“For half a century, ACA has been providing the world … with advocacy, analysis, and awareness on some of the most critical topics of international peace and security, including on how to achieve our common, shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

– Izumi Nakamitsu
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
Issue Briefs

Eau de Cologne

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Taking advantage of the fortuitously timed G-8 summit in Cologne, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin made a concerted effort to put the bitter U.S.-Russian confrontation over Kosovo behind them with the promise of renewed progress on the stalled strategic arms control agenda. Whether they have the will and ability to translate the encouraging rhetoric into action during the limited time available to both of them remains to be seen.

In their joint statement, the presidents committed their governments to "do everything in their power to facilitate the successful completion of the START II ratification process in both countries." They also reaffirmed their commitment to the ABM Treaty, which they recognized as a "cornerstone of strategic stability" that is of "fundamental importance" in achieving further reductions in strategic offensive arms. And, in reaffirming their commitment to their joint Helsinki statement of March 1997, they agreed to begin later this summer "discussions" on both further nuclear reductions under a START III agreement and "possible proposals for increasing the viability of the [ABM] Treaty."

The presidents were right in emphasizing the critical importance of START II ratification. Although conventional wisdom now holds that there is little chance that the Duma will act on the treaty in the foreseeable future, the Duma was prepared twice in the past six months to act favorably on ratification. The votes were aborted, however, by the pre-Christmas bombing of Baghdad and the pre-Easter bombing of Yugoslavia, which the overwhelming majority of Duma members and their constituents considered unacceptable actions reflecting U.S. disregard for Russian views. If the United States really attaches high priority to START II ratification, it can influence its prospects by acts designed to gain Duma support, such as increasing financial support, eschewing further expansion of NATO and, above all, avoiding actions perceived as deliberately hostile to Russian interests.

The net impact of the decision to initiate "discussions" on START III and the ABM Treaty is hard to predict. Discussions on START III, with its lower ceilings on forces, should help START II ratification by responding to Duma concerns about START II force levels that would require expensive modernization efforts by Moscow. But the fact that the discussions will apparently include measures to improve transparency and ensure the irreversibility of the reduction process—while excellent arms control measures—will require protracted negotiations, probably delaying any agreement until the next administration and thereby reducing the favorable impact on early ratification of START II.

The discussion of U.S. proposals to amend the ABM Treaty, however, presents a much more difficult, and probably intractable, problem. Moves to relax the constraints of the ABM Treaty run exactly counter to the overarching objective of reducing the levels of strategic nuclear arsenals. While Russia is obligated by the treaty itself to listen to U.S. proposals to amend the treaty to make possible a limited U.S. national missile defense (NMD), Moscow continues to oppose any changes to the accord. Despite U.S. arguments about the need to maintain the "vitality" of the treaty in a world of emerging rogue nations, it will not be easy to convince Russia that North Korea presents a clear-and-present danger to the sole remaining superpower. Rather, it will be perceived by Russia as a first step to a more robust NMD system that would threaten the retaliatory capability of a reduced Russian strategic force, which is the stated objective of many NMD advocates.

Clinton has emphasized that no decision has been reached on NMD deployment and that any system "must be operationally effective, cost-effective and enhance our security." When making a deployment decision next June, Clinton stated that, in addition to reviewing flight tests, cost estimates and evaluation of the threat, progress in negotiating any necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty would be considered. As the architecture for a system capable, at least on paper, of effectively defending every square foot of all 50 states has not been determined, the Pentagon will undoubtedly press for maximum relaxation of treaty constraints. If Russia does not accept this approach, the architecture should be modified to provide a system consistent with the existing provisions of the ABM Treaty—even though the system might not cover the Aleutian and Hawaiian Islands. Or more rationally, the president should defer entirely a deployment decision since none of the criteria he has set will have been met by next summer.

The new joint statement has certainly served as welcome eau de Cologne to cover the foul state of U.S.-Russian relations after Kosovo. The resulting atmosphere could be the first step in an improved relationship. But daunting problems stand in the way of achieving the promise of the Cologne rhetoric. There is little hope that these barriers will be overcome unless Clinton and Yeltsin, despite domestic distractions, actually treat the problem as a highest national priority without any further delay.

Hyping Chinese Espionage

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

With little evidence and flawed logic, the Cox Report has concluded that China, exploiting purloined U.S. nuclear weapons design information, can now match U.S. nuclear weapons technology and emerge as a major nuclear threat to the United States. The report, presented in three lavishly illustrated volumes suitable for coffee table display, is clearly designed to hype a new Chinese nuclear missile threat rather than objectively examine the extent and implications of alleged Chinese nuclear espionage. Whatever the truth about the extent of the espionage, this extreme worst-case assessment is grossly misleading and threatens rational U.S. diplomatic and defense policy toward Beijing.

The report's case rests primarily on a reference in a classified Chinese document to certain aspects of the design of the Trident D-5 missile's W-88 thermonuclear warhead, which indicates Chinese access to classified information from an unidentified source. However, Cox Committee member Representative John Spratt (D-SC), in an act of considerable political courage, has revealed the paucity of evidence supporting the report's stark conclusions and pointed out that the Cox Committee had no evidence that the Chinese had actually obtained any blueprints or detailed engineering specifications on the W-88 or any other U.S. thermonuclear weapon. This important conclusion was also reached by the intelligence community in its damage assessment of the material presented in the classified version of the report.

While China would undoubtedly profit from the details of the W-88, Beijing would pay a steep price to make a "Chinese copy" of the sophisticated W-88, which does not match China's strategic requirements or its existing technology infrastructure. The W-88 is carefully designed to fit inside the D-5's slender reentry vehicle, which is necessary to achieve extremely high accuracy against hard targets. The Chinese ICBM force, numbering only 20 missiles, is clearly intended as a minimal deterrent against city targets where high accuracy is irrelevant. The report fails to recognize that China, with a substantial nuclear weapons program and 35 years' experience since its first test in 1964, already has the ability to develop small thermonuclear warheads based on its own technology. Such weapons would be suitable for China's anticipated, more survivable mobile ICBM or for future MIRVed missiles if it decides to develop them. Consequently, even if Beijing did obtain the detailed blueprints for the W-88, which is pure speculation, this would not change the limited Chinese nuclear threat to the United States that has existed for almost 20 years.

The report's feigned outrage with China's alleged efforts to steal U.S. nuclear secrets is an exercise in naivete or hypocrisy by members of Congress, who approve some $30 billion annually for U.S. intelligence activities and press for the increased use of spies. At the same time, while recognizing the pandemic nature of espionage, one cannot tolerate violations of trust by persons in sensitive positions or inadequate security practices that facilitate such actions. The report has created a cottage industry of recommendations on how to solve this difficult problem. But the answer certainly does not lie in creating insulated, Soviet-style nuclear cities where many of the brightest U.S. scientists would not work.

U.S.-Chinese relations have been dealt a serious blow by the report's implicit message that the United States should not do business with a country that presents a serious nuclear threat to U.S. security and engages in espionage against the U.S. nuclear establishment. However, there is no reason to believe China is any more of a threat today, or will be in the foreseeable future, than it has been for many years; and the charges of espionage, if true, are only the latest manifestation of an international environment where gentlemen read each other's mail whenever possible. Since President Nixon's opening of relations with China, every U.S. president has sought to improve U.S.-Chinese relations. In the interests of U.S. security, this policy should continue to be pursued on its own merits and not be undercut by hyped assessments of the Chinese nuclear threat or espionage activities.

If the Cox Committee is as concerned about Chinese espionage as it professes, it is puzzling that it chose to reject Spratt's proposal to recommend ratification of the CTB Treaty, which would prevent future Chinese tests from exploiting alleged purloined information. Experts agree that no rational state would risk producing thermonuclear weapons based on information, including even blueprints and full technical specifications, obtained from another state without tests, and would not rely on another country's computer codes to simulate the detonation of a device as a surrogate for actual testing. The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity and responsibility to correct this glaring omission by promptly ratifying the test ban treaty, which Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms has held hostage—to advance his own agenda—for nearly two years.

With little evidence and flawed logic, the Cox Report has concluded that China, exploiting purloined U.S. nuclear weapons design information, can now match U.S. nuclear weapons technology and emerge as a major nuclear threat to the United States.

Seventeen-Year Locusts

 Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

The congressional clamor for a national missile defense (NMD) is painfully reminiscent of similar past campaigns that, like locusts, have emerged every 17 years to drown out reasoned discourse on U.S. security. Unless President Clinton stands by his threat to veto legislation designed to force a deployment decision, the United States will deliver another blow to prospects for reduction in strategic nuclear forces.

The Senate's 97-3 passage of legislation calling for the deployment of an "effective" NMD "as soon as is technologically possible" has been widely reported as heralding a new consensus for NMD deployment. Actually, the legislation incorporates a conflicting commitment "to seek continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces." In welcoming the legislation, Clinton made clear that a deployment decision would only be considered next year after a review of technical developments, costs, the threat and "progress in achieving our arms control objectives, including any amendments to the ABM Treaty that may be required to accommodate possible NMD deployment."

The Senate bill itself appears to kick the deployment decision well down the road since Clinton's criteria cannot be met any time soon. However, should an unamended version of the bill, which passed the House, emerge from a Senate-House conference and not be vetoed, it would indeed be seen as a shift in policy and bode ill for presidential resolve on the eve of the 2000 election.

