"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
Missile Defense Consultations Abroad Yield Little Progress

Wade Boese

Senior Bush administration officials dispatched around the globe in early May to consult with foreign capitals about the U.S. intent to deploy missile defenses were asked many questions but were able to provide few answers because Washington still has not formulated specific plans. Foreign leaders welcomed the talks, but most withheld support for the nascent Bush vision of a new strategic framework, preferring to wait until they hear more details.

In a May 1 speech, President George W. Bush explained why he believes the United States needs to deploy missile defenses and “leave behind the constraints” of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. (See previous page.) But Bush also pledged to consult with other countries, saying that he did not want to present them with “unilateral decisions already made” and that Moscow and Washington should “work together to replace [the ABM Treaty] with a new framework.”

Less than a week later, the first of three high-level delegations, soon followed by the other two, traveled abroad for the promised consultations. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly traveled to Asia, while two teams, one headed by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman and the other by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, visited Europe. Over a nine-day span, the delegations visited 19 countries, including Russia and China, and briefed NATO.

At each of their stops, the delegations emphasized two themes: that Washington intended to hold true consultations in which other countries could express their views and that the world has dramatically changed since 1972, when Moscow and Washington signed the ABM Treaty. U.S. officials explained that Russia is no longer an enemy and that new threats arising from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction demand new responses, such as missile defenses. In this new world, the United States wants to “think in a new way about deterrence,” Grossman said during his May 9 stop in the Netherlands.

The delegations, however, said missile defenses were only one element of Bush’s new strategic framework, which will also include non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, and unilateral nuclear reductions. When pressed on specific details of these elements, particularly missile defenses, all the U.S. delegations demurred, saying it was too early for such discussions.

After briefing NATO on May 8, Grossman said, “The decisions about how, and when, and how much, are still decisions to come and, as we said today, decisions that have not been made in the United States.” Similarly, Wolfowitz in Warsaw on May 10 explained, “What we are talking about at the moment is still a concept.”

Although Bush made clear in his speech that he sees little utility in the ABM Treaty, the visiting U.S. delegations said its fate had yet to be decided. “There has been no decision about how to deal with the ABM Treaty,” Wolfowitz declared May 9 in Paris. Speaking May 11 in Tbilisi, Georgia, Grossman said, “It’s very, very important that you understand that there has been no decision to leave the ABM Treaty,” though he reiterated that, to create Bush’s new framework, “we may need to move beyond the constraints of the ABM Treaty.”

At their stops, U.S. officials declined to discuss the reactions and positions of their hosts, but on May 15, Pentagon spokesman Craig Quigley described the responses as “mixed,” admitting there was “skepticism from some of the capitals.” Quigley also said, however, that there was “some positive reaction” from certain countries, specifically identifying Poland and Australia.

India, a country that has long criticized U.S. strategic policy, described Bush’s speech as “highly significant and far-reaching.” New Delhi’s warm reception comes at a time when there are growing signs that the Bush administration may lift U.S. sanctions imposed on India for its May 1998 nuclear tests. When asked in India on May 11 about this possibility, Armitage replied, “The question of sanctions is one for the United States to resolve…but I think it is quite clear the direction we are heading.”

After the Armitage visit, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement welcoming U.S. plans for nuclear reductions and de-alerting, as well as the proposed “new Strategic Framework, based upon consultation and cooperation rather than confrontation.” But the statement also emphasized “the need to not unilaterally abrogate” the ABM Treaty.

Preserving the ABM Treaty and arms control in general also ranked high on European concerns. Danish Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft, appearing with Grossman on May 9, stated, “A unilateral cancellation of the [ABM] Treaty would not be a good signal.” With regard to missile defense, he said, “Of course, what is of concern to us in Denmark, and I think to very many Europeans, is that this should not create a new arms race.” French, German, Ukrainian, and Italian officials all publicly expressed similar sentiments.

In Turkey, Grossman said the United States hoped that there would be “as wide participation as possible in the development” of missile defenses, though he admitted that Washington is “far from asking any allies to do anything specific.” The United Kingdom, Denmark, and Canada—all countries that are expected to be asked to play some role in future U.S. missile defenses—have maintained that they will not take a stance on participation until the Bush administration has a specific request for them. Lykketoft noted that Denmark is “not ready to take any decision on a project that has not been described in any detail yet.”

Some in Europe even questioned the U.S. threat assessment. A French Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson on May 11 stated, “I don’t think [missile defense] is based on the need to face an immediate threat.” After his briefing to NATO, Grossman remarked, “While by no means everybody agrees on every single piece of the threat, I think there was a general recognition that the world has changed.”


Russia and China


Despite a May 11 stop in Moscow by Wolfowitz and Hadley as well as a May 18 visit by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to Washington, Moscow still questions that there are new threats. Igor Sergeyev, former Russian defense minister and now presidential adviser, reportedly described the U.S. justification for missile defenses as “laughable” after the U.S. delegation visit. Taking a more diplomatic tone, Ivanov said Russia understands “that times are changing and that new challenges and threats may arise.”

During his Washington visit, Ivanov proposed that the two sides form two working groups, one to study threats and another to look at how to “solve these problems.” The United States is considering the proposal.

After meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ivanov reiterated Moscow’s strong support for the ABM Treaty, saying, “We cherish this treaty.” Speaking earlier on a May 4 visit to India, he warned, “It is inadmissible to take reckless steps which can destroy the work of the existing mechanisms ensuring international stability and security with no guarantees that the new schemes will be more effective.”

Though taking a tough line on the ABM Treaty, Russian officials repeatedly remarked how pleased they are that talks on strategic stability with the Bush administration have started. Russian President Vladimir Putin will get a personal opportunity to continue the dialogue and narrow differences when he meets Bush on June 16 in Slovenia for their first face-to-face meeting.

China also expressed a desire to continue consultations with Washington on missile defenses after a May 15 visit by Kelly, though Beijing spoke even more bluntly against U.S. plans than Moscow. Beijing, which fears that even a limited U.S. defense could negate its small arsenal of roughly 20 ICBMs, said its opposition will not change and that Washington risks triggering a new arms race. The day of Kelly’s visit, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned that the U.S. plan to deploy missile defenses “harms others without benefiting the United States itself.”

Kelly attempted to reassure China, declaring that a U.S. missile defense “would not be a threat to China.” Nevertheless, the U.S. intelligence community assessed last fall that China would likely respond to U.S. defenses by building up its strategic forces.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, dismissed such concerns during a May 6 interview on NBC, saying that U.S. missile defense plans will not “affect one whit what [China] does.” He continued, “They’re going to develop additional weapons. They’ve said that, they’ve been writing that, they are doing that.”

In addition to its opposition to strategic missile defenses, China voiced objection to theater missile defenses (TMD). In fact, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that to a certain degree China would oppose TMD even more than U.S. national missile defenses if TMD were used to strengthen military alliances or were destabilizing to Asia—a not-so-veiled warning against the United States supplying TMD to Taiwan.

U.S. spokesmen denied that the results of the recent talks disappointed the administration. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said May 16, “There was never an expectation that people would go abroad and come back and have the allies say, ‘Sign us up.’” Likewise, on May 14 State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We are not going out to collect a bunch of pelts on missile defense.” Both said consultations will continue, and Boucher emphasized, “We intend to proceed with [missile] defense.”