wade Boese

Heading into its final year in office, the Bush administration is asking Congress to give a spending boost to anti-missile systems, particularly a controversial project to extend systems to Europe. Although missile defenses have been a constant funding favorite of the administration, a recent Pentagon report found capabilities remain limited.

All told, the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2009 baseline budget request of $515.4 billion contains approximately $12.7 billion for anti-missile programs, a $1.9 billion increase above the previous request. Fiscal year 2009 begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2009.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) accounts for the greatest share of the funding, with requests totaling some $8.89 billion. It is also slated for an additional $445 million in military construction and Base Realignment and Closure spending. Congress granted the agency $8.7 billion last year, which is approximately $185 million less than the amount originally sought by the administration.

Major slices of the proposed missile defense funding are slated for programs directed by the Army and the Air Force. The Army is seeking nearly $986 million for developing and procuring the Patriot and related systems. More than half that total will go toward buying 108 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors, which are designed to counter short- and medium-range missiles near the end of their flights. The Patriot anti-missile system is the only one that is battle-tested, and the results were mixed. (See ACT, November 2003. )

The Air Force is asking for $2.3 billion to advance its Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite constellation for pinpointing ballistic missile launches worldwide. Nearly $1.8 billion of that total is to go toward procuring the first two of four geosynchronous satellites in time for the proposed fall 2009 launch window. A satellite in geosynchronous orbit matches the Earth’s rotation speed.

MDA Programs

SBIRS is supposed to help cue the raft of anti-missile systems under development by the MDA. Major programs are the long-range Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the Airborne Laser (ABL), and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI). The systems are in various stages of development and have different capabilities and missions, although some overlap.

Since its 2002 establishment, the MDA has overseen the deployment of two dozen total GMD interceptors in Alaska and California and 21 Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors to counter short- to intermediate-range missiles. Ten ships have been converted to fire the SM-3s. The first THAAD fire unit, designed to defend against short- to intermediate-range missiles as they descend toward their targets, is slated for fielding in 2009. THAAD scored three hits in three intercept trials last year, maintaining its perfect record since going through a redesign in the late 1990s.

Intended to destroy missiles during the first few minutes after their launch, the ABL is a modified Boeing 747 armed with a powerful chemical laser, and the KEI is a fast-accelerating interceptor. Both programs are at earlier stages in their development and face crucial tests in fiscal year 2009 that could determine their fate. The ABL is supposed to be tested against a target in flight for the first time that year, while the KEI is scheduled for its inaugural flight.

The MDA envisions that by 2013 the United States will have deployed 54 total GMD interceptors, 147 SM-3 interceptors, and four THAAD fire units with 96 total interceptors. Future procurement plans for ABL and KEI systems have yet to be made.

Congress in recent years has urged the MDA to focus attention and resources on the systems ready for more immediate deployment rather than programs that are more futuristic and technically riskier, such as the KEI. In the latest budget request, the agency apportions almost half its proposed spending to the more established programs: $2.3 billion for the GMD project, just more than $1 billion for Aegis, and $811 million for THAAD.

Still, the agency trimmed its THAAD request by $47 million from last year while bumping up the KEI request by $159 million, to $386 million. The deployment of the third and fourth THAAD fire units also were postponed a year each, until fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

Those actions seemingly contradict congressional wishes as well as those of Lieutenant General Kevin Campbell, the head of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Last April, Campbell testified to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that moving ahead with THAAD deployments was “vitally important” while suggesting that the KEI and ABL programs were less urgent, describing them as a “hedge against future threats.” In another hearing that same month, Campbell also reported on a study by his command that recommended doubling proposed purchases of THAAD and Aegis interceptors. The MDA, which is charged with developing systems but not operating them in the field like the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, did not change the production plans for either system.

Meanwhile, the MDA ratcheted up its funding request for multiple kill vehicles, a more novel concept. The agency wants to develop smaller, generic kill vehicles, the component that maneuvers into a collision with an incoming threat, so a single interceptor can carry several at once to engage multiple targets. The latest budget request of $354 million for the program is approximately $83 million higher than that previously requested. But Congress last year cut nearly $63 million from the program to signal its displeasure with the MDA for unilaterally planning to mount multiple kill vehicles on a longer-range version of the SM-3 without consulting Japan, which is co-developing the modified interceptor.

Although Congress has repeatedly denied MDA requests for money to explore space-based anti-missile system options, the agency has resurrected that bid this year. It is seeking $10 million to start creating a space-based test bed. Projected costs for the test bed rise annually to $123 million by fiscal year 2013.

The agency, however, seems to be a little more sensitive to congressional complaints about the status of its testing and target programs. In a report on last year’s defense authorization bill, lawmakers expressed “disappointment” that the MDA “has failed to ensure an adequate testing program.” The MDA’s current request for testing and target activities is $79 million higher than last year’s request of $586 million.

The European Option

The MDA is seeking its biggest budget boost to deploy 10 strategic ground-based interceptors in Poland and an associated missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic to defend against what the Bush administration says is a growing Iranian missile threat. The agency more than doubled its request of $310 million last year to approximately $719 million in the Feb. 4 budget submission.

Last November, Congress denied $85 million to begin system construction this year because no hosting agreements had been reached with the Czech Republic and Poland. But Reuters Feb. 21 quoted John Rood, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, telling reporters in Budapest that “very significant progress” had been made in recent talks with the two potential host governments. Rood was visiting the Hungarian capital to meet with Russian officials to try and soften their opposition to the proposed system.

A few weeks earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski visited Washington and said that a Polish-U.S. agreement had been reached in principle, but he cautioned, “[W]e are not at the end of the road…we are in the middle of the road.” Warsaw has made clear that it wants Washington to help bolster Polish military capabilities, particularly air defenses, as part of any hosting arrangement.

Russia’s hostility to the U.S. project is a key factor behind Polish demands for additional U.S. assistance and weapons systems. Moscow, which perceives the proposed system as directed against Russia, has threatened to target the potential interceptor and radar bases.

Washington has engaged in talks with Moscow to allay its concerns but to no avail. Speaking Feb. 8 to Russian legislators, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of being disingenuous. “It is with sorrow in my heart that I am forced to say that our partners have been using these discussions as information and diplomatic cover for carrying out their own plans,” Putin said. Russian officials warn that deployment of the systems will trigger a new arms race.

U.S. officials have been dismissive of the Russian fears and threats. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Feb. 1 argued, “There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have, and there is no intent to do so.” Pending congressional approval, Rice and other administration officials insist the United States will go ahead with its plan once agreements are reached with the Czech and Polish governments.

The MDA budget request is prepared for that eventuality and contains $238 million for starting construction on the interceptor base, according to Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the agency. Speaking Feb. 13 with Arms Control Today, Lehner also noted that the MDA plans to conduct the inaugural flight test of the interceptor model planned for the base in 2009, a year earlier than previously scheduled. The proposed interceptor is a modified version of the type fielded by the United States in Alaska and California.

But Do Missile Defenses Work?

After the United States used a modified SM-3 interceptor to destroy a crippled U.S. satellite on Feb. 20 (see page 50 ), reporters the next day quizzed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about whether that event proved missile defense can work. In addition to citing past successful tests of the various systems, Gates contended that the fact that lawmakers in recent years have approved billions of dollars to support missile defense “is testimony to the fact that I think the issue of whether it will work is behind us.”

An annual report released a month earlier by the Pentagon’s independent weapons-testing assessor, the Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, offered a less sanguine appraisal. The report described U.S. capabilities against shorter-range missiles as improving but rated capabilities against longer-range missiles as “very basic.”

Many of the report’s criticisms focused on the GMD system, which the testing office stated was “the least mature missile defense capability against its strategic threat set.” Although assessing that the system presents a “limited capability against a simple foreign threat,” the report stated that flight testing of the system “is not sufficient to provide a high level of statistical confidence in its limited capabilities.” The report also characterized past testing as “relatively unchallenging” and “representative of an unsophisticated threat.” The system has scored seven hits in 12 attempts against targets since 1999.

The MDA has announced plans to raise the degree of difficulty in its future GMD tests by reintroducing countermeasures, such as decoys, alongside mock warhead targets. (See ACT, November 2007. ) An attacker could employ countermeasures to try and confuse or circumvent anti-missile systems. Lehner said two GMD intercept tests are scheduled this year.

The testing office gave higher marks to the Aegis and THAAD systems. The recent report assessed Aegis as including a “good degree of operational realism in its flight test program” and concluded that THAAD “will provide a significant increase in capability against short- to intermediate-range threats.”

The MDA contends that it has answered affirmatively the basic question about whether missile defense can work. In its Feb. 5 budget overview, however, the agency acknowledges that “the technical challenges that remain today lie in predicting the location of the enemy missiles, differentiating the missiles from countermeasures, communicating this information rapidly and accurately to the defensive system, and destroying multiple enemy missiles launched within seconds and minutes of each other.”


Heading into its final year in office, the Bush administration is asking Congress to give a spending boost to anti-missile systems, particularly a controversial project to extend systems to Europe. Although missile defenses have been a constant funding favorite of the administration, a recent Pentagon report found capabilities remain limited. (Continue)

Europe Anti-Missile Plan Faces Hard Sell

Wade Boese

The Bush administration had envisioned 2008 as the year construction would begin on U.S. long-range anti-ballistic missile bases in Europe, but it still must convince others to go along with its plan. Moscow vigorously opposes the move and recently accused Washington of backsliding on proposals to ease Russia’s concerns, Warsaw and Prague have yet to agree to host sites, and Congress recently denied funding to start building the potential bases.

Although the United States engaged in missile defense cooperation discussions with the Polish and Czech governments as early as 2004 (see ACT, July/August 2004 ), official negotiations on the initiative, as well as intense scrutiny of it, did not begin until early last year. Russia immediately denounced the proposal, 10 interceptors in Poland coupled with a precision tracking radar in the Czech Republic, as targeting its missiles.

The Bush administration claims that the system is designed to counter what it says is a growing ballistic missile threat from Iran. It further contends the proposed defense poses no threat to Russia and last November presented the Kremlin with proposals that the administration said were intended to alleviate Russian anxieties. The offers followed on October talks involving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and their Russian counterparts. (See ACT, November 2007. )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov charged Dec. 5, however, that the written proposals fell short of what had been previously discussed. He told reporters, “[U]nfortunately, a serious rollback from what we had been told occurred.”

Lavrov argued that the United States reneged on an idea not to operate the radar or install interceptors in their silos until a threat materialized. He also contended the United States balked on permitting a permanent Russian presence at the European sites and backed off a commitment that Russia would have input on activating the system.

A U.S. government official knowledgeable of the talks and the draft proposals told Arms Control Today Dec. 21 that Russian officials appeared to have “overly interpreted” the earlier remarks of Rice and Gates. The official noted that both secretaries personally approved the document delivered to Russia.

The U.S. official contended that Rice and Gates talked about stationing U.S. and Russian personnel at each other’s sites related to missile defense, but made clear that any Russian visits or presence at European bases would depend on a host nation’s consent. Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), made this point publicly several times last year.

Obering, Rice, and other senior officials also repeatedly have declared that Russia would not be given a veto over U.S. missile defense plans. Indeed, shortly after Rice and Gates visited Moscow last October, Reuters quoted Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, as explaining, “[W]e will not ask Russia’s permission to turn [the system] on.”

Gates, however, volunteered to Russia that the United States might postpone activation of a system until there is clear evidence of a threat. U.S. and Russian officials further agreed to discuss their separate criteria for assessing potential dangers. But the U.S. official said it was never suggested that there had to be consensus on the criteria or on the existence of a threat for either side to act.

U.S. and Russian officials met again Dec. 13 in Budapest without resolution. The U.S. official said the two sides plan to continue talking early this year but that no date has been set.

The Bush administration has emphasized that it will move forward without the Kremlin’s consent if negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland are completed. Early last year, U.S. officials suggested talks with the two potential host countries might take a matter of months, but they have lagged longer.

Moreover, October parliamentary elections in Poland resulted in a new government that is taking a fresh look at the proposed project. Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the government has made improving relations with Russia a goal and will meet in late January with Russian officials to discuss a variety of issues, including missile defense. The next formal round of U.S.-Polish missile defense talks has not been scheduled, but the new Polish defense minister, Bogdan Klich, is scheduled to visit Gates in mid-January, when the topic is expected to come up.

Radek Sikorski, the new Polish foreign minister, previously has criticized the U.S. approach as clumsy and insufficient, suggesting that Poland should receive additional benefits and weapon systems for hosting a site that might anger Russia. Writing March 21, 2007, in The Washington Post, Sikorski argued the proposed system could “generate a new security partnership with the countries of the region” or “provoke a spiral of misunderstanding, weaken NATO, deepen Russian paranoia and cost the United States some of its last friends on the continent.”

Similar concerns have nagged some U.S. lawmakers. Indeed, the defense appropriations act, signed into law by President George W. Bush Nov. 13, 2007 (see page 36 ), cuts $85 million from the administration’s original $310 million request for work on the system during fiscal year 2008, which began Oct. 1, 2007. The cut funds had been allocated to construction activities in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Pending host-nation agreements, MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Dec. 18 that construction on the two sites could begin in early 2009. The goal, he said, would be to put the first interceptor in its silo in 2011.

Before any interceptors are emplaced, however, Congress maintains they must be proven “through successful, operationally realistic flight testing.” MDA has yet to flight-test the proposed European interceptor, which is a modified version of the 24 U.S. long-range interceptors currently deployed in Alaska and California.

As part of the defense authorization bill, which Bush and Congress are still contesting, legislators have included a provision calling for a $1 million independent study of the missile threat to Europe and an analysis of alternative or complimentary anti-missile systems to the administration’s proposed defense. The report would be due within 180 days after the legislation becomes law.

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If You Lead, They Will Follow: Public Opinion and Repairing the U.S.-Russian Strategic Relationship

John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher

During the past decade, attention to the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship has steadily declined, even though the two countries’ nuclear arsenals continue to represent the greatest physical threat that their societies face. Official policy and media discussions have been absorbed with problems of proliferation that have greater immediate prominence but lesser potential consequence. It is widely assumed that public opinion in both societies endorses this allocation of attention and accepts the deterioration that has occurred in the arms control process that was once a principal pillar of international security.

In order to test this assumption and determine what the U.S. and Russian publics actually think about nuclear weapons, arms control, and disarmament, the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and its affiliated Program in International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) jointly conducted a study with a nationwide poll in each country. We found that U.S. and Russian citizens are nearly unanimous in placing a high priority on cooperative efforts to reduce the danger from nuclear weapons, especially to prevent dissident states and terrorist organizations from acquiring them. Responses to detailed questions reveal a striking disparity between what U.S. and Russian leaders are doing and what their publics desire. Leaders who set bold goals for nuclear cooperation and who re-energized the arms control process would likely find a supportive public following.

The Policy Context

The poll was conducted at a time of increasing tension on strategic issues between the Russian and U.S. governments. In several recent rhetorical sallies, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized U.S. security policies, warning that they endanger the formal treaties and supplementary political arrangements that regulate international security. Putin has most specifically objected to the proposed deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland and has stated that this project threatens both the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The scope of Putin’s reaction indicates that he considers the entire legacy of strategic restraint to be at stake.

Commentary in the United States has generally minimized the significance of Putin’s statements. Press reports have noted the similarity to Cold War posturing, but more with bemusement than alarm. Government officials, commenting anonymously, have suggested that Putin’s remarks are meant for public consumption in Russia before its March presidential election and have implied that the intergovernmental dialogue has been less contentious. These dismissive reactions might be commended for tolerance, but not for comprehension. Putin has solid reasons for his expressed concerns; but, if he is responding to a domestic constituency, it would be his defense planners. We found the Russian general public to be less belligerent than Putin has recently been.

The reasons for concern extend back to the 1991 formation of the Russian Federation, which absorbed all of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons and thereby assumed the considerable burden of balancing U.S. deterrent forces. Russia also absorbed approximately one-half of the Soviet Union’s conventional forces, the most advanced units of which had to be withdrawn from central Europe. Dedicated to internal economic reform and international market adaptation, the new Russian government could not and did not sustain the heavy investment in those inherited forces that would have been required to make them competitive.