There is little chance that the technology will have been demonstrated by mid-2000. The architecture for the proposed system has not yet even been defined, and the bill's requirement that "effective" defense be provided for all 50 states sets an almost impossible standard for a system consistent with the ABM Treaty. Moreover, the four proposed tests scheduled before the decision will be forced to use surrogate components since prototypes of actual components will not even exist. Based on past experience with unproven systems, costs now estimated at $10 billion–$13 billion could easily double or triple before deployment.

The threat against which the system is designed is unlikely to emerge for many years if ever. Poverty-stricken rogue states, with far more pressing military requirements, will not spend their limited resources on ICBMs. And, if they should do so to demonstrate national prowess, the prospect of devastating retaliation or pre-emption would certainly deter them from using, or even threatening to use, the missiles against the United States.

The United States has understood for more than 30 years the need to limit NMD in order to reduce strategic offensive arms. Senior Russian political and military officials have repeatedly underscored the linkage, and the Duma's draft START II ratification legislation makes clear that U.S. abrogation or violation of the ABM Treaty would be grounds for Russian withdrawal from START II. Any system that could be considered "effective" would involve amending almost every substantive article of the ABM Treaty.

The emergence of NMD enthusiasts, like noisy locusts, has come in roughly 17-year cycles. In 1967, under strong congressional pressure for an NMD, stimulated by the Soviet strategic buildup, deployment of the Moscow ABM system and the 1964 Chinese nuclear tests, President Johnson reluctantly decided to deploy the Sentinel NMD system. In an effort to delink the decision from the Soviet Union, with which efforts were going forward to begin the SALT I negotiations, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced Sentinel as protection against a future rogue Chinese threat. The Chinese threat did not emerge for the next 15 years, and we have lived with it for the last 15 years.

In 1983, President Reagan unveiled "Star Wars" to provide an "impenetrable shield" against even a massive Soviet ballistic missile attack. The concept, which was recognized from the outset as technically unattainable, succumbed despite the infusion of tens of billions of dollars. To establish the legality of Star Wars, the Reagan administration advanced the so-called "broad" interpretation of the ABM Treaty, a concept without legal merit, which sought to permit precisely what the ABM Treaty was designed to prevent. In the end, both the technological fantasy and the legal chicanery came to naught.

Today, we have a new NMD whose purpose is chillingly reminiscent of McNamara's Sentinel system and whose technology is the detritus of Star Wars. President Clinton should stand firm on his position that any decision to deploy an NMD must seriously consider all relevant factors and not be a knee-jerk reaction to a most unlikely threat. If necessary, he should veto legislation that would be perceived as mandating the deployment of an NMD in violation of the ABM Treaty. This decision is too important to be left to the noisy demands of the latest hatch of NMD locusts.

Dereliction of Duty

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Ignoring its constitutional treaty-making responsibilities, the Republican Senate leadership has allowed Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to single-handedly block Senate action on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which President Clinton signed two-and-a-half years ago. If the Senate's advice and consent on this critical treaty is delayed another six months, the future of the treaty will be in doubt and the United States will have seriously endangered its leadership role in the efforts to contain further nuclear proliferation.

First advocated by President Eisenhower in 1958, the CTBT has been a long-sought objective to constrain the nuclear arms race. With the almost universal acceptance of the critical nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the CTBT has become the litmus test of the willingness of the nuclear-weapon states to move away from the inherently discriminatory nature of the NPT. The CTBT would prohibit the nuclear-weapon states from testing—a much criticized right they alone retain under the NPT.

At the 25th-anniversary NPT review conference in 1995, which extended the treaty indefinitely, the five nuclear-weapon states agreed to complete negotiation of the CTBT no later than 1996. With strong U.S. leadership, an agreed text of this complex agreement, which had so long eluded the nuclear-weapon states, was completed on schedule. To date, the five nuclear-weapon states and 147 non-nuclear-weapon states, including Israel, have signed the treaty, and 29 states, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan, have ratified the accord. However, as a consequence of the U.S. failure to ratify, many countries, including China and Russia, are holding back on their ratification. Unless the United States and 43 other designated states ratify the treaty, it cannot formally enter into force.

Senator Helms has advised the president that he does not think the CTBT is important and that he will not consider it until his committee first deals with unrelated amendments to the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, both of which he strongly opposes. Helms' conditions will not be met soon because the Clinton administration does not plan to submit the Kyoto Protocol in the foreseeable future and will not submit the amendments to the ABM Treaty until the Russian Duma ratifies START II.

Unless the Republican leadership resolves this impasse promptly, Helms will have succeeded in placing in jeopardy not only the CTBT but U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy. If the United States fails to ratify the CTBT, it will not have a vote at the special conference called for in the treaty in the fall of 1999 to "facilitate the early entry into force of the treaty," nor will other key countries, including Russia and China, whose ratification is contingent on U.S. action. This will set the stage for an at-best unproductive, and possibly disastrous, NPT review conference in 2000. Instead of providing a platform for the United States to marshall support against threats to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, the United States will bear the brunt of attacks on the nuclear-weapon states for blocking progress on the CTBT and for failing to meet the other commitments made in connection with the indefinite extension of the NPT.

After 40 years of debate, it is indeed tragic that the United States is prevented from conducting foreign policy at a time when there should be strong bipartisan support for the CTBT. The treaty is endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the American people, with only a small group of extremists in opposition. The military, which in earlier years opposed such a treaty, now supports it as serving U.S. security interests. This endorsement includes the current and four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The weapons laboratories, which historically called for continued testing, now agree that by relying on a generously funded stewardship program they can certify the reliability and safety of the nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing.

Even the long-standing dispute over the verifiability of the CTBT has largely dissipated with the general recognition that such an agreement can be adequately verified to preclude emergence of any significant new military threat to U.S. security. In fact, the international monitoring system established by the treaty will improve current verification capabilities and provide for on-site inspection of suspicious events.

The administration must translate its supportive rhetoric on the CTBT into a focused public campaign, challenging the Republican leadership to allow the Senate to exercise its constitutional responsibilities in the treaty-making process. If Republican leaders continue to hide behind Helms' dictatorial whims in denying the Senate the right to vote on this important international treaty, they will not only be derelict in their constitutional duties, but will earn an unenviable place in the nation's profiles in cowardice.

Don't Stop START II

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

After coming within a hairbreadth of Russian ratification, START II is now in serious jeopardy because of the U.S. bombing of Iraq and provocative U.S. statements on the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). If, as a consequence, the Russian Duma fails to act soon on START II, there will be little prospect of further progress on nuclear arms reductions during the remainder of the Clinton administration and quite possibly the loss of past arms control accomplishments as well.

After years of delay, the Duma was scheduled on December 25 to ratify START II. The world was denied this long-awaited Christmas present, however, when the United States on December 16 launched intensive strikes against Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein's denial of UNSCOM inspections. The Duma postponment of the vote on START II reflects the strong disapproval across the spectrum of Russian political opinion of the U.S. actions, which were perceived as being taken in disdainful disregard of strong Russian objections. Nevertheless, the Duma announced that consideration of START II would resume in March, albeit under a cloud.

The Russians were then treated on January 20 to Secretary of Defense Cohen's announcement that advance funding would be provided to support NMD deployment should such decision be made in June 2000. Accepting uncritically the dubious proposition that a rogue-state ICBM threat will soon exist, Cohen stated that the decision to deploy now depends solely on demonstration of the necessary technology. And, if Russia would not agree to modify the ABM Treaty to accommodate the as-yet-undefined NMD system, Cohen said the United States could simply withdraw from the treaty. As the specific architecture of the system has yet to be defined, the modifications that Cohen has in mind are not clear. However, given the technically demanding, politically driven requirement that protection must be provided for all 50 states, all of the substantive articles of the treaty would have to be amended to permit deployment.

The timing of this announcement could not have been worse for START II. All Duma factions saw it as a blatant attempt to repudiate the fundamental bargain on which strategic nuclear reductions are based: namely, the ABM Treaty would prevent either side from deploying defenses to challenge the deterrence provided by the other side's offensive forces. In fact, the Duma had already included as a condition of START II ratification that U.S. violation of or withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would constitute a basis for Russian withdrawal from START II. To Russians, the idea that the United States, in response to the future possibility of a minimal nuclear threat from a weak, isolated North Korea, was prepared to repudiate the ABM Treaty at the ultimate cost of tens of billions of dollars was too irrational to be credible. Despite U.S. disclaimers, deployment of even a limited NMD system appeared in Moscow to be the first step in developing a defense to negate Russia's deteriorating strategic forces that would be further constrained by START II reductions.

With bitter memories of NATO expansion still fresh, these developments fed Duma suspicions of U.S. motives. Some Duma members were encouraged to argue that Russia would be better off without START II so that it could retain its SS-18 missiles (each with 10 high-yield warheads) and put three warheads on each new TOPOL-M missile.

Whatever value one places on a defense against the highly unlikely emergence of a credible rogue-state ICBM threat or on U.S. military actions against states such as Iraq and Serbia, that value pales in comparison with the importance of Russian ratification of START II and the commitment to follow-on negotiations on START III. These treaties would reduce—by about 75 percent from present levels—the number of deployed Russian strategic warheads. In addition they would eliminate all Russian land-based MIRVed missiles, which are particularly dangerous because their high value as targets encourages a precarious launch-on-warning posture. However unlikely a U.S.-Russian conflict may appear today, Russia remains the only country that can threaten U.S. survival.

The window of opportunity for START II is rapidly closing. The Duma's interest in the treaty will disappear as campaigning for its fall elections begins. Any prospects for favorable Duma action will be dealt a final blow if there are further provocative U.S. actions such as air strikes in the Kosovo crisis or invitations to any of the Baltic states to join NATO at the alliance's 50th anniversary celebration in late April.

President Clinton must move immediately to give START II the overriding priority it deserves in the U.S. national security process and avoid foreign policy actions that could result in the Duma's indefinite deferment of START II ratification.

'Not with a bang but a whimper'

Almost unnoticed, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) ends on April 1, 1999. Provisions buried in the 1999 omnibus appropriations bill formally integrated the once independent agency into the State Department. While long accepted as a fait accompli, the lack of comment on the fundamental change in the arms control policy process resulting from ACDA's demise is deeply disturbing.

Although Senator Jesse Helms has taken credit for abolishing ACDA, Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright were both anxious to integrate the agency into the State Department. So when the opportunity arose to fold ACDA into State as part of the deal to get a Senate vote on the Chemical Weapons Convention, it was an easy sacrifice that the administration could claim was part of the "reinvention of government."

President Kennedy created ACDA to provide presidents with arms control options as alternatives to the nuclear arms race and to provide an institutional base for the negotiation and implementation of agreements. While recognizing the pre-eminence of the secretary of state in dealing with foreign countries, Kennedy rejected the option of locating the new agency within the State Department because it was dominated by a foreign service bureaucracy more concerned with bilateral relations with other nations than alternative security strategies. As a compromise, ACDA was established as an independent agency reporting to both the president and the secretary of state.

The new agency quickly demonstrated the wisdom of Kennedy's decision. During the Johnson administration, ACDA's persistence in negotiating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), despite frequent State Department reservations, made it possible for Johnson to direct the completion of the NPT over the objections of major NATO allies. During the Nixon regime, an independent ACDA headed a strong interagency team that negotiated the ABM Treaty and SALT I with the Soviet Union despite a less-than-enthusiastic Defense Department and an apathetic State Department. During the Carter administration, a strong ACDA made it possible to pursue Carter's ambitious arms control agenda, which would have succeeded but for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

ACDA's effectiveness has always been dependent on the president's interest in arms control and its own leadership. During the Reagan years, the agency's directors were as often opponents as advocates of arms control. During the Bush administration, Secretary of State James Baker and a small group of senior officials made considerable progress on agreements and parallel unilateral initiatives with the Soviet Union. Today, however, the arms control agenda has become too complex both in designing initiatives and implementing agreements to be handled without a strong institutional base.

During the Clinton administration, ACDA has been systematically marginalized by failure to fill its senior positions and excluding it from key policy meetings. Nevertheless, the agency took the lead in delivering a consensus approval for the indefinite extension of the NPT and the successful negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty, the Clinton administration's only major arms control initiative.

Fortuitously, the current top State Department officials are knowledgeable and supportive of arms control, but this will normally not be the case. Under the present stewardship, State has reacted pragmatically and generally wisely to difficult challenges, such as the North Korean nuclear program and the situation in South Asia following the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, successfully balancing nuclear non-proliferation with other foreign policy objectives. However, in advocating NATO expansion, with likely eventual inclusion of the Baltic states, the same officials produced a predictably strong Russian reaction, jeopardizing deep reductions in the Russian nuclear arsenal.

The transfer of ACDA, lock, stock and barrel to the State Department has stifled even whimpers from the departing staff. How long this arrangement will survive remains to be seen. The new office will provide attractive posts for foreign service personnel, and the question remains whether it will retain the institutional memory and technical expertise necessary for effective policy formulation.

As ACDA fades into history, those who inherit its responsibilities must not forget why it was created. The State Department will have to inform the president on arms control opportunities, even if they raise foreign policy problems, and of the possible negative impacts of proposed foreign policy actions, such as NATO expansion, on arms control objectives. And the National Security Council staff will have a greater responsibility to make certain the president receives a balanced assessment of arms control issues and options. Only time will tell whether Kennedy was right in believing this arrangement would inadequately serve U.S. security interests.

One Step Forward

The new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD-60) on nuclear war plans constitutes a major step forward from Cold War thinking about nuclear weapons. In abandoning the requirement that the U.S. military be prepared to fight and win even a protracted, all-out nuclear war with Russia, the new guidance relieves the Joint Chiefs of an impossible task at any force level. By substituting the requirement that U.S. forces provide a secure deterrent, President Clinton has made it possible for the Joint Chiefs to support the force levels proposed for START III and much lower levels in the future.

