Bulgaria, Slovakia Still Hold SS 23s

The United States continues to press Bulgaria and Slovakia to destroy their small inventories of SS 23 ballistic missiles, but resistance from both governments has stalled U.S. efforts to eliminate one of the Cold War's remaining vestiges. Both countries apparently have rejected a low level July demarche from Washington seeking destruction of the SS 23s, which are banned under the 1987 U.S. Soviet Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The missiles are the only systems remaining from the 72 SS 23s the former Soviet Union transferred to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany (24 to each country) two years prior to signing the treaty.

The United States has already achieved a primary goal of its ongoing initiative¾the destruction of the connecting sections for the missiles that would enable them to carry nuclear warheads¾and Germany and the Czech Republic have destroyed their SS 23s. But Bulgaria and Slovakia have cited financial, environmental and national security concerns as reasons they cannot eliminate the 500 to 1,000 kilometer range, solid fuel systems believed to be operational and number fewer than 10 in each country. The United States has said it is prepared to assist in the destruction of the aging missiles.

The Soviet Union claimed the transfers, which the United States did not learn of until 1990, were not a violation of the INF Treaty because they occurred before signature and the three former Warsaw Pact countries were not parties to the accord. However, the United States maintained that Moscow had acted in bad faith during the treaty negotiations because all SS 23s were to have been declared and destroyed.

The Clinton administration is seeking the destruction of the remaining missiles to fulfill the objectives of the INF Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which Bulgaria and Slovakia have agreed to adhere to unilaterally. The United States is asking a number of countries to eliminate their so called MTCR "Category I" missiles (which can carry a 500 kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers) because of their inherent capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction.