Login/Logout

*
*  

"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
Issue Briefs

Preserving the North Korean Threat

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

In deciding not to continue the Clinton administration's efforts to curb the North Korean ballistic missile program, President George W. Bush has gratuitously rejected a promising opportunity to improve U.S. security. In fact, the decision is so irrationally contrary to U.S. security interests that it is widely perceived internationally as intended to preserve, and even enhance, the North Korean ballistic missile threat so that it can serve as the rationale for early deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). This devastating assessment of U.S. motivation will only be refuted if the Bush administration's promised review of its North Korea policy leads to a prompt resumption of the deferred negotiations to stop Pyongyang's development and export of ballistic missiles.

The decision was apparently taken with little or no consultation with South Korea or Japan, the front-line states with the most at stake in U.S. missile policy toward North Korea. This latest example of disregard for the concerns of allies on the ballistic missile issue was underscored by the choice of the meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the principal architect of South Korea's policy of reconciliation with North Korea, as the venue for the short shrift of a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean ballistic missile issue. Kim was clearly very embarrassed politically at being blindsided and used as the backdrop for Bush's deferral decision.

Despite half a century of extremely difficult relations with North Korea, experience does not support Bush's hesitation in pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang. At a time of extreme tension, the United States was able to negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework, which froze the North Korean nuclear weapons program and provided for the phased elimination of the facilities that had been shut down. Without this arrangement, the world would today face a North Korea armed with several tens of nuclear weapons and could look forward shortly to a North Korean nuclear arsenal numbering in the hundreds. Building on this experience, the United States sought a similar arrangement curbing the North Korean ballistic missile program. By the end of the Clinton administration, negotiations had progressed to the point—characterized by U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman as "tantalizingly close"—to allow Clinton to contemplate going to Pyongyang to close the deal. Although time ran out on the immediate negotiation, the makings of a deal remain on the table. But this window of opportunity may well close because, in announcing its moratorium on missile testing, North Korea declared that its ban would last only as long as negotiations continued.

In rejecting Secretary of State Colin Powell's proposal, made the day before, that the Bush administration should take up the negotiations with North Korea where the Clinton administration left off, Bush suggested that it was not possible to negotiate with Pyongyang on the issue since an agreement required "complete verification" and Pyongyang may not be honoring existing agreements. Actually, Pyongyang has kept its side of the bargain in the Agreed Framework on its nuclear program as well as the United States has. As to verification, U.S. national technical means alone can monitor the critical elements of a ballistic missile agreement bearing most significantly on U.S. security. The tests required for the development of long-range missiles are easily detectable, and the export of North Korean ballistic missiles on a scale that would affect U.S. security would also soon be apparent.

If an agreement included a ban on all missile production and the elimination of existing missiles, additional verification measures would indeed be necessary. But, as desirable as these constraints would be, they need not be absolutely comprehensive to provide high confidence that the North Korean missile program had in fact been adequately constrained. Indeed, working out a mutually acceptable balance of obligations and verification measures is what negotiations are all about.

Whatever one may think about the need for a national missile defense, the United States will be far better off preventing the further development and unlimited production of North Korean ballistic missiles for the next decade before the enhanced NMD, which Bush apparently advocates, can possibly become operational. President Bush should therefore promptly revisit his decision to defer resumption of ballistic missile talks with North Korea and follow Powell's wise advice to resume the negotiations with the objective of reaching an early, adequately verified agreement. The United States cannot afford to be perceived as being prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to eliminate the North Korean missile program diplomatically in order to preserve the threat of a growing North Korean missile capability as a rationale for undertaking a major national missile defense.

Even the Last Superpower Needs Friends

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's decision to re-examine sanctions policy against Iraq suggests that the Bush administration may be moving beyond campaign posturing to real-world problem solving. In reviewing its foreign policy options, the administration must remember that even though the United States is now the only superpower, it cannot act alone in Iraq or elsewhere but must seek broad support to implement successfully controversial foreign policy objectives.

By driving a wedge between the United States and much of the world community, the sanctions against Iraq have undercut the U.S. policy objective of maintaining the international consensus that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to re-emerge as a regional threat armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ten years of sanctions have not rectified Saddam's truly outrageous behavior or brought down his regime. The sanctions have, however, come under increasing criticism by countries such as France and Russia that want to resume economic relations with Iraq and by many countries that believe the sanctions have unfairly impacted ordinary Iraqis. Although it is probably true that adequate food and medicine could have been available had Saddam not manipulated their distribution for political purposes, it is widely perceived that sanctions have resulted in serious privation among innocent civilians.

This situation can be remedied by limiting the sanctions to equipment that could potentially contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq's indigenous capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. This narrowing of sanctions would be a small price to pay to keep the countries presently seeking to end sanctions united in the effort to prevent Saddam's rearmament. In return for the relaxation of sanctions, Iraq would have to readmit United Nations inspectors, which Saddam has vowed never to accept. However, if inspections were reoriented from the almost impossible task of seeking out the last remnant of Iraq's pre-Gulf War WMD programs to the simpler but more important task of monitoring whether a WMD rearmament effort is underway, this inspections process could be a more focused and less intrusive effort. This would put UN inspectors on the ground while allowing Saddam to claim he had protected Iraqi sovereignty. If Saddam can be persuaded by countries favoring resumption of trade to accept such an arrangement, the main U.S. objective will have been achieved. If Saddam rejects the initiative out of hand, as he may well do, he will have lost much of his political leverage to end the existing sanctions.

As he reviews the world scene, Powell will also find that ample opportunities already exist to deal constructively with other non-proliferation problems. If addressed in concert with other interested parties (South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia) and not allowed to become fodder for U.S. domestic political posturing, North Korea's WMD and ballistic missile programs should be containable. And even Iran, where further political change seems likely, may present a fertile field for constructive diplomacy together with other concerned parties.

The opportunity for serious progress in bolstering the non-proliferation regime is within our grasp. But, if any of these efforts are to succeed, Powell must also listen carefully to what the world is saying about the apparent Bush commitment to deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) in clear violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Not only have Russia and China vehemently opposed the proposed U.S. NMD deployment, but Russia has also shown no interest in amending the ABM Treaty. Russia has even threatened to withdraw from START II—and possibly START I and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—if the ABM Treaty is abrogated. Moreover, U.S. NATO allies, Japan, and even South Korea, as well as almost all members of the United Nations, have also expressed serious concerns about the consequences of unilateral U.S. action to deploy a treaty-non-compliant NMD. Unless the United States backs off from its explicit threat to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and its implicit threat to eschew arms control treaties that would in any way restrict U.S. freedom of action, the international community is unlikely to follow the U.S. lead when it jeopardizes other countries' economic and political interests.

In the process of transitioning the Bush administration from campaign rhetoric to responsible policies, Secretary Powell should draw on his considerable talents and prestige to determine and communicate objectively to his new colleagues the attitudes of other countries to U.S. military and arms control policies. As in the case of Iraq, he must bring home to the administration that the United States needs the genuine support of the world community, which must not be alienated by objectives driven by U.S. domestic political considerations.

The Right Thing to Do

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President Bill Clinton's decision to "just say no" to the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) is probably his most important security decision. To avoid any misunderstanding, he also wisely refused to authorize contracts for preliminary construction work on the system that would have been seen as signaling a commitment to deployment. Although the NMD decision has simply been kicked down the road, Clinton's action has bought time and forced the next president to review the facts before making this fateful decision.

While Clinton's decision surprised those who view all actions as election-year politics, it was the only logical outcome of Clinton's position from the beginning. After he signed internally contradictory legislation making it U.S. policy both to deploy an "effective" NMD as soon as technologically possible and to negotiate nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, Clinton formally stated that his decision would depend on four criteria: status of the technological readiness, the threat, cost, and the impact on U.S. national security, including arms control. He also made it clear that this should be done by negotiating any necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty, which he has considered fundamental to strategic stability.

None of Clinton's criteria support a deployment decision at this time. The technology is not sufficiently advanced to permit a responsible deployment decision and there are also serious questions as to whether the proposed system can effectively defend against even a very limited threat because of its inherent inability to handle even simple penetration aids. The threat itself is questionable since North Korea, the country on which the system is focused, shows diminished interest in pursuing an ICBM capability and appears willing to abandon its missile program if the price is right. Moreover, weapons of mass destruction can be delivered much more easily by other means, such as aircraft and ships, against which NMD provides no protection.

If the need were real, the United States could afford the estimated $60 billion price tag, but it is not clear what the eventual price tag will really be, and presidential candidate George W. Bush's vision for the program would certainly cost hundreds of billions of dollars. But the real costs of the system—as Clinton clearly recognized—are the negative impacts of a deployment decision on U.S. arms control objectives and our relations with the rest of the world.

