"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Issue Briefs

Will Prudence Prevail?

Daryl G. Kimball

This month, American and Russian leaders will try to resolve the decade-long impasse over further strategic nuclear reductions and the United States’ national missile defense ambitions. The opportunity for an agreement is close at hand, but success will require prudent adjustments in the White House strategy on missile defense and on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, as well as fundamental changes in U.S. nuclear weapons requirements.

Ten years ago, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the START I agreement. By December 2001, this treaty will have reduced each country’s 1990 levels of deployed strategic forces by more than 40 percent, to 6,000 warheads. Although both sides agreed to two more rounds of strategic reductions and to new guidelines on anti-missile testing, festering disagreements over missile defenses have blocked implementation of deeper arms cuts. As a result, the START process is in limbo, and the two sides maintain excessive Cold War-era nuclear arsenals, large portions of which remain poised for a quick and massive attack.

There now appears to be a genuine desire on both sides to reach an agreement on strategic offenses and defenses. President George W. Bush has adopted the language of arms control and disarmament proponents, calling U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons “expensive relics of dead conflicts.” Because the premises of Cold War nuclear targeting should no longer dictate the size and posture of the U.S. arsenal, he favors unilateral reductions of U.S. forces and removal of as many weapons as possible from hair-trigger alert. For his part, President Vladimir Putin supports reductions of deployed strategic forces to 1,500 warheads, using existing START verification provisions.

But after nine months of consultations, neither side has detailed negotiable proposals on strategic nuclear offenses and missile defenses. Until his October 21 meeting with Putin in Shanghai, Bush and his advisers insisted that the ABM Treaty must be discarded “within months” because it stands in the way of a robust national missile defense program. Administration officials gave the Russians the choice of joint withdrawal or unilateral U.S. withdrawal. To create additional pressure, the Defense Department has formulated missile defense program activities, including construction of a “test bed” in Alaska, designed to “bump up against” the ABM Treaty.

In Shanghai, Putin reiterated the importance of the ABM Treaty to strategic stability, though the Kremlin appears ready to allow more robust missile defense testing. To guard against worst-case scenarios, Russian leaders would prefer agreed legal constraints on strategic defenses commensurate with further cuts in strategic offenses. However, U.S. officials have thus far refused to offer or even discuss adjustments to the ABM Treaty and have not detailed planned U.S. nuclear reductions.

In reality, demonstrating the operational effectiveness of a nationwide anti-missile system will require many more years of tests, which can be pursued for a considerable time before final deployment and without violating the ABM Treaty. Rather than unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty in the near future, Bush could propose modifications of the ABM Treaty to permit a wider range of national missile defense work. Last month, the Pentagon announced its decision not to employ ABM Treaty-prohibited radars in the next round of missile defense tests. But if he is to reach a historic breakthrough this month or soon after, Bush must rein in hard-liners within his administration who are impatient to withdraw from the treaty.

President Bush also faces resistance from within his own administration to the fundamental changes in U.S. nuclear force doctrine that he has promised. Without U.S. nuclear reductions below 2,500 warheads, Bush will lose an important inducement to Russian flexibility on missile defense. A modest trimming of the nuclear target list, as some Pentagon planners might propose, or reassigning nuclear warheads from the active to inactive reserve stockpile, will do little to assuage Russian concerns or change Cold War nuclear postures. As a fundamental step toward his own goal of moving beyond the concept of mutual assured destruction and eliminating the mutual suspicion generated by large nuclear arsenals, Bush should direct the Pentagon to drop mass-attack nuclear war options and disarming first-strike capabilities. With this shift in presidential guidance, Bush could quickly secure a firm agreement with Putin, leading to phased reductions of each country’s strategic nuclear warheads—deployed and reserve—to 1,500 or less.

A historic agreement on deep nuclear reductions and missile defense research and development within the framework of the ABM Treaty is long overdue and would come at a crucial juncture in the U.S.-Russian relationship. If he makes the right choices, Bush can solidify the foundation for future cooperation, rather than confrontation, with Moscow.

Arms Control and the New 'War'

Daryl G. Kimball

As President George W. Bush and congressional leaders have correctly suggested, the response to the devastating attacks on New York and the Pentagon requires unprecedented international cooperation to prevent future outbreaks of terrorism. This new “war” will consume attention and resources, but Washington cannot lose sight of the related and equally severe threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Although the carnage wrought by the airliners-turned-flying-bombs is staggering, the toll from biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons could be even greater. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged the importance of “seeing that...weapons of vastly greater power...are not used by the kinds of people that attacked the United States.” Nevertheless, the Bush administration has so far failed to present an effective and comprehensive approach.

National, state, and local emergency response and public health systems to help treat the victims of any future attacks must certainly be fortified. But we must recognize that there is no civil defense plan, however robust, that can adequately protect the public against chemical, biological, and especially nuclear attack. The first line of defense is and must be prevention. Success depends on ensuring that the acquisition and delivery of these weapons remains technically challenging and universally unacceptable. This requires a sustained and coordinated international effort to extend and strengthen the multilateral framework of arms control and non-proliferation.

Unfortunately, Bush and his cadre of advisers have spent their first eight months in office dismissing, dismantling, and disavowing proven and promising arms control measures. At times, the Bush team speaks positively about a few treaties, such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, in keeping with its “à la carte” approach, the administration supports only those NPT provisions that constrain the capabilities of others, while it chooses to ignore U.S. non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. To work, this treaty, like so many others, must continue to serve the interests of all treaty partners, not just a few.

If the administration is truly committed to protecting the homeland, it must shed its disdain for multilateral arms control and non-proliferation and build upon the bipartisan mood that has enveloped Capitol Hill.

 Among other actions, the president should reconsider his rejection of the draft protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention and help achieve, not hinder, agreement on a strengthened text. He should utilize a part of the $20 billion approved for anti-terrorism activities to broaden and accelerate programs to secure and dispose of weapons-usable nuclear material and demilitarize chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union. The president should redouble U.S. efforts for strengthened International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and UN Security Council support for on-site inspections to help prevent Iraq from reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction programs. International support for these steps would be greatly enhanced if Bush moved to fulfill key U.S. NPT commitments. In particular, he should reconsider his refusal to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; initiate genuine negotiations with Russia on verifiable, irreversible nuclear force reductions; and agree to operate within the framework of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The latter objective will require an important adjustment in the pace and direction of national missile defense policy, which now calls for deployment of a rudimentary capability by 2004 and possible unilateral ABM Treaty withdrawal within months. Predictably, U.S. officials have resumed their push for deployment. But the airliner attacks highlight that, however capable they may someday become, strategic missile defenses are useless against cheaper and more available means of weapons delivery. Though U.S. officials have “consulted” with their Russian counterparts, they have flatly rejected inquiries about possible treaty modifications to allow for planned anti-missile testing and have not yet made proposals for nuclear reductions. Taking the time necessary to reach a lasting strategic weapons agreement with Russia would, among other benefits, help preserve the long-term cooperation of Moscow, Beijing, and other governments in the new anti-terrorism campaign.

As he tries to root out global terrorism, the president must not create additional proliferation dangers. He should decisively put to rest speculation that the United States might use nuclear weapons against targets in Afghanistan. Even the implied threat of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states could spur some states to seek their own nuclear weapons capability.

Just as the United States cannot combat global terrorism by itself, it cannot alone curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and reduce the risks associated with existing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons stockpiles. If the president and the Congress continue to ignore this reality, they do so at our peril.  

The Rogue Elephant

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.”

The administration’s actions following the apparently successful personal interaction between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June and July underscore that the administration’s pursuit of national missile defense has become an irrational obsession and not simply a misguided policy. A steady stream of senior U.S. officials has descended on Moscow and reciprocal visits have been encouraged. Great care has been taken, however, to emphasize that these are not negotiations or even discussions, but simply “exchanges of information” intended to persuade Russia that it has nothing to fear from U.S. NMD plans.

The administration is brashly proposing that Russia should join in repudiating the ABM Treaty, which Moscow strongly supports as the foundation of strategic stability. Putin and other senior Russian officials complain that they have received no information on the extent of the U.S. NMD program or future strategic offensive force levels, which U.S. officials say must await the current nuclear policy review. In addition, U.S. representatives have not made clear what, if any, formal agreement might replace the ABM Treaty. Russian officials, including Putin, have stated they are not interested in signing a “blank check” and see no possibility of resolving such a complex issue in time to celebrate agreement at the November summit at Bush’s Texas ranch. Whether the U.S. approach represents the irrational expectations of true believers or is simply a ploy to create an excuse for unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty remains to be seen. But unilateral U.S. withdrawal has garnered no international support, including from close U.S. NATO allies, who have been treated to similar condescending briefings.

While tied to its obsessive NMD craving, the administration’s desire to eliminate the ABM Treaty also reflects its fundamental opposition to all formal arms control treaties. The administration sees such agreements as constraining U.S. flexibility to use its superior technology and economic resources to achieve unchallenged military superiority. Confident of substantial U.S. advantage, it has no interest in constraining the forces of potential adversaries. In this spirit, the administration has dismissed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is not concerned by Putin’s assertion that U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would force Russia to withdraw from START II and even START I. This would eliminate the basis for verifying strategic reductions and allow Russia to retain its land-based MIRVs, including the 10-warhead SS-18 and SS-24 missiles, as well as future replacement MIRVed missiles. This rejection of formal treaties in general and particular disdain for the ABM Treaty because it is a “30-year-old Cold War relic” seems odd for an administration that wants to expand the Cold War NATO alliance to the borders of its new friend.

The administration now plans to unleash the same officials to persuade China that the U.S. NMD would not be a threat. If these briefings are anything like those given to Congress, U.S. allies, and Russia, setting forth a technological buffet from which the United States will construct a multi-layer defense, China will hardly be persuaded that such an undertaking, costing a few hundred billion dollars, is really directed at North Korea. To sweeten this bitter pill, the administration leaked that China would be informed that the United States was prepared to accept modernization of Chinese nuclear forces and would not object if China resumed nuclear testing, which the United States might also find necessary. When this proposal was widely greeted with shocked incredulity, it was denied by another senior official—in the cacophony of contradictory statements that have characterized exposition of U.S. foreign policy.

Having predictably failed to intimidate Russia to join in a crash program to dismantle the ABM Treaty and having found absolutely no international support, President Bush should re-evaluate the wisdom of this approach. Recalling the metamorphoses of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan to support arms control during their presidencies, influential Republican leaders should come to the aid of the Grand Old Party and persuade President Bush to adopt a less confrontational posture and avoid branding his presidency and his party as a Rogue Elephant.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.” (Continue)

Mission Impossible

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President George W. Bush’s abbreviated “grand tour” of Europe predictably failed to gain new support for U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to facilitate deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). Given the abject failure of Bush’s senior aides’ earlier frantic efforts to obtain blank-check endorsements in all major capitals for the U.S. NMD initiative, one wonders whether his advisers had become so imbued with the righteousness of their cause that they really believed the president could succeed in this mission impossible. His hosts certainly did not learn anything new about the substance of the U.S. position. