Moscow Summit Brings Two Minor Arms Control Agreements

IN A SUMMIT dominated by other issues, including the Russian financial crisis and regional security issues such as Kosovo and Iraq, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin signed two minor arms control-related agreements during their September 1–2 meeting in Moscow. The agreements concerned the sharing of early-warning information and the disposition of plutonium no longer required for military purposes. Other arms control and non-proliferation issues, such as Russian ratification of START II, were discussed, but without major breakthroughs.

The "Joint Statement on the Exchange of Information on Missile Launches and Early Warning" has two main components. First, the United States and Russia will share, on a "continuous" basis, early-warning information on the launches of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles by any nation, a measure that goes beyond previous information-sharing agreements. (North Korea's August 31 test of the Taepo Dong-1 "is exactly the kind of information that we would have passed on to the Russians" had this agreement been in effect, explained Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for national security affairs, in a September 1 White House briefing.) Each side will be responsible for processing its own early-warning data, retrieved from launch-detection satellites and ground-based radars, at its national center before providing it to the other party. In addition, Yeltsin announced in his September 2 press conference with Clinton that a joint early-warning center, the first of its kind, will be established on Russian territory. Many details of the agreement must be worked out in the months ahead, however, especially with respect to the scope of the data to be shared.

Second, the United States and Russia agreed to establish a multilateral pre-launch notification regime for ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles. In this way, any state that chooses to participate could provide advance notification of a missile launch.

The joint statement aims to bolster the reliability of Russia's early-warning system. In his September 1 briefing, Bell said the joint statement "is especially relevant at a time when Russia's early-warning system is under stress from budget difficulties, systems failures and the closure of early-warning radars on the soil of nations outside Russia." Despite these concerns, however, the U.S. government remains confident that there is little chance of an accidental Russian nuclear launch. Ted Warner, assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, said at the September 1 briefing that there are not "significant dangers" of an accidental launch today and that the joint statement will reduce this small risk even further.

Washington and Moscow have been sharing information on missile launches and early warning for nearly three decades. Under the 1971 "Accidents Measures" agreement, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to provide each other with advance notification of any planned missile launches that "will extend beyond its national territory in the direction of the other Party." In addition, both sides were required to notify each other immediately if their early-warning systems detected "unidentified objects," though this provision was implemented only on a case-by-case basis. The 1971 agreement was expanded in 1988, when the United States and Soviet Union agreed to provide advance notification of any launch of an ICBM or submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by either side. At their 1995 and 1997 summit meetings, Clinton and Yeltsin also agreed to share early-warning information related to theater missile defense systems.

Under the "Joint Statement of Principles for Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes," the latest of several plutonium-management agreements between the two countries, the United States and Russia declared their intention to remove approximately 50 metric tons of plutonium each from their nuclear weapons programs so that the materials can never again be used to fabricate nuclear devices. According to Gary Samore, senior director for non-proliferation at the National Security Council, this amount represents approximately 25 percent of Russia's total plutonium stockpile and as much as 50 percent of the U.S. stockpile. The joint statement specifies that the plutonium must either be consumed as fuel in nuclear power reactors, or immobilized in glass or ceramic together with high-level radioactive waste.

Details of the plutonium agreement, such as transparency and verification measures, must be finalized. Also, the financial arrangements to implement the agreement remain to be made. In a September 1 White House briefing, Samore estimated that the agreement, which is expected to take at least five years to implement, is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States and Russia—a price tag that Moscow can ill afford at this time. (Financial issues have plagued a related agreement on the disposition of highly enriched uranium removed from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons. See story.) Nevertheless, the two governments hope to complete negotiations on the agreement by the end of the year.