Russia has adamantly opposed deployment and refused on principle to consider ABM Treaty amendments, which it sees as a slippery slope leading to systems that could endanger its deterrent and undercut past as well as future arms control agreements. China considers the system a threat to its minimal deterrent. Our NATO allies are seriously concerned about the deployment for reasons ranging from the negative impact on relations with Russia to perceptions of U.S. unilateralism. In fact, it is difficult to identify any country that supports U.S. NMD deployment. Clearly, this is a high cost to pay for a system that probably would not work against a threat that is very unlikely to materialize.

Clinton's action has built some much-needed time into the NMD decision process for his successor. Candidate Al Gore has associated himself with Clinton's criteria, and the technical problems with the present system will not soon be resolved, while the perceived threat itself may well recede. There is also no indication that Russia will agree to amend the ABM Treaty or that China will be persuaded that the proposed NMD system is not a threat to its deterrent. While candidate Bush has called for a much more robust "global" defense, he has not revealed how this would be accomplished. He will find the system he envisages is much more complex, technically demanding and expensive than he imagines and that a responsible deployment decision is years off. As president, he would probably also discover that the international consequences of repudiation of the ABM Treaty are too high a price to pay for an undefined and probably nonachievable NMD system. One recalls Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968 for military superiority and as president after a year of intensive study proceeding to negotiate the ABM Treaty and SALT I.

The time that has been bought will also allow pursuit of diplomatic activities that could well reduce the perceived need for an NMD. These include: giving diplomacy a chance to work out the North Korean problem, building an international consensus to constrain Iraq, developing better relations with a changing Iran, and developing an improved cooperation program with Russia and China to counter missile proliferation.

In passing responsibility for an NMD deployment decision on to his successor, President Clinton indeed did the right thing. Freed from the pressures of election-year politics, the next president will have ample time to contemplate the implications of succumbing to the siren song of NMD.

Telling It Like It Isn't

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

As the debate on whether the president should decide this year to initiate deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system has intensified, the extent and significance of the missile threat has taken on an increasingly central role. The proposed system has clearly not been adequately demonstrated for a deployment decision to be made and a decision without Russian agreement to amend the ABM Treaty would clearly have serious adverse consequences for U.S. arms control policies, as well as for relations with Russia, China, and U.S. allies. Consequently, the question arises whether there is really a credible missile threat from North Korea and other "rogue" states that justifies deployment, despite the high technical risk and negative consequences.

In its 1999 estimate, the U.S. Intelligence Community, under strong congressional pressure, modified its methodology in assessing the missile threat from rogue states to focus on worst-case scenarios based on conceivable technological developments. This led to estimates that North Korea could now have a minimal capability to inaccurately deliver a non-nuclear warhead to Alaska or Hawaii and could develop a similar limited capability against the continental United States between 2000 and 2005. These estimates have been restated and significantly modified by senior administration officials who proclaim that a North Korean missile threat to the United States exists today. If these misleading statements are allowed to stand, the Intelligence Community will be credited, however unfairly, at home and abroad, as becoming the instrument for rationalizing a politically driven decision to deploy a NMD, despite overwhelming arguments to the contrary.

Few, if any, observers abroad agree with the U.S. assessment of the immediacy or significance of the alleged North Korean missile threat. In fact, the world looks in disbelief at the spectacle of the only remaining superpower cringing in terror at the prospect that a weak, impoverished North Korea might develop a missile capable of reaching the United States, and wonders what the true U.S. motives are in seeking a NMD.

Russian officials look at the North Korean threat as a clumsy excuse for a small deployment that would become a very slippery slope, eventually leading to a base for a robust defense directed at Russia. China dismisses the North Korean threat as a transparent ruse to deploy a system directed at China. Our NATO allies are confused and troubled by a U.S. program that appears unnecessary and provocative. At the upcoming five-year nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York, the rest of the world will undoubtedly make clear its collective belief that the North Korean threat does not justify an NMD deployment that would impede or reverse the commitment of the nuclear-weapon states to reduce nuclear arms.

The manner in which intelligence estimates have been modified and exploited by senior administration officials is particularly disturbing. In defining the earliest date of the threat, the secretary of defense and others changed the intelligence estimates' wording from "could" to "will." When this proved inadequate to inspire sufficient urgency, "will" became "is," which, in turn, has become "already achieved." This hyperbole in high places may make for effective rhetoric, but to those who do not have access to the heavily caveated estimate, it further demeans the credibility of U.S. intelligence.

To be fair, the authors of the estimate were clearly uncomfortable with their directed worst-case task and took pains to underscore that they did not consider political changes or diplomatic efforts that might influence the outcome, such as North Korea's declared moratorium on its missile tests and negotiations on its missile program's future. Of particular significance to a deployment decision, they also noted that there are much easier and cheaper means for a rogue state to deliver a few weapons than by ICBMs and that any nation capable of delivering ICBMs would respond to U.S. missile defenses by developing penetration aids, which others judge would easily overcome the proposed system. (See p. 33.)

An even more significant consideration is the extreme unlikelihood that a rogue state, having developed missiles capable of reaching the United States, would in fact ever actually launch an attack when faced with the certainty of devastating U.S. retaliation. Given the implausibility of such an attack, NMD advocates now raise the specter of nuclear blackmail, but this too is highly unlikely since it would invite a pre-emptive strike, unless the United States simply chose to ignore the threat.

Given these circumstances, the president's decision is not helped by bombastic rhetoric, telling it like it isn't, designed to inflame flagging public concern about the alleged North Korean missile menace. The president does deserve a considered, net assessment of the likelihood of such a capability developing and being used to threaten or attack the United States.

NMD Decision-Who's in Charge?

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Self-inflicted pressure to meet a self-imposed July deadline continues to build for a presidential decision on deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). Although President Clinton has asserted that no decision has been made, his senior advisors, led by Secretary of Defense William Cohen, publicly advocate that the United States urgently needs such a defense, despite growing evidence that it is not only unnecessary, but also contrary to U.S. security interests.

When Clinton signed compromise legislation in July 1999 making it U.S. policy to deploy an effective limited NMD system, he underscored that the legislation also made it U.S. policy to seek reductions in Russian nuclear forces. He announced that his decision on whether to deploy would be predicated on technological progress, cost estimates, evaluation of the threat and progress in achieving arms control objectives, including any necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty. Developments to date have made it clear that none of these criteria will be met by July 2000.

On technical grounds alone, a responsible decision to deploy cannot be made this summer even if the much-heralded next test should prove successful. So far, intercept tests have used surrogate elements, except for a prototype kill vehicle that may not be compatible with the untested high-acceleration interceptor. Last fall, an independent committee of experts chaired by General Larry Welch, retired Air Force chief of staff, issued an extremely critical report, characterizing the program as "very high risk" and concluding that "demonstration of readiness to deploy will not come until 2003 at the earliest." Recently, the Pentagon official responsible for reviewing all test programs has expressed great concern that the NMD program is driven by an imposed schedule rather than demonstrated accomplishments, making premature decisions extremely unwise.

The rationale for the limited NMD-the threat that "rogue" states such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran may attack or blackmail the United States-is rapidly losing whatever credibility it ever had. Despite Cohen's most recent alarmist statements that "in the next five to 10 years, these rogue countries will be able to hold all of NATO at risk with their missile forces," few states are persuaded that any of these countries would risk obliteration by attempting blackmail, much less by attacking NATO, in the very unlikely event that they developed such a capability. Recent events counter such worst-case estimates, which were based on conceivable technical developments divorced from real-world considerations. North Korea has agreed to discontinue its missile tests while negotiating on its missile program; the UN Security Council has reached consensus on a new inspection regime which, if defied by Iraq, will result in continued sanctions; and elections in Iran suggest it may be moving toward a more cooperative posture.

The estimated cost of the limited NMD continues to grow, ranging from $30-60 billion, with the more ambitious programs championed by Republican NMD enthusiasts costing hundreds of billions. These costs, however, simply involve wasting public funds by overreacting to unlikely threats. The real costs are the imponderable impacts of NMD deployment on U.S. arms control objectives and relations with the rest of the world.

Russia has made it clear that it will not amend the ABM Treaty to permit the proposed NMD deployment. Russian leaders believe that it would form the base for rapid deployment of a NMD system that could negate the surviving Russian deterrent after a pre-emptive U.S. attack. They also hear the call of influential Republican senators for a multi-layered NMD to counter all Russian capabilities. If the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty, as some threaten, prospects for further reductions under START III would be slim, and Russia might even carry out its threat to withdraw from the START I and II. China, which sees NMD as clearly intended to negate its modest deterrent force, will certainly accelerate its strategic nuclear modernization plans and be drawn closer to Russia.

NATO members, whose views were originally unsolicited, are deeply concerned about the implications for the alliance if Washington believes no part of the United States can be at risk, while the rest of NATO remains completely exposed. Europeans wonder whether in U.S. eyes the Aleutian Islands are more important than Paris, Berlin and London.

To preserve his ability to make a reasoned decision on NMD deployment, President Clinton should direct his advisors to cease their efforts to force a positive deployment decision in the absence of serious consideration of the consequences. His own administration should not be allowed to dominate the public debate in a manner that prevents him from just saying "no" to deployment. Clinton should let his successor struggle with this decision when more is known about the system, the threat and the consequences.

Toward a Consensus on Iraq

How to deal with a scofflaw Iraq remains a pivotal issue in determining the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Saddam Hussein's flagrant violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prior to the Persian Gulf War and his subsequent failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions mandating the verified destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, culminating in his refusal to accept inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), constitute a brazen challenge to both the NPT and the Security Council. After almost a year of heated bickering, the Security Council has agreed to replace UNSCOM with a new organization, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Unless the new organization succeeds, Saddam will have shown the world that even in defeat a nation can successfully flaunt its legal obligations under the NPT and Security Council resolutions.

In dealing with the new organization, the United States must recognize that a successful policy toward Iraq demands achieving a broad consensus, including among the five permanent Security Council members, on objectives and tactics. Without such a consensus, sanctions cannot be successfully enforced or more forceful actions contemplated.

To this end, the United States should make preventing Iraq from attaining the capability to use nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction its primary objective-a goal that serves the security interests of the other permanent members and all other states of the region. This objective, while more important, is less demanding than the requirement in Security Council Resolution 687 calling for the verified complete elimination of Iraq's former programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Although Resolution 687 is recognized in UNMOVIC's charter, it is probably unattainable without complete Iraqi cooperation, which is unlikely, and should not be allowed to prevent fulfillment of the more fundamental objective of containing Iraq's future capabilities.

The argument is made that Saddam will never accept UNMOVIC inspections, and this may well be the case. However, in the absence of a new organization, Saddam would certainly not accept inspectors and would rely on hiding behind differences among the permanent members. But, if France, Russia and China can persuade Saddam to accept the new arrangement, the broader objective will be greatly facilitated; if they fail, there will be a new rationale for enforcing sanctions and ultimately employing force if evidence of capabilities to use weapons of mass destruction becomes apparent.

The suggestion has been made that even if Saddam accepts inspections, they would be worse than useless because, in the absence of complete transparency, he could manipulate access to create the illusion of compliance. In the real world, so much is known about the Iraqi programs from UNSCOM and U.S. national intelligence that the inspection of selected suspicious sites would reveal ongoing programs; and if inspections were denied, it would provide cause for further action.

The fact that the new organization will be under the UN secretary-general, and therefore elicit greater international participation, should be looked on as a positive move toward strengthening the international consensus, which was weakened by charges of U.S. domination. While not as closely tied into day-to-day operations, the United States can continue to make information available, as is done with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), without creating the destructive perception that the inspection process is being used by the United States to collect information for its own purposes.

After a difficult selection process, the Security Council wisely agreed upon Hans Blix, former head of the IAEA, to lead UNMOVIC. Charges that he was responsible for the failure to discover Iraq's nuclear program are absurd. At the time, the IAEA was essentially constrained to the inspection of declared facilities. Although special inspections were possible in principle, the United States had apparently chosen not to share its extensive pre-Gulf War knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear program with the IAEA. Subsequently, utilizing U.S. intelligence, Blix brought North Korean violations of the NPT to the Security Council's attention and championed the IAEA's "93+2" improvement program, which confirms the agency's access to suspect sites as well as its use of national intelligence.

The international community has agreed that it must deal with Iraq's transgressions. The administration must now make every effort to assist the new organization as a multinational effort and not compromise it by attempting to micromanage or overburden its operation. The objective now is not to find the last piece of undeclared equipment, but to build a strong international consensus that Iraq will not be allowed to emerge as a nuclear threat to its region and the world.

April Audit

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

When the 186 members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gather in New York in April for the treaty's five-year review conference, the debate will probably focus on the nuclear-weapon states' failure to honor commitments made in connection with the 1995 agreement to extend the treaty indefinitely rather than on direct threats to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The brunt of this criticism will be borne by the United States as the leader of the nuclear non-proliferation effort. Unless the United States takes this little-heralded event seriously and pursues constructive, high-level preparations, the conference could well prove a diplomatic donnybrook. Even though it is unlikely that any member would withdraw as a consequence, such an outcome would seriously undercut the effectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

On the 25th anniversary of the NPT in April 1995, a treaty-mandated conference decided after much debate to extend the treaty indefinitely. To achieve consensus support for this outcome in the face of a significant minority view that there should be only a five-year extension, the nuclear-weapon states, led by the United States, committed themselves to making progress in the reduction of their nuclear arsenals and to completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. Future five-year review conferences were to measure progress on these issues.

Initially, this commitment was met impressively with the on-schedule completion and signature of the long-sought CTBT, the successful denuclearization of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and the U.S. Senate ratification of START II. In addition, there was apparent progress in dealing with the serious North Korean and Iraqi challenges to the NPT.

In the last few years, however, this early promise faded as the world witnessed serious new challenges to the NPT and failure of the nuclear-weapon states to make progress on their commitments to nuclear arms reductions. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, threatening a nuclear arms race in South Asia, set back the nuclear non-proliferation regime, as did the inability of the international community to react effectively to Saddam Hussein's expulsion of UN-mandated UNSCOM inspectors. Today, the world is even faced with the specter of the possible loss of past arms control agreements, including the CTBT and the ABM Treaty.

The U.S. Senate's rejection of the CTBT, which has long been looked upon as the litmus test of the nuclear-weapon states' commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and reduction of their reliance on nuclear weapons, came as an unanticipated shock to world opinion. Despite President Clinton's assurance that the United States would continue to honor his signature of the CTBT, the entire world wondered how serious the U.S. commitment to nuclear non-proliferation was when all of the Republican presidential candidates rushed to endorse the Senate's gratuitous action against a treaty that was largely a U.S. initiative. Russian and Chinese statements in support of the treaty placed the onus for blocking progress on bringing the CTBT into force squarely on the United States.

The international community has viewed with equal alarm the growing U.S. obsession with national missile defense (NMD). Although the Clinton administration insists its program is directed solely at potential threats from "rogue states," no other nation is persuaded that the most powerful nation in the world is really interested in deploying this expensive and provocative system simply to defend itself against a most unlikely threat from North Korea or Iraq. The proposed deployment, which would weaken or destroy the ABM Treaty, is widely seen as a barrier to the further reductions promised in 1995 and as the possible start of a new high-tech arms race. The extent of this opposition was reflected in the UN General Assembly vote on a resolution supporting the ABM Treaty and opposing NMD deployment, where only three countries (Israel, Albania and Micronesia) joined the United States in opposition.

To persuade the conference to focus on measures to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, the United States must first make clear that it will continue to honor and seek early ratification of the CTBT and that President Clinton has not made a decision on NMD deployment and will not make that decision until there has been an objective review of technological readiness, the threat from rogue states, financial cost and the impact on arms control, including the ABM Treaty.

The United States should treat the meeting as an opportunity for renewed commitment to NPT objectives. New York is not the place to defend or rationalize outrageous actions by the U.S. Senate or to build the case for an as-yet-unmade presidential decision to initiate NMD deployment. Above all, the United States should listen carefully-what the rest of the world thinks about these issues should carry weight in the U.S. decision-making process.

Just Say 'No'

The Clinton administration is considering deployment of a limited national missile defense (NMD), which would require amendment of every substantive article in the ABM Treaty. Not surprisingly, Russia adamantly opposes this action. If President Clinton decides on deployment next July without Russian agreement, he will set the stage for U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which will have far-reaching adverse implications for U.S. security.

In signing congressional legislation making it U.S. policy to deploy an "effective" NMD as soon as technologically possible, Clinton stated his decision would depend on technical progress, evaluation of the threat, the cost and the impact on U.S. arms control objectives, including necessary changes to the ABM Treaty. Despite Clinton's repeated assertions that no decision has been made, senior members of his administration have argued so strongly for NMD deployment as a necessary response to a possible North Korean ICBM threat that it is widely believed the decision has already been made.

It has been clear for some time on technical grounds alone that a responsible deployment decision cannot be made in mid-2000. Most recently, a committee of experts headed by General Larry Welch, retired Air Force chief of staff, concluded that the "demonstration of readiness to deploy will not come until 2003 at the earliest." The system is currently being tested with elements that are surrogates for the undemonstrated actual components, except for the kill vehicle, which the committee judged may not prove compatible with the extremely high accelerations of the untested high-performance booster. The committee found that the lack of spares and an "underestimation of the complexity" of the problem in this "very high risk" program make further slippage likely.

The North Korean ICBM threat is dismissed by the rest of the world as either a paranoid U.S. fantasy or a thin cover for other objectives. The U.S. estimate depends on a worst-case assessment of how quickly a minimum North Korean capability might conceivably be achieved, divorced from any consideration of how such a capability might be exploited by North Korea. The notion that a poverty-stricken state without allies would suicidally launch ICBMs against the United States, inviting its own obliteration, or even threaten such an attack, risking a pre-emptive U.S. strike, is simply not credible. Moreover, in the real world, North Korea is engaged in negotiations that may well lead to the abandonment of its missile program.

The direct cost of the proposed limited NMD system is very uncertain given the inchoate state of the program's architecture, with the first phase alone estimated at $20-30 billion and all three phases estimated at twice as much. Given the history of far less demanding high-tech systems, one would expect current estimates to double. A more comprehensive system, desired by true NMD believers in Congress, would probably cost between $100-200 billion.

The actual costs and consequences of deployment coupled with U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty are far more dangerous than any potential "rogue" state threat. Russia believes that the proposed NMD would provide the base for a much larger deployment that would be directed at them. U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would undoubtedly end the strategic arms reduction process because Russia would want to design its force to assure penetration of a future NMD by retaining its MIRVed land-based ICBMs, which are banned under START II. China would accelerate its strategic modernization program since even the proposed limited NMD could defend against any Chinese missiles that survive a pre-emptive U.S. strike. Such reactions will hardly contribute to improved U.S. relations with Russia and China, which are essential to future U.S. and world security.

U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty coupled with collapse of the strategic reductions process and following Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would drastically undercut U.S. leadership in the non-proliferation regime. Even U.S. allies and friends see the NMD program as unnecessary and provocative. Others see it as part of a strategy of unilateral hegemony permitting the United States to intervene anywhere with impunity. In a recent UN First Committee vote, only Israel, Latvia and Micronesia supported U.S. opposition to a resolution supporting the ABM Treaty.

Political pundits pontificate that it is a foregone conclusion that Clinton will decide next summer to deploy an NMD to remove this issue from the presidential campaign. But the president will have to make this fateful decision against the weight of all of the criteria he has established. If Clinton does not want to burden his final legacy with the destruction of the ABM Treaty and the strategic arms reduction process, he has a simple alternative to deployment just say 'No!'

An American Tragedy

In rejecting ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Senate willfully plunged a dagger into the heart of U.S. efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The international community, overwhelmingly supportive of the treaty, looked on in shocked disbelief as an American tragedy unfolded, replete with mean-spirited politics, outrageous rhetoric and obsessive fears of diminished nuclear potency and multinational obligations constraining U.S. freedom of action. This calculated and perverse Senate action, the first rejection of a multilateral security agreement since the Versailles Treaty, has severely undercut the credibility of U.S. leadership in efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. The damage will not be easily repaired.

The success of the small group of ultra-conservative hawks, led by Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), in corralling all but four courageous Republicans in lockstep opposition to the CTBT signaled the end of the long-standing bipartisan approach to arms control. The cavalier fashion in which a matter of such importance was rushed to a vote without adequate hearings or debate cast shame on "the world's greatest deliberative body."

In the outrageously truncated schedule of hearings and debate, dictated by Lott in an obvious effort to dispose of the treaty as quickly as possible, Republican senators dismissed administration arguments that the treaty was critical to building international support for the non-proliferation regime and focused their attention on the test ban's impact on the reliability and safety of the U.S. stockpile and the treaty's verifiability. Their oft-repeated assertion that it would not be possible to maintain a credible deterrent without testing, even with a $4.5 billion annual stewardship program, demonstrated that they did not understand the reliability problem, the concept of deterrence or the stewardship program. The notion that the several thousand strategic nuclear warheads of a half dozen different types would all suddenly fail despite monitoring by a highly sophisticated surveillance and replacement program is patently absurd. It was indeed shocking that these senators put their own uninformed judgments above those of the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the four service chiefs, all of whom endorsed the treaty, as did four former JCS chairmen. These are the cautious professionals who have real-life responsibility for the reliability and safety of their forces. In a written statement, the three nuclear laboratory directors also expressed their confidence in guaranteeing the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Republican senators also denounced the treaty as "unverifiable" because of the threshold below which seismic detection of underground tests is not possible—although such testing might be revealed by other means. They dismissed the fact that such small tests, which are not useful for thermonuclear weapons development, do not threaten U.S. security and are not necessary for maintaining the U.S. stockpile. And they could not grasp why U.S. security would be better served by limiting violators to at most a few small-yield tests than by allowing them to conduct unlimited tests at any yield.

By design, the abbreviated schedule prevented negotiation of conditions on the resolution of ratification to respond to possible concerns as was done in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention. In fact, in rejecting approval of the resolution, the Republicans also rejected six conditions that the Democrats had attached guaranteeing inter alia funding of the stewardship program and obligating the president to exercise the treaty's withdrawal option if testing were found necessary to insure reliability of the stockpile.

President Clinton attempted to blunt the negative impact of the Senate vote by announcing that he would continue to honor the CTBT, which precludes testing, and would seek future Senate approval of ratification. Some Republicans clearly regretted the outcome, 17 having sided with the Democrats in a last-minute effort to defer a vote. But there is now little chance to revisit the treaty during Clinton's administration.

