Russia Proposes Global Regime On Missile Proliferation

May 2000

By Matthew Rice

Offering an alternative to missile defense as a means to deal with missile proliferation, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged consideration of a Russian proposal for a global missile confidence-building and non-proliferation regime April 25 at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in New York. Combined with further reductions in nuclear arsenals, the regime would enhance international security and existing arms control arrangements by offering a "real alternative to the destruction of the ABM Treaty," Ivanov said.

Formally known as the Global Control System for the Non-Proliferation of Missiles and Missile Technology (GCS), the proposed regime was initially introduced by then- Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the June 1999 G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany. It was then discussed in Moscow March 16 at an expert-level meeting convened by the Russian government and chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov. In attendance were representatives from 46 countries and the United Nations, including Iran and large delegations from China, India, and Egypt. The United States sent an observer but did not participate.

The GCS would increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding by requiring nations to provide notification of pending missile or space-launch vehicle (SLV) test-launches. To discourage proliferation, the GCS would offer incentives to members of the regime that forswore the use of missiles as delivery mechanisms for weapons of mass destruction, including security assurances against the use of missile systems and assistance from the UN Security Council if such weapons were used. In addition, referencing Article IV of the NPT, the regime would provide for assistance in the peaceful uses of space for members that gave up missiles as weapons.

Modest international support has emerged for a stronger missile non-proliferation regime. The Russian statement at the NPT conference noted that Australia, Britain, Canada, and France had all made preliminary proposals on the topic throughout the 1990s. As Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy explained April 25, "There exists no treaty, no code of conduct, no set of guidelines defining responsible behavior in these areas. This is a matter that must be addressed."

The only current restrictions on the transfer of missile-related technology are embodied in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), created by the United States and its G-7 allies in 1987 to stem the proliferation of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Unlike the NPT, the MTCR is a voluntary, non-binding agreement and membership is restricted. The regime currently has 28 members.

Western countries have expressed a preference that preliminary discussions of a broader system take place within the confines of the MTCR. At an MTCR meeting held in Paris April 23-24, the United States, Britain, and France each offered steps to curb missile proliferation that would reinforce MTCR export controls. Proposed measures included increased dialogue with non-MTCR parties, pre-launch notification for missile and SLV launches, and international standards in the missile field. The proposals will be synthesized for discussion at an MTCR meeting in September to prepare for the regime's October plenary session.

U.S. officials responded to the Russian GCS plan during a January trip to Moscow by State Department Senior Adviser for Arms Control and International Security John Holum, according to documents leaked to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and first made public April 28. (See document.) While expressing general interest in the proposal, the United States was critical of specific elements in what it said were the proposal's four main points.

First, while supporting the multilateral exchange of test-launch data, Washington expressed concern that the GCS plan could "legitimize the missile programs of rogue states." Second, it maintained that assuring the security of countries that renounce their missile programs is "unfeasible." Third, the United States argued against using "one-size-fits-all" incentives to encourage states to forgo missile programs at the expense of targeted bilateral efforts, and expressed particular concern that aid to peaceful space programs could be readily applied to military missile programs. Finally, the United States said that the MTCR should remain the only forum for discussing such matters. "We do not believe that broad multilateral discussions will be productive at this time," the U.S. documents state.

Both Russia and the United States have expressed interest in continuing discussion on the GCS. While the Russian government has stated its intention to open the proposal for debate at the "millennium session" of the United Nations General Assembly, which begins September 5, it remains to be seen whether it will be on the agenda for the June summit meeting between Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin.