Meetings between the Russian and American presidents and the documents on adherence to the ABM treaty of 1972, which they signed, as well as the recent visit of President Putin to Italy and his proposals regarding organization of a European system of control over missile launches, demonstrated that the new Kremlin leaders were capable of flexible and preemptive reaction to possible threats posed to the country’s security.
It is known that Moscow has had and still has a negative attitude towards any attempts of the US to “upgrade” the ABM treaty of 1972. Russia once again clearly confirmed this stance during the Russian-American summit of June 4 and 5.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the summit, Moscow’s declared regarding the ABM treaty seemed to change. Vladimir Putin’s statement that the US and Russia can create an ABM shield together for protection from possible attacks, which Putin made the day before the arrival of Clinton, provided a certain pretext for such conclusions. In his interview to NBC, Putin said that “such mechanisms are possible, if we join our efforts and target them at the neutralization of threats to the United States, Russia, and our allies in Europe as a whole.” Putin emphasized that the Russian party would discuss this proposal during the visit of Clinton to Russia. The words of the Russian President could be understood in different ways. They could be interpreted as an indication of Moscow’s willingness to upgrade the ABM treaty. For example, Interfax with reference to Russian military-diplomatic sources, explained that “the proposals of the President about the possibility of creating an ABM shield in cooperation with the US deal only with non-strategic ABM systems that are intended for combating non-strategic missiles.”
Then followed an explanation that the proposal of the President “complies with the protocols on separation of strategic and non-strategic ABM systems, which were singed in New York in September 1997 and allowed the solving of some problems, which had accumulated in relations between the countries in the strategic stability sphere.” Military-diplomatic sources presumed that “the making of a decision about creation of a joint ABM system will respond to concern of Washington about the missile programs of the so-called rouge states (North Korea, Iran) and preserving of the ABM treaty of 1972, as the foundation of the whole system of strategic offensive arms limitation.” Meanwhile, it is known that Clinton was very cautious about Moscow’s proposal to create the joint ABM system against the rouge states. The joint statement of the Russian and American presidents is ambiguous, which allows each party to interpret the document in its own way. For the first time, Russia agreed that the world community “is facing a dangerous and growing threat of mass destruction weapons and its delivery vehicles proliferation. This new threat represents a potentially substantial change of the strategic situation in the international security system.”
Which countries represent such a threat? Russian officials have never named them. Moreover, commenting on the intention of the US to infringe on the ABM treaty, Russian diplomats and military frequently stressed that the problem of a missile attack from the rouge states was far-fetched. They added that so far such states did not possess the weapons that posed a real threat to the US.
During the Russian-American summit, Russia actually agreed that the threat of missile terrorism on the part of the third countries was real, which is confirmed by the memorandum of agreement between Russia and the US about the organization of the joint center for the exchange of the early warning systems data and notification about missile launches. The memorandum outlines the procedures of data exchange between the signatories and reiterates the need to keep the information, which the parties exchange in secrecy.
Thus, Russia has met the US halfway with regard to the provision of security from unauthorized missile launches. Is the US happy with such a compromise? Judging by the results of Clinton’s press conference to Echo of Moscow radio, we can say that the US is only partially satisfied with Moscow’s proposals. According to Clinton, the joint Russian-American ABM system will require ten years of development, whereas “a real threat can arise within five years.”
The far-fetched character of this argument is obvious. Whereas the US is already preparing for the ABM defense from the rouge states, the pooling of efforts with Russia will not only accelerate the development of a powerful theater ABM system, but will make it cheaper.
Evidently understanding this and foreseeing the further intentions of the US to modify its national ABM, the Kremlin in the person of the new Russian President moved further. During his visit to Italy, Putin discussed the organization of the European non-strategic ABM system to European countries and NATO.
If we bear in mind the well-known stance of Germany and France, which are averse to violations of the ABM treaty and the launching of a new armament race, we can suppose that Putin’s proposal will be successful. We cannot rule out that the data exchange center will operate not only with participation of Russia and the US, but also with the participation of European specialists.
We can draw several conclusions from what has been stated above:
1. Russian initiative of theater ABM system creation in cooperation with the US and Europe indicates the ability of Moscow to take into account the situation and make non-standard decisions. These decisions are based on a real foundation. According to military sources, Russia, the US and some European countries “have technological achievements in development of regional ABM systems capable of effective combating of non-strategic missiles.”
2. Commenting on the ideas of Putin regarding organization of joint non-strategic ABM systems, the Russian military demonstrated that they had adopted these ideas a long time ago. At least Strategic Missile Forces Commander Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev already spoke on this issue before. Yakovlev says that, if the respective political decision is made, it is quite possible to combine the technical and intellectual potential of the countries, which are developing ABM systems. Yakovlev emphasized that the transfer from bilateral agreements to the multilateral ones “is very important.” Yakovlev noted that an attempt to modify the ABM treaty had already resulted in contradictions between European NATO members and the US. He said, “An attempt of the US to create a national ABM system infringes on the principle of equal security” in relations both between Russia and the US, and between NATO countries and the US. Yakovlev sees the second danger of the ABM treaty violation in the inclusion of Middle East countries, India, and Pakistan in the nuclear club. According to Yakovlev, a threat of “nuclear anarchy” is appearing, when the countries possessing nuclear weapons try to build up their arsenal and the so-called “threshold countries” (the countries which are undertaking the development of their own nuclear weapons) try to intensify their research.
3. Experts have already reached conclusions that “if an agreement on creation of a non-strategic ABM system is achieved, it will have not a bilateral, but a multilateral character, involving participation of leading European countries.” An expert said that “Moscow and Washington have different relations with the countries whose missile programs concern the Americans.” Thus, there is a tendency of integration of efforts for organization of international security systems.
4. Moving of Russia’s position, regarding the definition of missile threats and formation of the joint theater ABM system, closer to the positions of the US and Russia implies a possibility of cooling down of Russia’s relations with China, Iran, South Korea, and India, which possess missile technologies.
5. Integration of international ABM efforts will require new military expenditures from Moscow. Meanwhile, during the military reform of 1997-1999, the air defense system of the country substantially diminished. This way, or the other, Russia will need large material and financial resources for creation of a European ABM system, because the rouge states are in its close vicinity.