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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Report: No Progress on Missile Defense, Nukes

Wade Boese

Russian and U.S. officials in September meetings failed to resolve disputes over measures to succeed an expiring nuclear arms reduction treaty or U.S. plans to base anti-missile systems in Europe. The two sides vowed to continue meeting.

Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, led a U.S. team to Rome Sept. 10-11 to meet with Russian experts headed by Anatoly Antonov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Security and Disarmament. The two sides continued discussions over their earlier proposals on follow-on arrangements to the 1991 START agreement, which is scheduled to expire Dec. 5, 2009.

START required the two countries to cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces of more than 10,000 warheads apiece to 6,000 or less each. It also established an extensive verification regime that the two governments still employ to conduct inspections and exchange data on each other’s nuclear forces.

Without that regime, the U.S. intelligence community warns it would not be able to confidently assess Russia’s future compliance with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which obligates each country to reduce its operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to less than 2,200 warheads by the end of 2012. In a July 2007 report to Congress, DeSutter’s office noted that the U.S. total as of Dec. 31, 2006, was 3,696 warheads. That unclassified report also stated that a secret version had an “estimated” tally for Russian holdings.

The Bush administration has maintained that intrusive verification measures or arms limits are unnecessary for what it claims is an improving relationship with Russia. In Rome, Antonov and his delegation did not persuade the U.S. side to agree to the Russian alternative: negotiating a post-START accord that mandates new warhead and delivery vehicle caps.

Russian experts headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak similarly failed Sept. 10 in Paris to convince U.S. experts to shelve plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an associated radar to Europe. John Rood, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, led the U.S. delegation.

Moscow contends Washington is exaggerating the Iranian missile threat and has volunteered to share data from the Russian-leased Gabala radar in Azerbaijan to jointly assess the threat. The Kremlin, which asserts the proposed U.S. anti-missile systems are actually directed against it, says its offer is off the table if the United States proceeds with its current plans.

On Sept. 18, Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), visited the Gabala radar to assess its capabilities. MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Sept. 24 that the MDA is still putting together a report on the visit but, from a U.S. technical standpoint, the Gabala radar “cannot replace an X-band radar, but it could be an adjunct radar.”

An X-band radar is what the United States is proposing to deploy in the Czech Republic to provide tracking details to missile interceptors so they can seek out the correct target in space. The Gabala radar would not be able to provide such precise tracking, but it could help cue the Czech Republic-based X-band radar by directing where it should look for the target. Russia does not support cooperating in such a fashion.

U.S. and Russian experts are expected to meet again on missile defense before an Oct. 12 Moscow meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and their Russian counterparts. The quartet is expected to delve into missile defense and post-START arrangements.