NATO has expanded progressively closer to the new Russian borders since the late 1990s. Russian military planners have undoubtedly been compelled to acknowledge in their inner deliberations that they could not assure defense against the sophisticated forms of air attack that the United States in particular is capable of undertaking. They therefore could not meet the standards of contingency planning that the Soviet Union had labored to uphold. Those standards require the ability to defend against the capability of conceivable opponents regardless of how improbable an actual attack might be. Russia’s highly exposed borders, the most extensive in the world, virtually preclude that level of self-protection.

As a result, at a fundamental level Russia is more dependent than the Soviet Union was on the formal arms control measures negotiated during the Cold War period, not by preference or choice but by necessity. Further, because no amount of informally expressed reassurance could alleviate this dependence, the deterioration of these mutual restraints is an inevitable concern to Russian defense planners. In particular, the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, formerly a keystone of bilateral stabilization, must have been a major blow. Russian defense planners likely concluded that their ballistic missiles could readily penetrate planned U.S. defenses if Russia initiated a large, operationally optimized attack. They must have fretted, however, that a retaliatory launch would be less likely to penetrate such defenses if the Russian command system had already been attacked and coordination was severely degraded. For Russian defense planners, missile defense is credible principally as a supplement to pre-emptive offense, and restraint on U.S. pre-emptive offensive attacks is their primary concern.

Meanwhile, the United States has explicitly advanced a national security strategy of pre-emptive attack on potential enemies and has pursued the necessary technologies and operational capacities supported by a defense budget that is roughly 10 times the size of Russia’s. The U.S. effort is said to be directed against rogue states and terrorist groups, but the resulting capabilities can readily be directed against Russia as well. U.S. officials have repeatedly asserted that they have no intention of attacking Russia, but they have not authorized any effort to convey that reassurance in the form of operationally meaningful legal restraint. Certainly, the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT) did not assuage Moscow’s concerns because its only legal obligation—the ceiling of 2,200 operationally deployed strategic warheads—does not take effect until the day when the treaty ceases to exist.

Putin’s remarks indicate that general expressions of benign intent are not sufficient, and he seems prepared to become increasingly disruptive in order to command the sustained attention that the United States has been refusing to give. His ultimate intent, one can presume, is to resurrect and update the formal provisions of mutual restraint. That certainly is a principal security interest both for Russia and the United States.

There have been notable efforts in Russia and the United States to develop a concrete cooperative agenda that could be pursued by leaders who were serious about nuclear risk reduction and strategic partnership. In Beyond Nuclear Deterrence, Alexei Arbatov, a leading Russian defense intellectual and former Duma member, and Vladimir Dvorkin, a retired top strategic planner for the Ministry of Defense, argue that Russia and the United States, in hedging against nuclear uncertainty, perpetuate unnecessary risks and preclude the type of constructive cooperation that could increase mutual security against “real and present dangers,” such as proliferation, terrorism, and civil conflict.[1] A group of prominent former U.S. government officials, led by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, has proposed a set of cooperative measures to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons and even argued that the guiding objective should be to eliminate nuclear weapons as a threat to global security. This endeavor was initially announced through a January 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial and subsequently endorsed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.[2]

To be sure, these arguments have yet to filter down to the broader publics in Russia or the United States. Neither political system has prominently featured debates over nuclear policy in its public discussions, where vague language about the end of the Cold War deterrence relationship holds much greater sway than it does for professional military planners. The successors to Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, slated to take office within a year, are unlikely to receive a direct mandate from their respective electorates on these issues.

Implications of the Poll Results

Yet, should a leader choose the path of nuclear cooperation, our poll results indicate that he or she could draw on considerable political capital. Underlying opinion in both societies would welcome far more extensive nuclear restraint and far more meaningful reassurance than either government has been willing to discuss so far. Elected leaders who chose to develop more robust measures to reduce risks from legacy arsenals, new nuclear states, and potential proliferators could readily evoke broad public approval despite the resistance they might encounter in their security bureaucracies.

The questions in our poll were developed by translating expert-level debates and proposals into terms that the average Russian and U.S. citizen could understand. Where we were looking for evidence of continuity or change in opinion over time, we repeated questions asked in a 2004 CISSM/PIPA poll, “Americans on WMD Proliferation.”[3] We also included questions to assess knowledge of and attitudes toward legacy agreements, proposed next steps, and innovative ideas for security arrangements that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War. The sample sizes were roughly comparable—1,247 in the United States and 1,601 in Russia—but we were able to ask a larger number of more detailed questions using an internet-based poll in the United States than we could through face-to-face interviews conducted in Russia.[4]

At the most fundamental level, the vast majority of Americans and Russians think that nuclear weapons have a very limited role in current security circumstances and believe that their only legitimate purpose is to deter nuclear attack. It is highly consistent, then, that the publics in both countries would favor eliminating all nuclear weapons if this action could be taken under effective international verification.

We used a divided sample to probe more deeply public attitudes toward eliminating nuclear weapons. Seventy-three percent of Americans and 63 percent of Russians supported elimination when asked at the end of a sequence of questions about progressively lower bilateral, then multilateral limits. Responses were more equivocal when people were only asked a single question with four options: eliminate nuclear weapons unilaterally (chosen by 7 percent of Americans and 8 percent of Russians); eliminate them through verified arms control (38 percent of Americans and 31 percent of Russians); engage in arms reductions but not elimination (33 percent of Americans and 31 percent of Russians); and do not participate in treaties that would reduce or eliminate nuclear arms (19 percent in both countries). We consider the higher response in the more deliberative sequence of questions to be a more reliable indicator of how the public would feel about verified elimination if they were asked after the intermediate steps had been successfully accomplished.

The total number of respondents favoring elimination as the guiding objective for U.S. policy in our multiple-choice question (45 percent) is lower than the number who chose elimination when asked the same question in 2004 (61 percent). This drop may have reflected last fall’s drumbeat of accusations by U.S. officials that Iran was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. If so, then support for the goal of elimination would likely increase again if the public gained confidence that international pressure and inspections had persuaded Iran to end its clandestine weapons-development program.[5] Support for verified elimination is significantly higher in both our 2007 and 2004 poll than when a similar question was posed in 1998 without mention of verification.[6]

Even a question worded to see how Americans intuitively weigh different types of nuclear risks found a nearly even division between those favoring elimination and retention. Fifty-two percent of Americans selected “eliminating nuclear weapons is too risky. Nuclear weapons create stability because countries know that there will be dire consequences if they try to attack another country.” Forty-seven percent chose “since the risk is high that terrorists will someday get hold of nuclear weapons, it is crucial that we pursue the goal of eliminating them.”

There is strong bipartisan support in the United States for almost all of the kinds of steps that the Wall Street Journal op-ed identified as urgently needed to reduce current risks and lay the groundwork for elimination.[7] These measures also received majority support in Russia, although both approval and disapproval figures were somewhat lower, reflecting the larger number of Russian “don’t know” responses. For example, 79 percent of Americans and 64 percent of Russians favor reducing the number of nuclear weapons on high alert, with 64 percent of Americans and 59 percent of Russians supporting a verified agreement to de-alert all nuclear weapons. Likewise, 64 percent of Americans and 55 percent of Russians want to ban all further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

U.S. efforts to help Russia improve the physical security of its nuclear stockpile was the one cooperative measure advocated in the Wall Street Journal op-ed that did not receive enthusiastic support in our poll. When asked about the United States “providing technical assistance and money to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons and materials,” 52 percent of Americans disapproved and 47 percent approved. Russian support was a lukewarm 36 percent for and 31 percent against. This may reflect a sense in both countries that Russia can afford to secure its own nuclear arsenal. When Americans were asked in 1998 about having the United States and other NATO countries help Russia dismantle its nuclear weapons, another aspect of ongoing cooperative threat reduction programs, 81 percent thought that they should provide assistance, but only 37 percent thought that they should cover the cost.[8]

The ambivalent answers to this question highlight a recurring theme in our poll. The U.S. and Russian publics want equitable agreements with meaningful legal obligations and effective verification, not just informal policy coordination or treaties that do not require signatories to do things differently than they would in the absence of an accord. For example, support for the 2002 SORT agreement is very high, but almost as many respondents in each country would favor a requirement to reduce to SORT levels sooner than 2012 and then to make significantly deeper reductions.