During the Cold War, U.S. war plans in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack called for immediate and devastating nuclear retaliation against the Soviet Union to eliminate any remaining strategic or other threatening military assets and to destroy its economy, its leadership and, collaterally, its society as well. Presumably, the Soviet Union had similar plans. Each side pursued the will-o'-the-wisp strategy that somehow, with enough weapons, it could emerge the winner of such an exchange despite the fact that both countries and their allies would certainly be utterly destroyed in the process. The prospect of such an apocalyptic end of civilization perhaps served as an effective deterrent to conflict between the superpowers.

The catastrophic domestic and global consequences of such gross overkill—involving force levels far in excess of those necessary to deter any adversary—became increasingly clear to a growing number inside and outside the military establishment. And with the end of the Cold War, it became obvious that deterrence could be accomplished with much smaller strategic forces. Now, with the elimination of the formal requirement to be able to fight and win a nuclear war, the Joint Chiefs—who long ago outgrew their initial infatuation with nuclear weapons for all purposes—are in a position to accept lower force levels with full confidence that any potential adversaries, including a highly unlikely recidivist Russia or aggressive China, will be deterred.

Some critics here and abroad have denounced the new guidance for continuing to embrace the concept of deterrence, clearly directed at Russia and China, with which we are seeking to develop friendly relations. Deterrence, however, is not a declaratory policy that can be repudiated but a fact of life as long as nuclear weapons and potential adversarial relationships exist. Any national leader with aggressive intentions will have to take existing nuclear arsenals into account before acting. In fact, nuclear weapons will continue to provide "virtual" deterrence even if they are eliminated because today's nuclear powers would retain the inherent capability to reconstitute nuclear forces relatively quickly in the face of unacceptable threats.

Some press reports have suggested that the new guidance calls for a nuclear response if chemical and biological weapons are ever used against the United States. If correct, this would indeed be a dangerous relaxation of existing constraints on the use of nuclear weapons. However, senior government spokesmen have stated that this is not the case and that U.S. policy will continue to honor the negative security assurances set forth in 1995 by Secretary of State Warren Christopher on behalf of the president in connection with the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This pledge committed the United States not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are members of the NPT unless they are engaged in an attack on the United States, its troops or allies in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state. This precludes the use of nuclear weapons against all countries except a few most unlikely U.S. adversaries that are also NPT hold-outs (Israel, India and Pakistan) and the other nuclear-weapon states (Britain, China, France and Russia). It is difficult to imagine any credible scenarios where an American president would initiate the use of nuclear weapons against any of these countries. With this guidance, the United States is moving, as it should, closer to a no-first-use posture, where its nuclear weapons serve only to deter the use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies.

The fine print in the classified directive could of course contain troublesome features. Given the confusion at home and abroad as to the nature of the guidance, the president should clarify the new U.S. nuclear doctrine. But the central thrust of the policy appears to move in the right direction by abandoning a nuclear war—fighting and war—winning doctrine and declaring in its place deterrence as the only role for nuclear weapons. This doctrine will facilitate the negotiation of much lower levels of nuclear arsenals and eventually the elimination of nuclear weapons if there are no nuclear threats to deter.

Testing the CTB Regime

After a 10 week delay, the CIA finally conceded that the much publicized seismic event on August 16 in the Arctic Ocean was not caused by a nuclear explosion as it had previously strongly suggested. This conclusion was quietly revealed on November 4 in a press release that was more concerned with justifying the agency's dilatory performance than clarifying the nature of the event. The statement could simply be dismissed as an egregious example of self righteous bureaucratic protectionism were it not for the unwarranted doubt it cast on the ability to monitor the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty, even though the so called Novaya Zemlya seismic event actually demonstrated that the CTB regime can be "effectively" verified.

Having detected renewed activity at the old Soviet underground nuclear test site on the island of Novaya Zemlya, U.S. intelligence was understandably alarmed when reports were received of a seismic event whose initial location was deemed sufficiently uncertain to possibly include the test site. As more information became available, however, both U.S. government seismologists and the international seismological community concluded that the event had occurred 130 kilometers from the test site and beneath the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The location alone should have established that it was a natural earthquake unrelated to the test site activity. But the CIA continued to insist that the event could be a nuclear explosion despite a growing consensus among U.S. and foreign seismologists, working with open data, that the seismic signals were consistent with those from earthquakes and similar to a small earthquake recorded previously in the same general area. Moreover, a very small aftershock, characteristic of an earthquake, had occurred several hours after the main event at the same location. For its part, the Russian government promptly denied there had been a nuclear test and explained that activity at the Novaya Zemlya site related to permitted subcritical tests similar to those being conducted concurrently at the U.S. test site in Nevada.

