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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
The Arms Control Agenda At the Helsinki Summit
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Jack Mendelsohn and Craig Cerniello

AFTER AGREEING to disagree on the desirability and acceptability of NATO enlargement, President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin reached agreement on a number of arms control issues during their March 20 21 summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

In an effort to address Russian concerns over the residual force levels and timing of reductions of START II, the two presidents agreed once START II enters into force to begin immediately negotiations on a START III agreement which would reduce deployed strategic warheads by 1,000 below START II levels. In addition, they agreed to extend by five years the deadline for reaching START II levels for deployed strategic warheads.

In a "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces" (see p. 19), the presidents agreed that the START III negotiations will include four basic components: a limit of 2,000 2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each side by the end of 2007; measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories as well as to the destruction of strategic warheads; conversion of the current START agreements to unlimited duration; and the "deactivation" by the end of 2003 of all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II.

In a separate "Joint Statement Concerning the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty" (see p. 20), agreement was also reached in principle on the next steps in the effort to regulate the deployment of higher velocity (above 3 kilometers per second) theater missile defense (TMD) systems which are permitted by, but some fear could circumvent, the 1972 ABM Treaty. On the basis of the joint statements on START II/III and higher velocity TMD systems, Yeltsin pledged to seek the prompt ratification of START II by the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

 

START III Guidelines

In the joint statement on future nuclear force reductions, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to a set of basic principles for a START III agreement, to be negotiated as soon as START II enters into force and designed to respond to the Duma's concern that START II will require a prohibitively expensive restructuring and buildup of Russian strategic nuclear forces. Members of the Duma have vigorously complained that by eliminating all its MIRVed ICBMs—multiple warhead, land based missiles which currently constitute 50 percent of Russia's strategic nuclear forces—START II would require it to build several hundred single warhead ICBMs in order to maintain numerical parity with the United States at the permitted 3,500 warhead ceiling.

The joint statement seeks to respond to this objection by limiting the United States and Russia under a new START III agreement to a level of 2,000 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads each by December 31, 2007—thereby reducing the need for Russia to build up as rapidly and extensively its single warhead ICBM force to maintain numerical parity. Assuming both sides had deployed the maximum number of permitted warheads under both treaties, the new START III level represents a 28 percent reduction from START II.

A second basic element of START III is agreement that, as both sides reduce their strategic nuclear arms to lower levels, measures should be taken to assure the irreversibility of those reductions. The joint statement calls for measures that would increase the transparency of each side's strategic nuclear warhead stockpiles as well as measures that would provide for the actual elimination of strategic warheads. If this element is successfully negotiated, START III would be the first agreement to require each side to destroy warheads in addition to strategic nuclear delivery systems.

The third basic element of START III would convert both START I and II (along with III) to treaties of unlimited duration. As currently written, START I—which is now multi lateral—and START II remain in effect for a period of 15 years and are renewable for five year periods.

As a final element of START III, the sides agreed that all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II will be deactivated no later than December 31, 2003, "by removing their nuclear warheads or taking other jointly agreed steps." This provision steps back from the September 1994 U.S. Russian statement on strategic stability and nuclear security, which called for such deactivations once the treaty had been ratified, but still renders the systems non operational, although not in an irreversible fashion, four years before they are required to be eliminated.

The Helsinki statement also notes that in the context of START III negotiations, the United States and Russia will "explore, as separate issues possible measures relating to nuclear long range sea launched cruise missiles [SLCMs] and tactical nuclear systems." (Emphasis added.) Russia apparently raised the issue of limits on nuclear SLCMs because, although these systems are not currently deployed by the United States, they are only loosely limited in a politically binding declaration that accompanies START I. The United States sought discussions on tactical nuclear systems, where the Russians may have as much as a 10 fold numerical advantage, primarily to better understand the extent of implementation by Moscow of its 1991 and 1992 pledges to withdraw large numbers of tactical weapons from its operational forces.

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin also agreed in Helsinki that the United States and Russia will "consider the issues related to transparency in nuclear materials." Thus, the sides will not only address strategic nuclear warhead stockpile and warhead elimination transparency (presumably at the dismantlement facility), but will also explore transparency measures pertaining to the fissile materials that have been extracted from dismantled warheads. Overall, these measures would significantly improve accountability and both sides ability to monitor the strategic nuclear infrastructure of the other.

 

Extending the START II Deadline

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin also agreed to extend the deadline for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles under START II to December 31, 2007—five years beyond the original January 1, 2003 deadline. Although the United States and Russia are already well ahead of schedule in implementing START I, this five year extension is intended to help overcome the Duma's concern that Moscow will not have enough time and money to destroy, restructure and replace its strategic forces under START II by the beginning of 2003. Because START I only entered into force in December 1994, Duma critics point out that scheduled reductions under that treaty will not be completed until December 2001 (seven years after entry into force), leaving Russia with only one year to eliminate the large number of MIRVed systems banned by START II. Under the new agreement, the United States and Russia will have 10 years (1997 2007) to complete their respective nuclear force reductions under START II and III. This corresponds to the 10 year implementation period originally agreed to in START II (January 1993 to January 2003) but, since START II and III are now to be co terminous, will result in at least 1,000 fewer deployed strategic warheads.

More significantly, by easing budgetary and restructuring pressures on Moscow, the extension of START II provides Russia with additional time to evaluate the impact of NATO enlargement and U.S. TMD deployments on its national security. Russian critics of START II have argued against Russia's elimination of its MIRVed ICBM force in 2003 on the eve of U.S. deployment of highly capable TMD systems. (The Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is scheduled to be deployed in 2004.) Now, even though all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II must be deactivated by the end of 2003, Russia can delay their actual elimination (in particular, the large force of 10 warhead SS 18s) and thus retain a "hedge" against unfavorable or unforeseen strategic developments.

The joint statement notes that after the extension of the START II reduction schedule has been approved by the Duma as part of the normal ratification process, it must also be approved by the U.S. Senate, which gave its advice and consent to the treaty in January 1996 based on the original deadline.

 

ABM and TMD Issues

In the "Joint Statement Concerning the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty," Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin reaffirmed the May 10, 1995 principles for agreement on demarcation between ABM and TMD systems. (See ACT, June 1995.) These principles include a commitment to the ABM Treaty, viewed as a "cornerstone of strategic stability," as well as the understanding that each side has the right to deploy effective TMD systems as long as they do not violate or circumvent the treaty.

In addition, the principles permit each side to deploy TMD systems as long as they do not "pose a realistic threat to the strategic nuclear force of the other side" (the so called "force on force" criterion) and are not tested to give such systems that capability. The principles also prohibit the United States and Russia from deploying TMD systems for use against each other, and state that the "scale of deployment"—in number and geographic scope—"will be consistent with theater ballistic missile programs confronting that side" (a "commensurate with the threat" criterion).

During their meeting, in what was characterized by the United States as "a major breakthrough," the two presidents also reached an agreement in principle governing the status of higher velocity TMD systems under the ABM Treaty. Prior to the Helsinki summit, the United States and Russia had been far apart on the ABM TMD demarcation issue with Russia seeking explicit limits on more capable TMD systems and the United States prepared to agree only to a very general set of confidence building measures related to TMD plans, programs and deployments.

In June 1996, the five parties to the Geneva based Standing Consultative Commission (SCC)—the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine—reached a preliminary "phase one" agreement that would have acknowledged as compliant the deployment of lower velocity TMD systems, such as the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC 3) and THAAD systems. (See ACT, July 1996.) The sides were scheduled to sign the phase one agreement in October 1996 but the signing ceremony was canceled at the last minute when Russia announced that it was not prepared to allow the agreement to enter into force until a "phase two" agreement covering higher velocity TMD systems, such as the Navy Theater Wide TMD system, had been negotiated. (See ACT, October 1996.) The SCC reconvened in February 1997 but was unable to resolve these differences before Helsinki.

The Helsinki joint statement basically reflects the U.S. position that explicit limits on TMD should relate only to targets and testing and not to the systems themselves. The statement notes that there are four elements to the phase two agreement on higher velocity TMD systems. The first two elements allow the United States and Russia to deploy higher velocity TMD systems provided that they are not tested against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 kilometers per second or ranges that exceed 3,500 kilometers. The third element prohibits each side from developing, testing or deploying space based TMD interceptors or components based on other physical principles (such as lasers) that can substitute for such interceptors. Finally, the sides agreed to exchange "detailed" information related to their TMD plans and programs on an annual basis.

The joint statement further notes that neither side "has plans" to flight test higher velocity TMD systems against ballistic missile targets before April 1999; to deploy TMD systems with interceptor velocities above 5.5 kilometers per second for land based and air based systems or 4.5 kilometers per second for sea based systems; to test TMD systems against ballistic missile targets equipped with MIRVs; or to test TMD systems against strategic ballistic missile reentry vehicles.

The presidents also agreed to continue consultations through the SCC on TMD related matters, including "any questions or concerns either side may have regarding TMD activities, including matters related to the agreement to be completed on higher velocity systems." The U.S. side maintains that these consultations would not give either side a veto over the other side's TMD programs. The joint statement also repeats another theme of the May 1995 statement, noting that there is "considerable scope" for U.S. Russian cooperation in TMD efforts, including the possibility of collaboration on early warning information and technology cooperation in areas related to TMD.