Americans and Russians are not looking for a return to Cold War-style bilateral treaties that preserve a large gap between superpower arsenals and those of other current or potential nuclear-armed states. Instead, majorities in each country favor a multilateral agreement reducing U.S. and Russian arsenals to 400 active nuclear weapons and precluding other nuclear-weapon states from increasing above this level. When asked about different arrangements for information exchanges to enhance nuclear weapons security, respondents strongly prefer a multilateral approach to a bilateral version.

Given the diverse perspectives of the former U.S. government officials who co-authored the Wall Street Journal op-ed, it is not surprising that any measure on which they could agree would also receive strong bipartisan public support. Our U.S. poll asked about several forms of security cooperation that one might expect to be more controversial. We found that respondents were willing to think seriously about innovative steps that go well beyond the mainstream of expert opinion in the United States. We proposed two alternative strategies for minimizing the number of countries that can enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium: offering fuel guarantees from Nuclear Suppliers Group members to countries that promise not to build their own enrichment facilities and having the International Atomic Energy Agency control all facilities that process nuclear material. The difference in overall support for the two strategies was statistically insignificant, 57 percent for the voluntary national fuel consortium and 54 percent for mandatory international control of all sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. There was, however, a striking partisan difference. Republican support for the consortium arrangement was much higher than for the UN agency idea, while Democrats more strongly support the UN agency.

Missile defense is one very important topic in U.S.-Russian security relations that was not addressed in the Wall Street Journal op-ed. We asked Americans to choose among three options: try to build a missile defense unilaterally to maximize U.S. freedom of action, try to build one with Russian and Chinese cooperation to minimize fears that the system is directed against them, and do not try to build one because it is unlikely to be effective. Contrary to the perception that there is now a bipartisan consensus in support of current national missile defense plans, we found that only 46 percent of respondents supported the current unilateral policy while a total of 49 percent chose cooperative missile defense or no missile defense. There was no significant partisan difference on cooperative defense, but there were predictable differences between Republicans who were more willing to build a defensive system unilaterally and Democrats who showed a greater willingness to end the program because they see it as ineffective.

The Reliability and Relevance of Public Opinion

These results seem to indicate that the American and Russian publics would support future leaders who directed their own bureaucracies to alter fundamentally both the guiding objective and the action program used to address the challenges of the new nuclear era. Would public support stay strong if domestic opponents mounted a concerted campaign against efforts to dramatically change the nuclear status quo or if some external event underscored the risks associated with nuclear cooperation? There are good reasons to believe that American public opinion would hold relatively stable and might even move in a more intensely cooperative direction if developments increased public attention to nuclear security.[9]

When the public is asked to make a judgment about a specific security policy issue, they think less about the details that interest experts and more about the underlying values about which they feel confident in having an opinion. The high levels of support we found for a broad range of cooperative nuclear risk reduction measures are very consistent with the results in other polls that ask about the principles that Americans believe should inform U.S. security policy. In the 2004 CISSM/PIPA poll “Americans on WMD Proliferation,” 83 percent of respondents thought that the most important principle for U.S. foreign policy was for the United States to “coordinate its power with other countries according to shared ideas of what is best for the world as a whole,” while only 16 percent believed that the United States “should use its power to make the world be the way that serves U.S. interests and values.” A more recent PIPA study found a comparably high level of bipartisan consensus on a number of relevant principles, including the benefits of multilateral cooperation over unilateralism or isolationism, the need for more emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods rather than military ones, and the importance of strong international institutions.[10] These values have characterized the mainstream of American opinion on foreign policy for decades, and they are not easily changed.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) provides a good indication of opinion stability because it is one of the few nuclear issues where roughly comparable questions have been asked over an extended period of time. Support for a treaty banning all nuclear explosions fluctuated between 60 percent and 75 percent, then climbed to 80 percent or higher since the final years of the Cold War except for a dip in 1997, the year in which a detailed treaty was finally concluded. Thus, context matters to a limited degree, but the dominant pattern is one of public support at high enough levels for any president or senator who favored ratification to be able to claim a popular mandate.

The 2004 “Americans on WMD Proliferation” poll shows that public opinion does not soften significantly when respondents hear arguments that might be used against a specific arms control measure. In that survey, 87 percent of respondents favored CTBT ratification before being exposed to various pro and con arguments, and 84 percent still favored it after hearing counter-arguments, a statistically insignificant difference.

Instead of expecting popular support for arms control to disintegrate if the public knew more about current policies and expert-level debates, the most likely effect would be increased awareness of the huge gap between respondents’ preferences and actual policy. When we asked Americans to give “their best guess” as to how many nuclear weapons the United States has, the median response was 1,000—an order of magnitude lower than the actual size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. When asked how many nuclear weapons the United States needs for deterrence, the median answer was 500, suggesting that people know that the U.S. arsenal is larger than they would consider necessary but have no idea how much larger it actually is.

This tendency for people to assume that the policy positions of their elected leaders and political candidates is roughly in line with their own preferences shows up on other issues too. When we asked whether the United States participates in the CTBT, 56 percent of Americans said that it does, while only 37 percent knew that the United States has not ratified that accord. When asked in 2004 about presidential candidates’ positions on a wide range of foreign policy issues, Bush supporters and uncommitted voters tended to attribute policy positions that they favored to Bush but that were at odds with his stated positions and track record over the previous four years.[11]

All this means that if future U.S. and Russian leaders wanted to adopt cooperative nuclear risk reduction measures that match the changed circumstances of global security, their citizens would be favorably disposed. If security bureaucracies or opposition parties tried to resist change, then the presidents could use their bully pulpits to solidify and mobilize public support by educating people about the current state of affairs and articulating a compelling alternative that is more in line with the public’s core values.

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John Steinbruner is director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and chairman of the board of directors for the Arms Control Association. Nancy Gallagher is research director at CISSM. This article is based on a public opinion study, “Americans and Russians on Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Disarmament,” by the two authors, Steven Kull, Clay Ramsay, and Evan Lewis. The report, questions, and methodology of that study are available at www.worldpublicopinion.org.


1. Alexei Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin, Beyond Nuclear Deterrence (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006); Alexei Arbatov, “Superseding U.S.-Russian Nuclear Deterrence,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2005, pp. 12-15.

2. George P. Shultz et al., “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007; Mikhail Gorbachev, “The Nuclear Threat,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2007.

3. Steven Kull, “Americans on WMD Proliferation,” April 15, 2004, www.pipa.org; Steven Kull, “Survey Says: Americans Back Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, June 2004, pp. 22-26.

4. The U.S. sample was probability based, and respondents were recruited over the telephone.

5. This is one of the key judgments of the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear activities.

6. Henry L. Stimson Center, “Public Attitudes on Nuclear Weapons: An Opportunity for Leadership,” 1998, p. 17, www.stimson.org/wmd/pdf/pollrpt.pdf.

7. Their recommendations include de-alerting, deep cuts in nuclear arsenals, elimination of short-range nuclear weapons, reconsidering ratification of the test ban treaty, improvement of security for nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material, a ban on production of more fissile material for weapons, and control of the production of nuclear fuel for reactors.

8. Henry L. Stimson Center, “Public Attitudes on Nuclear Weapons,” p. 15.

9. There are not enough data on Russian public opinion regarding nuclear weapons and other security policy issues to provide a comparable answer.

10. Steven Kull, “Opportunities for Bipartisan Consensus – 2007,” January 2007, www.worldpublicopinion.org.

11. Steven Kull, “Public Perceptions of Foreign Policy Positions of the Presidential Candidates,” September 29, 2004, www.pipa.org.

Pentagon Repeats Missile Defense Test Success

Wade Boese

Repeating essentially the same scenario as a successful test last year, the Pentagon Sept. 28 conducted a strategic anti-ballistic missile test that destroyed a target high above the Pacific Ocean. Pentagon officials say they will raise the degree of difficulty for the missile defense system’s next trial early next year.

The recent test result raises the record of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) to seven hits in a dozen intercept attempts dating back to October 1999. But the success also marks just the second intercept by the system since President George W. Bush ordered its deployment in December 2002. There are now 21 total GMD missile interceptors fielded in Alaska and California. Current plans call for more than doubling this amount up to 44 interceptors by 2011.