In the end, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, unable to resolve the issue internally, convened an outside panel which concluded that the event was indeed not a nuclear explosion. Unfortunately, the panel inexplicably avoided identifying the event unambiguously as an earthquake, an evasion that incorrectly left a misleading impression about the capabilities of the regime's international monitoring system. The CIA's failure to take a clear stand on the nature of the event is most unfortunate given the critical importance of the powerful array of U.S. national intelligence assets to the discovery of potentially suspicious activities relating to any of the very large number of natural seismic events that occur (averaging some 50 a day more powerful than the recent event). Suspicious activities, however, do not turn an earthquake into a nuclear explosion. To insist that seismic events may be nuclear tests when the technical information available to the international community demonstrates the contrary undercuts the credibility of U.S. intelligence, which is rightfully internationally respected and will be critical to marshaling support to respond to suspected clandestine tests under the CTB Treaty.

The lesson of the August 16 event is not, as the CIA emphasized in its statement, that very small seismic events are hard to identify, which is well known, but rather that the capability exists to verify the CTB effectively. Even before becoming fully operational, the international monitoring system was able to locate the event accurately and identify it as an earthquake with an equivalent yield of around 100 tons of TNT, or one tenth the system's advertised identification threshold of 1 kiloton, as well as an aftershock of around 10 tons, or one hundredth of the identification threshold. At such low yields, undetected tests would not constitute a threat to U.S. security. Such tests would not give the nuclear powers confidence in new designs for higher yield weapons and would not provide potential proliferators with an exploitable path to a first weapon. Moreover, the success of U.S. intelligence capabilities in detecting activities at the Novaya Zemlya test site should help deter others because such activity collocated with a truly suspicious seismic event or other incriminating information would indeed be persuasive evidence of a nuclear test.

The CTB regime successfully passed the test presented by the August 16 earthquake, demonstrating its effectiveness and underscoring the imperative of maintaining the international credibility of U.S. intelligence as a central input to verification of the CTB Treaty. The power and objectivity of this unique U.S. capability must not be called into question by crying wolf when other countries are capable of judging for themselves whether there are any wolves or by failing in the future to draw obvious conclusions about treaty compliance when the evidence is clear.

Aftershocks From the Novaya Zemlya Earthquake


Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

A small earthquake beneath the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Novaya Zemlya has led to reports that Russia conducted a clandestine nuclear explosion at its former test site on the island. Although it is now clear that the earthquake occurred over 100 kilometers from the test site, some in the U.S. intelligence community apparently have not abandoned their initial assessment that the seismic signal was produced by a nuclear explosion. Failure of the Clinton administration to acknowledge the natural origin of the event will call into question the verifiability of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty and Russia's good faith in honoring its testing moratorium and signature of the CTB.

The current flap became public on August 28 when The Washington Times quoted one Pentagon official as confirming that a seismic event on August 16 was suspected of being caused by a nuclear explosion, and reported that Pentagon officials had "high confidence" that the activity detected was a nuclear test equivalent to between 100 tons and 1,000 tons of TNT. In addition to being in the "vicinity" of the Russian test site on Novaya Zemlya, the seismic event was alleged to have "explosive characteristics" and to have been accompanied by suspicious activity at the test site.

In sharp contrast to this alarming report, U.S. and foreign non governmental seismologists, who have studied extensive unclassified data from many nearby seismic stations, have concluded that the event was located over 100 kilometers from the test site beneath the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and had the characteristics of other small earthquakes in the area. Subsequently, it was reported that the Air Force Technical Applications Center, which monitors worldwide seismic activity, had located the event 130 kilometers from the test site.

Immediately after The Washington Times story, the Russian government unequivocally denied that there had been a nuclear test on Novaya Zemlya. With regard to the reported activity at the test site, the Russian minister of atomic energy said Russian scientists were carrying out "hydrodynamic" explosive experiments there, and other Russian spokesmen indicated that Russia would also be conducting "subcritical" experiments. Such experiments, which are too small to produce measurable seismic signals, do not result in any nuclear yield and are therefore not banned by the CTB.

Ironically, the aboveground activity observed at Novaya Zemlya closely paralleled similar activity at the U.S. nuclear test site in Nevada where preparations were also underway for a mid September subcritical experiment deep underground. To complete the parallel, a few days before the scheduled U.S. subcritical experiment, a comparable earthquake occurred in the vicinity of the Nevada Test Site.

Failure to resolve the nature of the Arctic seismic event promptly could adversely affect the Senate's advice and consent to ratification of the CTB. An official position that the matter is under "continued study" will be seized upon by treaty opponents both as an attempted cover up of a clandestine Russian test and as proof that the treaty is unverifiable. This would be a tragic outcome to what has actually been an impressive demonstration of the ability of the treaty's not yet fully operational monitoring system to identify as an earthquake a suspicious event which was of a smaller magnitude than the completed system's estimated capability.

Looking to the future, unless the U.S. government can establish a rapid and secure decision making process without premature charges of violations, the United States will lose its credibility as the objective agent of verification for this important treaty. There will be a daily average of more than 50 seismic events worldwide with magnitudes equal to or greater than this event. Unless obvious screening criteria, such as location, depth and aftershocks are given the overriding weight they logically warrant, the system will soon be overwhelmed with unresolved events. Once the treaty is in effect, on site inspections will be useful to resolve truly difficult cases; however, the factual basis for such inspections will have to be persuasive and consistent with available technical intelligence. In this case, the event was so located that treaty provisions would not provide for an on site inspection of the test site or even any land area on Novaya Zemlya because the inspection would be limited to a 1,000 square kilometer area beneath the Arctic Ocean where the event occurred.

Verification will be the most difficult issue in the Senate's debate on advice and consent to ratification. How the administration handles the Novaya Zemlya event will be a key to that debate. Equivocation on identification will feed doubts about the treaty's verifiability; a reasoned and decisive stance on identification will demonstrate the power of the monitoring system and the value of the treaty.

NATO Expansion: A Decision to Regret


Jack Mendelsohn

The NATO allies, led by the United States, have taken the fateful decision to invite three nations—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—to join the North Atlantic alliance. Although the new members' formal accession is timed to coincide with the alliance's 50th anniversary celebration in April 1999, the prospects for U.S.-Russian arms control have already suffered as a result of NATO's move.

Since NATO first announced its intention to expand eastward, we have seen evidence of hardening of Russian security policy. Ratification of START II has been postponed indefinitely by the Russian Duma because of the persistent opposition to NATO expansion across the entire political spectrum, notwithstanding the promise of NATO-Russian cooperation, as laid out in the NATO-Russian Founding Act, and the five-year extension of the START II implementation schedule along with the further nuclear reductions to be negotiated in START III that were agreed to at the Helsinki summit in March.

If START II remains unratified, a host of other arms control issues will probably be adversely affected as well. Congress may call into question continued support for the destruction of weapons in Russia under the Nunn-Lugar program, which in turn will make it more difficult for the Russians to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. Perhaps the most strategically significant repercussion from Russia's non-ratification of START II would be in the area of missile defense, where the U.S. administration's strongest argument against unnecessary and unconstrained national missile defense deployments—that it will interfere with START reductions—will become moot.

Sensing its deteriorating security situation, Russia has also abandoned its longstanding nuclear "no-first-use" policy and is in the midst of a debate over whether, given the deplorable state of its conventional forces, the lack of budgetary resources and NATO's creep toward Russia, it should increase its reliance on nuclear weapons. If Russia reemphasizes tactical nuclear systems, of which it has retained large numbers, it would make it more difficult to limit these weapons as envisaged in the Helsinki Joint Statement.

Russian re-emphasis on nuclear weapons could well be accompanied by an unsettling analogue within NATO. If collective defense continues to be NATO's primary function—and all indications are that it will—the alliance will be hard pressed to defend the longer borders of its three new members with fewer, less well-equipped conventional forces. And when NATO expands to the Baltics, which is clearly anticipated by NATO's "open door" policy, it will be unable to defend those countries except by threatening the use of nuclear weapons. As a result, NATO's military doctrine could well come to mirror Moscow's re-emphasis on nuclear weapons.

The Clinton administration has put forward a variety of arguments for NATO expansion, all of which are either unconvincing or irrelevant. The first is that expansion will foster democracy and market economies in the new member-states. But surely someone in the White House must realize that a defensive alliance facing the high costs of expansion and modernization, which the European allies have made clear they will not share and the new members can ill afford, is not an appropriate means for ensuring the growth of strong democratic market economies. If spreading democracy is the objective of the Western alliance, the European Union should have opened its doors to these nations instead of deferring the issue until at least 2002.

Another of the administration's principal arguments in favor of expansion is that it will "spread" security to Central and Eastern Europe. But as the "Open Letter to President Clinton" in opposition to NATO expansion notes (see NATO Letter), just the opposite is likely to happen. Rather than enhancing security in Europe, expansion has the potential to turn Russia against the entire post-Cold War settlement and put severe pressure on the emerging Russian democracy by giving a popular cause to the nationalist and communist opposition. Even the independent-minded General Alexander Lebed, the most popular political figure in Russia, has already expressed his view that "any partial revision of [the post-Cold War order in Europe] places in doubt all the other components, including the inviolability of national boundaries . . . ." [Emphasis added.]

The profound implications of NATO expansion for U.S. national security and U.S.Russian relations demand a rethinking of the policy by the Clinton administration, a wide-ranging public examination and a thorough hearing in both the Senate, which must approve the new members, and the House, which will have to fund the project. The nation deserves nothing less than a full-fledged debate before ratifying this unwise, and by no means pre-ordained, decision.


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