Against the background of the flaring conflict in the Middle East, Moscow and Washington are demonstrating their devotion to the arms reduction process. Madeleine Albright’s unprecedented visit to North Korea shows that the US is rethinking its relationship with that country, which it not long ago called an “outlaw nation.” Pyongyang’s rocket program once so concerned the US that the superpower announced its intentions to deploy an anti-ballistic missile defense system to defend itself. It is also known that even though the US has laid aside for the moment making a final decision about the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system (prohibited under the terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty), Washington has not ceased its efforts to convince Russia to agree to an amendment to the treaty which would allow NMD.
It is possible that precisely such efforts led to the mid-October meetings in Moscow between US and Russian representatives about START and the ABM Treaty. The Russian group was headed by Yury Kapralov, Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Security and Disarmament Issues, the Americans by Assistant Secretary of State John Holum. According to sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian side again insisted that preparations for START-3 are only possible “if the ABM Treaty of 1972 is preserved.”
On the face of it, Moscow’s position may seem contradictory. Russia insists on signing START-3 as soon as possible and holds that Russia and the US have “no political or military reasons not to agree to a 1,500 nuclear warhead maximum” as a part of that treaty. But given possible US deployment of the NMD system, a radical decrease in nuclear stockpiles is disadvantageous for Russia. But there is no other choice. Obviously, for economic reasons and to save on the huge costs for maintaining its ballistic missile forces, Moscow must reduce its strategic nuclear arsenals as much as possible. New strategic weapons are being produced, but only very slowly. The deployment of the new Topol-M, planned for 2000, is behind schedule. Rockets are getting too old and have to be scrapped. Thus, no matter how much Russia wants to still be a superpower, it just isn’t working out. Sooner or later the level of nuclear warheads in Russian arsenals will fall to 1500-2000.
What exactly is Russia suggesting? According to official information from the Russian Defense Ministry, START-3 is to include provisions for limiting the anti-ship operations of atomic submarines and measures for control and elimination of offensive strategic weapons.
Elimination of all ocean-based cruise missiles has been proposed, as has prohibition of the design of any new types of offensive strategic weapons. Reduction of heavy bomber forces (both nuclear and conventional) to 50 planes has also been suggested.
Will the US accept these proposals? It is hard to give a simple answer to that question. Radical reduction of nuclear forces is disadvantageous for the US military-industrial complex. That alone may be the main reason why, despite Russia’s ratification of START-2, negotiations for START-3 haven’t gotten under way. Soon the US will pick a new president. Once this has happened perhaps the arms reduction process can be restarted. But in any case it can hardly be expected that the NMD program will be cancelled entirely. Even more: the US military-industrial complex is interested in widening the anti-ballistic missile program so that such systems would be deployed not only in the US, but worldwide. Take, for instance, the Japanese government, which intends to continue joint research with the US to create a regional ABM system for theater defense. The Japanese and American governments announce that such a regional defense system would be a “purely defensive system” and is the only way to defend Japan against ballistic missile attacks.
But Moscow and Beijing are of a different opinion. In a recent interview with ITAR-TASS Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losiukov remarked that Japanese participation in US plans to deploy a regional ABM system in North-East Asia is equivalent to American plans to deploy a NMD system, “fraught with the possibility of breakdown of all systems for limiting the growth of ballistic missile arsenals, destruction of all previous agreements and treaties, and thus destabilization of the whole system which was put together in the 70’s.” According to the diplomat, Russia’s position on this matter is “practically identical with the position of China.”
Thus, the world arms reduction process is in big trouble. Despite the mood set by Russia and the US, it is impossible to say that START-3 will be signed in the near future. The US would like to have many more warheads than Russia is proposing. Only time can tell what sort of compromise will be found. Meanwhile, if the US breaks the ABM Treaty of 1972, Russia may begin to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads, may withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Weapons, and so on. The military has already announced as much. This means a new arms race is not out of the question.
The treaty between the USSR and the US on limiting anti-ballistic missile systems (ABM) was signed in Moscow on May 26, 1972. It prohibits the creation of an anti-ballistic missile system covering the entire territory of the country, permitting deployment of a fixed ground-based anti-ballistic missile system in one strictly limited area. For Russia, as the successor to the USSR, this limited area is the Moscow Region, in the US it is the region where intercontinental ballistic missiles are based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In each of these areas, the treaty permits an anti-ballistic missile system consisting of no more than 100 silos and 100 interceptor missiles.
The current (suspended) US plan for deploying a NMD system calls for development of a single “limited anti-missile defense system” to be deployed in a single region (as called for by the terms of the ABM Treaty). However, according to Russian military experts in fact the system being created has guidance and detection systems (including orbital systems) which make it possible “at any given moment to expand coverage to a national scale by simply increasing the number of interceptor missiles.” In the words of Colonel-General Ivashov, Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Department of International Military Cooperation, the system being developed would allow the US to protect an area within a radius of 3000 km., “that is, practically all 50 states.” However, the ABM Treaty allows a system with a range of only up to 150 km.