The Bush administration also is striving to place an additional 10 modified missile interceptors in Poland. Russia has strongly denounced this deployment as a potential threat to its security. Talks between Washington and Moscow have made little headway in mollifying Russian concerns (see page 31 ), but two Russian government officials joined Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), to watch the latest test of the U.S.-based system.

In the experiment, the MDA fired a target missile south from Kodiak, Alaska, over the Pacific Ocean. Guided by a California-based, upgraded early-warning radar, an interceptor was then launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After the boosters of the interceptor burned out, it released a roughly 60-kilogram exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that used a radar update and its own onboard infrared sensors to hone in on and collide with the target missile’s mock warhead, destroying it through the sheer force of impact.

The target missile flew the same trajectory as the one launched in the system’s previous test Sept. 1, 2006. (See ACT, October 2006. ) MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner explained in an Oct. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today that safety and Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit the paths test missiles and interceptors may travel.

The target missile’s flight was intended to emulate a trajectory similar to a hypothetical North Korean ballistic missile attack against the United States. North Korea has not succeeded in flight-testing a missile capable of striking the continental United States, but in July 2006, it test-fired several ballistic missiles, including the Taepo Dong-2. Estimated to be Pyongyang’s longest-range missile, the Taepo Dong-2 failed 40 seconds into its inaugural and, so far, only flight test.

Bush administration officials maintain that North Korea presents the most immediate long-range missile threat to the United States. Obering told reporters Oct. 2 that the latest experiment “builds more and more confidence” that the system can provide protection.

The recent test varied little from the experiment last year. Lehner identified two differences to Arms Control Today. He pointed out that a ship-based Aegis radar tracked the target and that the interceptor had spent much more time than normal in the launch silo before being fired.

The Aegis radar operated in a so-called shadow mode, however, meaning the data it gathered was not used to help guide the interceptor. Aegis radars have operated in such a mode in previous GMD testing, but Lehner noted this was the first time one had participated since the MDA started launching target missiles from Kodiak. Prior to 2004, the Pentagon launched its targets from California toward the Marshall Islands, where the test interceptors had been based.

Test interceptors are typically installed in their underground launch silos roughly a month before use. But the September test interceptor had been in place since its intended use in a May 25 test that was aborted when the target missile veered off course. Lehner stated Oct. 15 that this longer wait displayed “operational realism” by demonstrating that an interceptor “can sit sealed up in the silo for months and then launch when needed.”

Some GMD critics, including Philip Coyle, a former director of the Pentagon’s weapons testing office, contend the MDA’s recent tests lack realism because they do not include countermeasures, such as decoys. Countermeasures are devices or techniques that a foe could employ to try and penetrate a missile defense.

Obering announced Oct. 2 that the agency would add some type of countermeasures to the GMD system’s next interceptor test, which might occur as soon as February. He refused to specify the countermeasures but noted they will be “similar” to ones previously used.

In tests conducted between October 1999 and December 2002, one to three balloon decoys were included as part of the target cluster with the mock warhead. At that time, some missile defense skeptics charged the decoys did not closely resemble the mock warhead, which made it easy to distinguish between them. Moreover, a decoy in one test apparently helped the EKV find its target. The EKV did not initially see the mock warhead, so it took aim at the decoy, which then happened to put the true target into the EKV’s line of sight. (See ACT, January/February 2000. )

The MDA suspended use of decoys when it switched flight testing to the Alaska-California corridor. Lehner Oct. 11 explained that one reason for excluding decoys was that an X-band radar located in the Marshall Islands was positioned to help discriminate various objects in the target cluster during the earlier tests but not the latter experiments.

Lehner stated, however, that the next test would involve the reintroduction of an X-band discrimination capability, specifically the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) Radar, which is an X-band radar mounted on a mobile, ocean-going oil rig platform. Like the Aegis radar, the SBX participated in a shadow mode in the last test.

European Missile Defense: Strategic Imperative or Politics as Usual?

Jack Mendelsohn

Russia has been vigorously objecting to a U.S. plan to deploy a midcourse tracking radar in the Czech Republic along with 10 anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Poland. The United States maintains that this missile defense deployment is an anticipatory response to Iran’s determination to develop a nuclear weapons production infrastructure and its plans to acquire a long-range missile delivery capability, both of which are expected to materialize within the next decade.

In briefings at NATO headquarters and in Moscow, the United States has assured Russia that the missile defense system will not have the capability to interfere with Russia’s strategic ICBM forces. Washington has also indicated that the U.S. system, scheduled to come online beginning in 2011, will eventually be integrated into a NATO missile defense program and, because Moscow has access to the NATO-Russia Council, that the entire process will be “transparent.”

Russia, on the other hand, has said it considers the U.S. deployments to be unnecessary at this time and indicated that it views them as both an immediate political challenge, i.e., a specious justification for further NATO expansion into central Europe, and as a potential threat to its own strategic missile forces. The debate is so high-pitched at present that it is difficult to assess whether the system’s highly problematic protection is a strategic imperative for the United States or primarily a political one for the Bush administration. It is equally difficult to tell whether the Russian reaction represents a genuine strategic concern or a belated manifestation of its post-Cold War “loser” complex.

Russia Reacts

Russia’s strong opposition to the proposed U.S. deployment is not surprising. First, under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has increasingly come to believe that, since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been exploiting Russia’s relative weakness to advance U.S. security interests. Moscow is not convinced the U.S. missile defense plan is just about protecting Europe and the United States from Iranian missiles. Rather, Moscow sees the program as a major military encroachment by the United States and its NATO allies on Russia’s former sphere of influence in eastern Europe and the “near abroad,” an area that for decades had been both a Russian preserve and a buffer zone.[1]

Secondly, Moscow does not believe the system itself is as technologically benign as the United States maintains. As George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol discuss in their article in this issue, the system could have the capability to intercept Russian ICBMs launched on over-the-pole paths from missile fields west of the Urals. In a September 19 Associated Press report the chief of staff of the Russian military, General Yuri Baluyevsky, said, “The missile defense system being created today in Europe is specifically aimed against Russia.  I am prepared to prove this with figures and diagrams.”

Although the initial 10 interceptors obviously pose no danger to a deterrent force the size of Russia’s,[2] Moscow is certainly not convinced that this will be the end of the story. Despite the fact that there are no stated plans to go beyond these deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, the Russians have to assume that they are only the first sites in a series of missile defense bases.[3] Ostensibly aimed at “rogue” states such as North Korea and Iran and potentially for use against rising “peer competitors” such as China, they could be augmented and eventually add up to a genuine threat to Russian strategic missile forces. Russian political and military figures have already deemed the deployments “destabilizing,” coded language implying that U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe could lead to a potential increase in Russian offensive forces, higher alert rates, and/or a launch-on-warning policy.

Russia, without any really appropriate options to derail the project, has attempted to fend off the impending U.S. deployments in several ways. It has tried:

Threats – to target the missile defense sites in central Europe, expand its (possibly nuclear) forces in the Kaliningrad oblast, or place nuclear “facilities” in Belarus;[4]

Entreaties – to the Polish and Czech governments to delay any agreement with the United States on deployment sites and to the Azeri government to allow the United States to share data from the Russian-leased early-warning radar on its territory;[5]

Withdrawals – to suspend implementation of the Conventional Arms Forces in Europe Treaty[6] and withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty[7] as well as abandon the zero targeting[8] agreement; and

Proposals – to cooperate with the United States by jointly assessing the Iranian threat, sharing data from their early-warning radars located in Azerbaijan and southern Russia, and establishing joint early-warning centers in Moscow and Brussels.

This last overture, made by Putin himself, has been promised “serious study” by the Bush administration, although Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said within a week of Putin’s offer that it would not change U.S. plans. Republicans outside the administration have been divided. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, while also supporting the proposed system, called Putin’s offer a “historic initiative in dealing jointly with issues that threaten all countries.”[9] Former Ambassador Bob Joseph, an ever-vigilant conservative, dismissed it as a trick intended to derail U.S. plans for a European missile defense site.[10]

Protection or Politics?

