“It will take all of us working together – government officials, and diplomats, academic experts, and scientists, activists, and organizers – to come up with new and innovative approaches to strengthen transparency and predictability, reduce risk, and forge the next generation of arms control agreements.”
– Wendy Sherman
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
June 2, 2022
Russia, U.S. Working on Joint Launch Notification
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Tom Z. Collina

Building on their progress on arms control and nonproliferation, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met at the White House June 24 and issued a joint statement saying the two nations would continue their efforts to share early-warning data on missile launches. That effort, first promoted a decade ago as a way to buttress Russia’s weak early-warning system, is now seen as a way to advance U.S.-Russian cooperation on ballistic missile defense.

The Joint Statement on Strategic Stability noted ongoing U.S.-Russian efforts “to establish a mechanism to exchange data on launches of ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles obtained from their national early warning systems.” The ultimate goal of such cooperation would be to create an international launch notification system, the statement said, and “U.S. and Russian experts will meet soon to begin this process.”

The Obama administration has been openly promoting U.S. missile defense cooperation with Russia. In a June 24 interview with Interfax news agency, for example, Obama said that he is “a strong proponent of cooperating with Russia on developing missile defense systems” and that “[w]e have recently proposed to the Russian government a number of ways to begin this cooperation.” Obama said, “[T]he sharing of our technologies and information, which we currently collect about missile launches from third countries, can make both of our countries more secure.”

The missile launch notification discussions were first announced at the July 6, 2009, Moscow summit in a Joint Statement on Missile Defense Issues, which said that the two sides would “cooperate on monitoring the development of missile programs around the world.” The statement said Russian and U.S. experts were “intensifying dialogue on establishing the JointDataExchangeCenter, which is to become the basis for a multilateral missile-launch notification regime.”

Efforts to establish a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) date back to September 1998, when President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin first agreed to it. At that time, the United States was concerned that the poor condition of Russia’s early-warning system could lead to mistaken launches and crisis scenarios. Even so, 12 years later the JDEC remains unrealized, delayed first by various tax and liability issues and then by Russian concerns about Bush administration plans for strategic missile defenses.

The aim of the JDEC is to enable the United States and Russia to share in real time their early-warning data on ballistic missile launches worldwide. The JDEC would supplement Russia’s early-warning data with data from U.S. sensors and satellites and could potentially play a role in establishing cooperative U.S.-Russian approaches on missile defense.

The launch notification talks are being carried out by the U.S.-Russian Arms Control and International Security Working Group, chaired by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.

According to the Department of State, this working group is also “examining cooperation on missile defense, developing ways to enhance stability and transparency, and jointly assessing 21st century threats and challenges.” The group is part of the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission, coordinated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, established at the July 2009 Moscow summit. It has met 10 times since its creation, most recently June 16 in Moscow.

Within the group, the United States has offered a number of proposals for bilateral missile defense cooperation. According to a May 27 speech in London by Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, “[S]pecific areas of potential cooperation include, among other things: joint research and development; joint missile defense testing; joint modeling and simulations; missile defense exercises; and joint analyses of alternative U.S.-Russian missile defense architectures for defending against common, regional threats.”

“These recent proposals build on earlier initiatives that involved sharing missile warning data and providing timely launch notifications between our two countries,” Rose said in the speech at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies Missile Defence Conference. He also said that Russia made a proposal in 2007, which was reiterated by Medvedev in 2008, to share data from the early-warning radars at Gabala in Azerbaijan and at Armavir in southern Russia to monitor Iranian missile flight tests. “The United States remains interested in exploring this Russian proposal further,” he said.

Shared control of decisions on when and against whom to launch missile defense interceptors, known as a dual-key system, does not appear to be on the table, according to sources.

In May of this year, the United States agreed to notify other nations before it launches most, but not all, ballistic missile tests or satellites. (See ACT, June 2010.) This step was reportedly meant to encourage reciprocity by Russia, which for years provided such notifications regarding its launches voluntarily under the Hague Code of Conduct, but stopped two years ago, complaining that the United States and other nations were not following suit.

Expectations that missile defense cooperation would be on the June 24 summit agenda led to concerns that “the administration is secretly working with the Russians to conclude an agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), citing press reports, at a June 17 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replied that “whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit [the Russians’] willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense, but there is nothing in the approaches that have been made to the Russians that in any way, shape, or form would impose any limits whatsoever on our plans.”