In the final analysis, the Republican-dominated Senate willfully converted a U.S. diplomatic triumph into a repudiation of U.S. international responsibilities. With Republican foreign and security policy in the hands of Helms, Inhofe, Kyl and Lott there is no chance for change unless the overwhelming public support for the treaty is reflected in the electoral process. Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley have made clear their strong support for the CTBT and intention to make it a campaign issue, while all Republican hopefuls have rushed to support the Senate action. The Republican presidential candidate and every Republican senatorial candidate should be held accountable for the American tragedy their party orchestrated.

Senator Helms' Floccinaucinihilipilification

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

As self-appointed arbiter of U.S. foreign policy, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) recently disdainfully dismissed an appeal by all 45 Democratic senators that he allow the Senate to consider the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has languished before his committee for two years without hearings. In his supercilious reply, Helms proclaimed his "floccinaucinihilipilification" of the CTBT, or in plain English, his belief that the treaty is absolutely worthless. With Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) support, Helms reasserted his intention to hold the treaty hostage to advance his campaign to destroy the unrelated ABM Treaty, thereby blocking Senate action on the CTBT. Failure to ratify the CTBT will endanger U.S. security by undercutting U.S. efforts to build international support for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and by allowing further nuclear weapon developments by countries that could threaten the United States.

The 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which now bars testing by the 181 non-nuclear-weapon states-parties through their agreement not to acquire nuclear weapons, allows the five recognized nuclear-weapon states to continue testing, underscoring the inherently discriminatory nature of the treaty. By applying equally to all nations, the CTBT would end the privileged status of the nuclear-weapon states to continue testing to further develop their nuclear capabilities. The treaty is widely seen as the litmus test of whether the nuclear-weapon states recognize their own NPT treaty obligation to move toward nuclear disarmament.

The CTBT would ban nuclear testing by Russia, the only country that can now possibly threaten the survival of the United States, and by China, the only other country that might in the future achieve that capability. But neither Russia nor China will ratify before the United States does. The treaty also provides a practical means to limit the development of more advanced weapons by India, Israel and Pakistan, three nuclear-capable countries that are unlikely to join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states because it would require the elimination of all their nuclear weapons. Finally, by establishing an international norm against testing, the CTBT would put additional pressure not to test on North Korea and Iraq, which are in violation of their NPT obligations, and Iran, which the United States believes is positioning itself to violate the NPT.

Despite these compelling considerations, test ban opponents assert in a campaign of false and misleading statements that without testing the U.S. deterrent will be threatened by the loss of stockpile reliability and that the treaty is "unverifiable." These alarming assertions could not be sustained in a serious Senate debate. The leaders of the three U.S. nuclear weapon laboratories agree that the reliability and safety of the stockpile can be maintained without further nuclear testing. This will be accomplished by the generously funded stockpile stewardship program, which will monitor the reliability of the stockpile with non-destructive and non-nuclear testing, as well as computer simulations. This will give ample warning if weapons or components must be refabricated. The current chairman of the JCS, General Henry Shelton, as well as four former JCS chairmen have endorsed the treaty as serving U.S. security interests. They are confident of the reliability and safety of the U.S. stockpile and see no need to develop new types of weapons to meet U.S. military requirements in an era of declining relevance of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. record of successfully identifying some 1,000 foreign nuclear tests (about 700 underground) refutes the charge that the treaty is unverifiable. With the added capabilities of the treaty's international monitoring system, any tests large enough to affect U.S. security will be detected. And the treaty provision to permit on-site inspections will provide a mechanism for taking violations to the United Nations with the support of the international community if clear evidence is discovered or if the inspection is denied.

Helms' obstruction has already lost the United States voting participation in the special Vienna conference October 6-8 to facilitate entry into force of the CTBT. If he is allowed to continue to block ratification, the U.S. leadership role will be seriously undercut at the important five-year NPT review conference scheduled for April-May 2000. Rather than being looked to as the leading force against nuclear proliferation, the United States will be widely held as responsible for the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to honor their pledge on the CTBT in obtaining the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995.

The Republican leadership should not permit Helms to co-opt them as co-conspirators in his effort to block CTBT ratification. If Helms succeeds in denying the Senate the right to exercise its constitutional responsibility to consider this important treaty, the issue must be taken to the American people. Polls indicate that an overwhelming bipartisan majority does not share the senator's cavalier "floccinaucinihilipilification" of the CTBT.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Issue Briefs