The administration’s stated rationale for the missile defense site in Europe is the presumptive need to counter an ICBM or intermediate-range ballistic missile threat from Iran. What is unclear, of course, is why Iran would risk annihilation by attacking Europe or the United States with weapons that have such an obvious return address. Additionally, and this must appear most intriguing to Moscow, it is unclear why the United States has chosen to locate the radar and interceptors so far north in Europe that part of NATO territory is left uncovered while the over-the-pole path of Russian missiles is not. The Russians were concerned enough about the strategic significance of the northern European location to prompt Putin to offer to provide data from two of Russia’s early-warning radars located considerably closer to Iran. Putin also suggested that the United States locate its interceptors further south in Turkey and/or Iraq (unlikely), Bulgaria, or Romania from where they would not be able to overtake Russian missile launches on a polar trajectory.

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, ballistic missile defense has been a politically unifying issue for Republicans and conservative members of the defense community even if the real-world capability of such a system remains questionable at best. For more than three decades, the ballistic missile defense “amen corner” has had a noticeable if uneven policy impact, passing through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the 1994 Contract with America and culminating in the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002.

After abandoning the ABM Treaty, the Bush administration wasted no time in setting a target date of 2004—a date linked not to any emerging threat but to the presidential election—for the deployment of a ballistic missile defense system in Alaska and California to protect against a potential missile threat from North Korea. The site was declared available for use in an emergency in September of that year even though the testing program was and remains both incomplete and largely unsuccessful even against “dumbed down” targets. One obvious motive, both for the hasty U.S. West Coast deployments and for the extension of missile defenses to Europe,[11] is to entrench the program and help ensure its continuation after the present administration leaves office in 2009.

In addition, the missile defense proposal may serve two broader political goals. First, a resurgent Russia alarms the “tough love” policy community of whom Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gates are charter members. Moving missile defenses into central Europe is a stark reminder to Moscow that it has lost a good portion of its ability to influence events around its borders. Secondly, for the opponents of arms control, expanding the U.S. missile defense network creates an additional disincentive for Russia and the other nuclear powers to seek truly low levels of strategic nuclear weapons.

What Next?

There are four directions in which the missile defense issue might evolve. One is that nothing changes and the United States proceeds with the missile defense program as currently designed. A second option is to freeze the project at least until the extent of the impending Iranian threat becomes clearer and/or Russian objections abate or are partially accommodated. A third approach might be to adjust the program, possibly geographically, to be responsive to Russian concerns. A fourth path might be to cooperate with Russia and share data from a joint early-warning system linked to NATO and Russian command centers and possibly to non-nuclear armed interceptors.

As regards the first option, there is a danger that if the United States goes forward with its plan as is—and that is still an “if”—it will provoke a serious rift in Russian-U.S./NATO relations. Although the Bush administration may be dismissive of this possibility—Rice called Russian concerns “ludicrous”—the European allies may be sensitive and appropriately apprehensive about this development. On the other hand, rifts have been predicted over other U.S. actions in the past decade (e.g., NATO expansion, collapse of the ABM Treaty) but have failed to materialize, perhaps because effective policy alternatives for Moscow continue to be limited.

As for a freeze on the program, Congress seems inclined to hold off, at least for now, on fully funding the missile defense sites. The Czechs also seem prepared to delay a final decision on accepting the radar base, perhaps until after the U.S. presidential election.[12] As former Senator Sam Nunn, co-chair of the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative, said recently in Moscow, the United States and Russia need to “pause” and “take a deep breath.” It is possible that “we could stumble to the precipice of strategic danger if we and our Russian friends play a foolish zero-sum game with missile defense.”[13]

A freeze would allow time for the political debate to evolve over the need to move forward with a very problematic missile defense system in Europe. A freeze does not, however, resolve the issue or even forecast an end to the program. It is more than likely that if a Republican administration and Congress were to take power in 2009, they would pursue the missile defense program into the next decade. In this “age of terror,” a Democratic-controlled government might do so as well in an effort to show that it has the national security “chops” generally attributed to the Republicans.

As for the third option of adjusting the program, most likely geographically, even Kissinger has recommended that if the United States deploys the system, it “find ways to define specific steps that separate the anti-missile deployment in Central Europe from a strategy for a hypothetical and highly implausible war against Russia.”[14] These “specific steps” are partly what Moscow has been suggesting would provide it some strategic reassurance, and they would not present the United States with insuperable technical problems.[15] Yet, this administration has proven itself to be inflexible in dealing with national security issues even when seeking “win-win” negotiated outcomes would be patently in the nation’s interest. This certainly must have been uppermost in Moscow’s mind when it sought to delay Czech decision-making until after the next U.S. presidential election.

Finally, there is the cooperation option. Both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia have been talking about defense cooperation for years. Reagan offered to share any achievements of the SDI with the entire world, and Putin has offered to protect Europe with Russian theater missile defense systems. There has been U.S./Russian cooperation in the Cooperative Threat Reduction program and on reciprocal inspections under existing arms control treaties. The Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC), however, some version of which seems to be what Putin has in mind for the early-warning centers in Moscow and Brussels, has languished for almost a decade. In reality, neither side has been comfortable enough to accord the other access to national security-related plans, information, and technology. Putin sounds as if he may be willing to crash this barrier. If so, it could afford Washington an opportunity to start looking seriously at genuine security cooperation with Moscow. Moreover, it would put Russia and the United States on a shared watch against Iran rather than in a spitting match over true intentions—a point worth Washington’s consideration.

Rethinking the current Europe-based missile defense project and giving serious consideration to Russian concerns and proposals would seem to be in line with stated U.S. and NATO policy. After all, the Bush administration adopted a “New Strategic Framework” in 2002, claiming it was moving away from the Cold War-adversarial relationship with Russia. Why make a national security choice now that could reignite that competition and undermine the goals of the new framework?

The case for a strategic missile defense site in Europe is not a slam dunk, nor is the proposed two-site, two-country configuration the only viable one if the deployment goes ahead. As with Iraq, there is a sense that the drive to deploy missile defenses in Europe is not a considered policy response to a real-world threat so much as an autonomic political reaction by a severely beleaguered and analytically challenged administration. This skeptical appraisal of U.S. policy is coupled with the sense that the hot-button Russian reaction to anti-ballistic missile deployments is not solely about their strategic significance but has a good deal to do with Moscow’s decade-long frustration over being dealt only losing hands.

Jack Mendelsohn is an adjunct professor at George Washington University and at American University. A former ACA deputy director and current member of its board of directors, he was also a member of the U.S. SALT II and START I delegations.


1. See Martin Sieff, “BMD Focus: Missiles in Kaliningrad,” United Press International, July 5, 2007.

2. The United States had been planning to fire two to four interceptors at each target (depending on the time available to evaluate the first shot). Therefore, 10 ten interceptors could be counted on to deal with two to four targets at most.

3. Lieutenant General Henry Obering has explained that those countries not covered by this European deployment could be covered with Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, and NATO missile defense.

4. Announced by the Russian ambassador to Belarus. See Kommersant, August 30, 2007. The “facilities” were unspecified.

5. Russia cannot conclude agreements with a third party regarding the facility without Azerbaijan’s consent. The Azeri side has pledged not to hand over the site to third countries during the period of lease. A U.S. visit to the site is scheduled for September.

6. Russia has suspended the treaty. Although the Russians have not formally linked their action on the treaty to the missile defense plan, most commentators accept the linkage. See, for example, Andrew E. Kramer and Thom Shanker, “Russia Suspends Arms Agreement Over U.S. Shield,” The New York Times, July 15, 2007.

7. The treaty bans all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Abrogating the treaty would give Russia a new set of capabilities to deploy around its land borders and against potential trouble spots, particularly to its south.

8. By threatening to target Europe, Russia has implicitly threatened to end zero-targeting arrangements that leave no targets assigned during normal alert status.

9. Henry A. Kissinger, “Putin’s Bold Counteroffer,” The Washington Post, August 9, 2007.

10. Bob Joseph, Presentation at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command conference “Celebrating 50 Years of Space and Missile Defense,” August 13-17, 2007 (as reported by Victoria Samson).

11. Negotiations for the missile defense sites were basically bilateral between the United States and the Czech Republic and the United States and Poland for a system to protect the United States from ICBM attacks. The rationale was later extended to include defense against intermediate-range ballistic missile attacks on NATO even though the system could not cover all NATO members. NATO subsequently agreed to conduct a study of a “bolt-on” missile defense capability for those southeastern European states not covered by a Czech/Polish location.

12. “Russia Talks Czech Republic Into Postponing Its Decision Regarding U.S. Missile Shield,” Regnum News Agency, August 22, 2007.

13. “Former Senator Sam Nunn, Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Spaso House Discussion Forum,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, August 27, 2007 (transcript).

14. Kissinger, “Putin’s Bold Counteroffer.”

15. The administration might argue, however, that political conditions are such that deployments in Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania are not realistic options.

Of Missiles and Missile Defenses

By Daryl G. Kimball

Two decades ago, President Ronald Reagan proposed a simple yet bold idea to reduce the risks of nuclear-armed ballistic missile attacks and “mutual assured destruction.” At the October 1986 Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan suggested that both countries eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years while researching and developing strategic missile defenses.

Although Gorbachev rejected Reagan’s proposal, the exchange set the stage for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which scrapped all of their ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and eased Cold War hostilities.

Since Reykjavik and the INF Treaty, U.S. leaders have spent more than $100 billion chasing Reagan’s dream of missile shields, but they have lost sight of Reagan’s goal of eliminating offensive ballistic missiles. Decades of research make it clear that current U.S. strategic missile defense programs, at best, might provide rudimentary protection against a small number of long-range ballistic missiles shorn of simple countermeasures. But even that modest capability remains unproven.

Even if missile defenses can be developed and pass operationally realistic testing, foes can always counter by building sufficient numbers of offensive ballistic missiles to overwhelm a system. Recognizing that problem, the Reagan administration in 1987 helped found the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which aims to stem the spread of technologies related to missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical, and biological warheads. MTCR membership has grown to 34 states and has contributed to constraining or ending missile programs in several countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, and Taiwan.

Today, 32 states possess ballistic missiles, but only 10 states have produced or flight-tested missiles with ranges exceeding 1,000 kilometers. For now, China and Russia are the only two states that have a proven capability to launch ballistic missiles from their territories that can strike the United States. Yet, the effectiveness of the MTCR’s voluntary guidelines will remain limited so long as MTCR members, and other states such as India, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, slowly but steadily expand and improve their missile capabilities and consider them high-prestige weapons.

All of this underscores the need for a more sensible approach to missile control. Contrary to the wishful thinking of missile defense acolytes, no evidence exists to suggest that missile defenses will dissuade missile buildups. Iran and North Korea have continued to build and test missiles despite U.S. strategic missile defense proposals. Instead, it is more likely that missile defense will spur greater offensive missile production. For instance, Russia’s concern that U.S. missile defense plans for Europe could evolve in ways that threaten its strategic security could lead it to delay deeper missile cuts or withdraw from the INF Treaty.

What can be done? First, the United States and Russia must work together in a more serious way to address missile defense concerns, explore technical alternatives, and achieve deeper offensive missile force reductions. Further friction on missile defense would perpetuate high-alert postures and threaten the long-delayed Joint Data Exchange Center, which is designed to help avoid an accidental or mistaken nuclear attack.

Second, rather than pursuing controversial and expensive strategic missile defenses of questionable value, U.S. research and development should focus on systems designed to deal with short- and medium-range missile threats, which are more numerous, present a more immediate threat, and can be defeated more easily. Even these systems must be pursued with caution to avoid destabilizing defensive versus offensive missile races.

Third, Washington must actively work with others to increase transparency and dialogue through the 2002 International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. The United States and 125 other nations have endorsed the code, but progress has been stymied by lackadaisical implementation by Washington and others and by the nonparticipation of missile possessors such as India, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. The code, which obliges states to exchange information on missile holdings and testing and exercise restraint with respect to their ballistic missile programs, could become the blueprint for a binding set of limitations on the most destabilizing types of missiles.

High-priority should be placed not only on long-range ballistic missiles, but also on cruise missiles, which are fielded by only a handful of countries today. That could soon change as countries such as France, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom sell advanced cruise missiles to others for profit and influence.

As major powers modernize their ballistic missile fleets and missile arms races advance in Asia and the Middle East, strategic anti-missile systems amount to little more than hole-filled umbrellas in the face of a gathering storm. Given the risks of further missile proliferation and the limits of strategic missile defenses, new tougher missile controls and significant new diplomatic efforts are necessary to devalue missile ownership and move toward a world free of the most dangerous offensive missiles.

Two decades ago, President Ronald Reagan proposed a simple yet bold idea to reduce the risks of nuclear-armed ballistic missile attacks and “mutual assured destruction.” At the October 1986 Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan suggested that both countries eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years while researching and developing strategic missile defenses.

Although Gorbachev rejected Reagan’s proposal, the exchange set the stage for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which scrapped all of their ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and eased Cold War hostilities. (Continue)

U.S. Reaffirms Europe Anti-Missile Plan

Wade Boese

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June 7 proposal to share radar data on missiles with the United States might be an earnest offer, a cynical ploy to undercut U.S. plans to base anti-missile systems in Europe, or both. Regardless, U.S. leaders say they will continue their current missile defense approach despite strong Russian opposition.

Meeting with President George W. Bush in Heiligendamm, Germany, Putin volunteered the “joint use” of the Russian-leased Gabala radar in Azerbaijan. Putin implied the radar could be used to peer south into Iran, which the United States estimates could develop long-range missiles to strike all of Europe or the United States before 2015. Washington claims its plan to station 10 strategic ground-based midcourse interceptors in Poland and an X-band radar in the Czech Republic is to protect against a growing Iranian threat and poses no danger to Russia.

Putin further suggested that if an actual threat materialized, interceptors could be deployed in southern Europe, Iraq, or on naval ships instead of in Poland, where Moscow contends interceptors could reach into Russia. The interceptors endorsed by Putin would be technically different than those planned for Poland. Instead of aiming to collide with warheads in space, the alternative interceptors would be designed to destroy missiles in their boost phase, when a missile’s rocket engines are still burning shortly after launch.

Although U.S. officials expressed surprise at Putin’s proposal, this is not the first time he has made it. Putin floated essentially the same concept in June 2000 when President Bill Clinton was weighing deployment of a nationwide U.S. defense. (See ACT, July/August 2000. )

Washington rejected the proposal then, in part, on the basis that the technology was not available. The United States currently has programs that might produce ship- and land-based interceptors for boost-phase testing around 2014. (See ACT, June 2007. )

Bush welcomed Putin’s ideas as “interesting.” The two leaders agreed experts from both sides will explore the Russian proposal.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials maintain they will not pause their current effort. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal June 8 that “we’re going to continue to work this with Poland and the Czech Republic.” Engaging with Russia, she added, “doesn’t mean that you are going to get off course on what you’re trying to do.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates informed reporters June 14 that the United States saw Putin’s proposal on the Gabala radar as “an additional capability” and not a substitute for the proposed Czech-based radar. The Gabala radar is a Soviet-era early-warning radar designed to spot and track missiles shortly after launch, while X-band radars are supposed to provide more precise flight-tracking data and pick a warhead out of a target cluster flying through space.

The U.S. reaction was not what the Kremlin wanted. Talking to reporters June 8, Putin stated, “[W]e hope that no unilateral action will be taken until these consultations and talks have concluded.” Similarly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a Moscow press briefing the next day declared, “[I]t is necessary as a minimum to freeze all the actions in deploying missile defense elements in Europe for a period of at least the study of our proposals.”

Russian officials assert there is no urgency to field anti-missile systems in Europe. They project a long-range Iranian missile threat as at least 15 to 20 years away. Even if Tehran moved more rapidly, Putin claimed June 7 that a three- to five-year lag would occur between the initial test and deployment of long-range missiles, permitting time for defenses to be erected.

Indeed, Putin’s Gabala radar proposal is about sharing data with the United States in order to form a common or joint assessment of Iran’s capabilities. Before initiating any possible defense schemes, such as Putin’s boost-phase concept, there should be mutual agreement about the threat, a Russian government official told Arms Control Today June 14.

Putin suggested as much June 8. “We propose carrying out a real assessment of the missile threats for the period through to 2020 and agreeing on what joint steps we can take to counter these threats,” the president explained to reporters.

The same day, Anatoly Antonov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Security and Disarmament, stated, “Only after concrete answers are obtained to questions about the nature and trends of missile proliferation should it be decided whether and what military-technical means are needed to repulse this threat.” He later noted that missile defenses should be “the last resort…when all the alternative measures have been exhausted.”

Moscow’s apparent assumption is that data from the Gabala radar will support their position that Iran poses no near-term threat, obviating U.S. plans. “Joint use of the information which this radar station obtains makes it possible…to give up the plans of deploying missile defense elements in Europe,” Lavrov said.

If the United States does not abandon or alter its current missile defense plans for Europe, Russian officials say there will be consequences. On June 8, Putin reiterated warnings that Russia would “target” the Polish and Czech anti-missile sites if they are built.

Putin’s comments followed a May 29 flight test of what Russian officials claimed was a new multiple-warhead ICBM capable of penetrating defenses. Referred to as an RS-24 by Russian officials, the missile is apparently a modified version of Russia’s most modern missile, the single-warhead Topol-M.

In a Jan. 1 data exchange, Russia claimed a total force of 530 ICBMs, of which 44 are silo-based Topol-Ms and three are mobile Topol-Ms. The United States currently deploys 500 silo-based ICBMs but plans to cut 50 of these missiles. (See ACT, May 2007.)

Washington has sought to soften Moscow’s hostility by publicly expressing interest in missile defense cooperation with Russia. But Putin June 4 derided U.S. offers as empty, saying they entail Russia providing missiles “as targets [that the United States] can use in training.”

Putin asserted that day that if Washington did not change course, Moscow would be bound to respond and could not be held responsible for the result. “We will absolve ourselves from the responsibility of our retaliatory steps because we are not initiating what is certainly growing into a new arms race in Europe,” Putin said.


Nuclear Talks Waiting on the United States

U.S. and Russian negotiators have put on hold talks on measures to succeed a landmark nuclear weapons reduction treaty while the Bush administration figures out its positions. But U.S. lawmakers are already starting to volunteer their advice.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is scheduled to expire Dec. 5, 2009. It slashed deployed U.S. and Russian strategic forces from more than 10,000 warheads apiece to 6,000 each and established an extensive verification regime. U.S. and Russian experts met for the first time in March to share ideas on what to do after START’s expiration. (See ACT, May 2007. )

Neither side is advocating exercising START’s five-year extension option. However, Moscow desires a new agreement capping both nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, while Washington opposes such a formal approach, preferring a loose collection of confidence-building measures.

Arms Control Today has learned, however, that the two governments have agreed to prepare positions for future discussion on at least four issues: information exchanges, facility visits, missile launch notices, and noninterference with national technical means such as satellites. A second U.S. and Russian experts meeting reportedly is waiting on the Bush administration to complete this process and put together a proposal.

A June 18 McClatchy Newspapers report attributed the delay to Washington infighting. The U.S. intelligence community is keen on preserving intrusive mechanisms to keep tabs on Russia’s nuclear arsenal. But this position conflicts with that held by administration officials who say such measures are burdensome and unnecessary because Russia is no longer an enemy.

In a June 21 statement, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, sided with the intelligence community. Recommending that START verification and transparency measures be extended, Lugar noted that “the predictability and confidence provided by treaty verification reduces the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and error.”

Similarly, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, stated at a June 11 Arms Control Association event that “the intelligence community has expressed concern with losing the verification component provided by START.” Tauscher recommended that U.S. and Russian leaders approve a “bridge agreement that will extend START” until a new agreement can be negotiated.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June 7 proposal to share radar data on missiles with the United States might be an earnest offer, a cynical ploy to undercut U.S. plans to base anti-missile systems in Europe, or both. Regardless, U.S. leaders say they will continue their current missile defense approach despite strong Russian opposition. (Continue)

Missile Defense Collision Course

By Daryl G. Kimball

When President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty five years ago, he asserted that “my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not, in any way, undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Now, Bush’s latest proposal to site 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic has severely compounded the Kremlin’s anxieties about growing U.S. offensive and defensive strategic capabilities.

President Vladimir Putin’s response to missile defense deployments in two former Warsaw Pact states has been hostile and counterproductive: he has threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; to target the sites with Russian missiles; and to stop work on a Joint Data Exchange Center intended to help avoid an accidental or mistaken nuclear attack.

For some Americans and Europeans, a rudimentary defense against a potential long-range missile threat from Iran may seem attractive. But for now, it is a flawed idea whose time has not come.

Russia’s concerns may be exaggerated, but that does not alter the reality that the European anti-missile plan is premature and the technology unproven. And, if Washington presses ahead despite Russian objections, it could trigger the renewal of U.S.-Russian missile competition and hamper efforts to further reduce each nation’s still massive nuclear warhead and missile arsenals.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have crisscrossed Europe to say the proposed system is not designed to counter Russia’s nuclear-armed missiles and therefore does not threaten Russia’s security. To be sure, 10 U.S. interceptors would only provide a rudimentary defense against a handful of incoming missiles, let alone Russia’s current force of some 500 land-based missiles. Highly scripted tests involving prototypes of ground-based interceptors now deployed in California and Alaska have failed three out of five times since 2002. The proposed system in Europe would use a new type of interceptor that has yet to be built, let alone tested.

But just as U.S. officials are seeking missile defenses against an Iranian missile threat that does not exist, Russian leaders are worried they cannot maintain their strategic nuclear retaliatory capability against a porous strategic missile defense that has not been built and a potential U.S. nuclear buildup that will not likely materialize.

Why? Because old habits die hard. Russia and the United States each still deploy approximately 4,000 nuclear warheads on delivery vehicles on high alert, and as a result, military strategists on both sides plan for the worst. Under the flimsy 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), the United States will be able to maintain a large “hedge” arsenal of reserve warheads and excess missile capacity. After SORT expires in 2012, the United States could increase its deployed strategic arsenal from 2,200 to well over 4,000 nuclear warheads.

Russia is on a path to maintain approximately 2,000 deployed strategic warheads by 2012. But the size of Russia’s long-range missile force would be relatively smaller. Independent estimates are that Russia’s land-based missile force could shrink dramatically, down to as few as 150 by the year 2015.

Russia’s fear is that the larger and more accurate U.S. missile arsenal would be capable of delivering a decapitating first strike. U.S. missile defense assets could then counter the few remaining missiles based in Russia’s European territory that might survive and be launched.

To avoid this scenario, Russia could slow its planned nuclear force reductions and accelerate deployment of new long-range missile systems, an option made easier if the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is allowed to expire in 2009. But dismantling strategic arms reductions pacts in order to preserve Russia’s ability to annihilate the United States does not make missile defense a better idea.

Unfortunately, Bush and Putin will not likely resolve their differences and avert a collision on missile defense any time soon. Putin’s offer to use the Russian-leased Gabala radar in Azerbaijan to evaluate Iran’s missile program and, if necessary, to use other basing plans that would not interfere with Russian missiles is worth exploring. Nevertheless, the White House seems determined to begin construction of the European system before Bush leaves office.

Such an approach is mistaken and reckless. There should be no rush to deploy an unproven system against a potential missile threat that will not likely materialize until 2015 or beyond. In any case, Congress is on track to cut the administration’s $310 million request for the European strategic missile defense project and focus U.S. efforts on more capable short- and medium-range interceptors.

The United States and its NATO partners should defer work on the European strategic missile defense project until Bush’s and Putin’s successors arrive. In the meantime, they should engage Russia in a meaningful dialogue to address its missile defense concerns, explore technical alternatives, and advance new proposals for deeper warhead and missile force cuts that would reduce tensions and erase Russian fears of U.S. nuclear supremacy.

When President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty five years ago, he asserted that “my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not, in any way, undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Now, Bush’s latest proposal to site 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic has severely compounded the Kremlin’s anxieties about growing U.S. offensive and defensive strategic capabilities.

President Vladimir Putin’s response to missile defense deployments in two former Warsaw Pact states has been hostile and counterproductive: he has threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; to target the sites with Russian missiles; and to stop work on a Joint Data Exchange Center intended to help avoid an accidental or mistaken nuclear attack. (Continue)


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