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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Arms Control Experts Fault U.S. Withdrawal From ABM Treaty: Effective Missile Defense Deployment Still Years Away
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For Immediate Release: June 12, 2002

Contact: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x 107 or Wade Boese, (202) 463-8270 x 104

(Washington, D.C.): Arms control and missile experts criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which becomes effective tomorrow, June 13. President George W. Bush announced his intention to withdraw from the 1972 pact with Russia last December claiming that the treaty hinders the U.S. ability to develop ways to protect the country from long-range ballistic missile attack. Yet arms control experts say that scrapping the treaty will not accelerate deployment of workable missile defenses and that more effective, less costly steps should be pursued to address the threat from global missile proliferation. In addition, they argue that missile defenses are ineffective against more likely and more immediate threats to U.S. security, which demand greater attention.

"U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty does not increase the likelihood that the United States will soon deploy effective and reliable missile defenses because the technology remains unproven and unreliable," said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the independent Arms Control Association. "The sole U.S. anti-ballistic missile system now being tested to counter long-range ballistic missiles is very rudimentary, comprised mostly of surrogate and prototype components that have not been tested in real-world scenarios. Testing for this system could have continued without violating the ABM Treaty for several more years," Kimball noted.

The Bush administration is constructing a new, ground-based strategic missile defense site at Fort Greely, Alaska, where five missile interceptors are to be put in place by 2004. While the Pentagon claims the interceptors will be for testing purposes, it also contends they could be used in an emergency if needed.

"The Pentagon has not even produced let alone realistically tested the missiles, nor has it built an effective radar to track and discriminate potential targets and guide the interceptor missiles," said John Rhinelander, who served as the U.S. legal adviser to the SALT I delegation, which negotiated the ABM Treaty. Rhinelander described the Bush administration's proposed Fort Greely missile defense site as a "Potemkin village," explaining, "There is no there there. It is merely a facade without substance."

Philip Coyle, the former director of the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation, wrote in a May 2002 article in Arms Control Today, "Despite the Bush administration's push for missile defense, the only system likely to be ready by 2008 is a ground-based theater missile defense intended to counter short-range targets."

Other independent experts suggest that the Bush administration's obsession with missile defense is misplaced-an assertion supported by a December 2001 U.S. intelligence community report, which finds that "U.S. territory is more likely to be attacked with [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] materials from nonmissile delivery means-most likely from terrorists-than by missiles, primarily because nonmissile delivery means are less costly, easier to acquire, and more reliable and accurate."

Dr. Richard Garwin, a physicist who served on the 1998 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (also known as the Rumsfeld Commission), notes, "Fifteen million standard cargo containers enter the United States every year with a minute chance of being inspected. Why should a nation with a few ICBMs risk their being destroyed pre-emptively when other means are available for delivery?" In the case of a possible biological weapons attack, Garwin said, "The least likely and probably least effective attack method would be by a long-range ballistic missile."

"The highest hurdle to a foreign country or a terrorist group attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon is getting the necessary elements, which underscores the pressing need for the United States to help Russia secure, and eventually destroy, its huge stockpiles of warheads and weapons-usable materials," Kimball said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly called the U.S. ABM decision a mistake, has largely muted the Kremlin's reaction to the treaty withdrawal because of his desire to secure a legally binding nuclear reductions agreement with the United States, which took place May 24, and Moscow's general interest in improving U.S.-Russian relations. But the longer-range consequences of the U.S. action on future U.S.-Russian relations are difficult to predict.

Spurgeon Keeny, a former deputy director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, believes that, "Russia will move more slowly in reducing its strategic forces until it sees the direction of U.S. missile defense deployment and military doctrine. More ambitious U.S. missile defense plans coupled with concepts of pre-emption will produce calls in Russia for maintenance and strengthening of its strategic arsenal, which is the only force capable of threatening U.S. survival."

"President Bush's unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty sets a dangerous precedent," cautioned John Steinbruner, director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. "If the United States chooses to abrogate formal international agreements in defiance of the legitimate objections of the other parties, they are encouraged to act in the same manner," suggested Steinbruner. "The most fundamental interest of the United States is to establish and defend the rule of law. Military power is a supplement not a substitute for legal protection."

"The U.S. withdrawal reveals the Bush administration's arrogant disdain for world opinion and its own commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). This will make it more difficult for the United States to exercise leadership in organizing the international community to implement nonproliferation measures, and it provides a dangerous precedent for non-nuclear-weapon states to reject their NPT commitments to forgo nuclear weapons," Keeny asserted.

"The United States must pursue a more balanced approach to the missile proliferation challenge," advised Kimball. "Strategic missile defenses must still be proven to be operationally effective and their deployment may still lead other states to pursue destabilizing offensive countermeasures. Efforts must be redoubled to address missile proliferation at its source, such as resuming talks with North Korea on a verifiable and permanent freeze on its missile production, testing, and exports."

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. For more information on the ABM Treaty and U.S. missile defenses, see http://www.armscontrol.org.

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