As drafted, the Helsinki joint statement addresses some, but clearly not all, of Russia's previously stated requirements for a phase two agreement on higher velocity TMD systems. According to a letter to then Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov proposed that a phase two agreement include maximum speed limits for interceptors, a ban on space based tracking and guidance sensors, and explicit limits on the number and geographic deployment of high velocity TMD systems. (See ACT, July 1996.) These key Russian conditions were notably absent from the Helsinki agreement. As a result, there has been considerable uncertainty as to how the phase two agreement will be received in the Duma (which generally remains skeptical of U.S. TMD efforts) and among the key officers of the Strategic Rocket Forces (who have traditionally been strong supporters of the ABM Treaty), and some speculation that these demands could resurface in the SCC.

 

Congress Denounces TMD Agreement

Despite the fact that it essentially adopted the U.S. position, the Helsinki joint statement on high velocity TMD systems still drew a strong negative reaction from several Republican members of Congress. In a March 23 joint statement, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R GA), Representative Bob Livingston (R LA) and Representative Chris Cox (R CA) argued that the agreement "will halt the development of the most effective possible ballistic missile defense," a reference to space based systems. "If allowed to stand, this agreement will place the lives of our brave fighting men and women—and ultimately millions of Americans—in jeopardy," they asserted.

Just days before the Helsinki summit, congressional opposition to any effort to negotiate on TMD had intensified. On March 19, the House Republican Policy Committee, which is chaired by Representative Cox, adopted a unanimous policy statement that offers a scathing critique of the Clinton administration's missile defense policies. On that day, Representative Curt Weldon (R PA) along with five other House Republicans wrote a letter to President Clinton expressing their "strong opposition" to measures that would impose limitations on U.S. TMD systems. Then, in a March 20 letter to President Clinton, Gingrich and four other House Republicans expressed their "deep concern" that the United States might propose at the summit restrictions on TMD deployments as well as measures that would multilateralize the ABM Treaty.

 

The Administration Responds

In the days immediately after the Helsinki summit, the Clinton administration responded to these congressional critics. On March 24, in a White House briefing clearly provoked by the March 23 joint statement, Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, refuted several "misconceptions" related to the ABM TMD demarcation issue. In response to the claim that the administration's position on demarcation has resulted in the "dumbing down" of U.S. TMD capabilities, Bell argued that the Helsinki agreement will allow the United States to deploy all six of its planned, "core" TMD systems. These systems include the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC 2) upgrade, an improvement of the system deployed during the Persian Gulf war; PAC 3 (formerly ERINT); THAAD; Navy Area Defense; Navy Theater Wide Defense; and the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), which is being developed by the United States, Germany and Italy for deployment by NATO. With the exception of the Navy Theater Wide TMD system, which has already been judged compliant with the ABM Treaty by the U.S. national review process, all of these systems were deemed compliant on the basis of last year's phase one agreement covering TMD systems with lower velocity interceptors (up to 3 kilometers per second).

In a March 27 address to the Navy League, Secretary of Defense William Cohen argued that the ABM agreement "does not impinge on the development, testing or deployment of any of our planned TMD systems" and "places no limitation on the speed of the TMD interceptors." Rejecting the notion that there is a distinction between space based interceptors deployed on TMD or ABM systems, Cohen argued—as had Bell—that the agreement's prohibition on the former is not a new restriction on U.S. missile defense capabilities because the ABM Treaty already explicitly bans space based ABM interceptors.

Other critics in the missile defense debate, however, argue that the administration's position on high velocity TMD systems will almost certainly have a deleterious impact on the ABM Treaty in the long term. Although the Helsinki agreement places limitations on the parameters of ballistic missile targets and prohibits space based TMD interceptors, these critics argue that it would allow the United States and Russia to deploy highly capable TMD systems, in the Russian case with nuclear warheads, that could have inherent capabilities against strategic ballistic missiles, become the base for a nationwide defense, undercut the ABM Treaty, and complicate efforts to achieve further nuclear force reductions.

The SCC is likely to reconvene in early May, when it will begin the process of transforming the Helsinki joint statement into a formal phase two agreement on high velocity TMD. During his press briefing, Bell indicated that the agreement would contain only the four elements specified in the joint statement and would require approval by Congress—National Security Advisor Samuel Berger subsequently indicated that the administration would request Senate advice and consent—and the Duma. Based on the initial negative congressional and uncertain Duma reaction to the agreement, however, the Clinton and Yeltsin administrations may both face—for different reasons—an uphill battle in winning such approval.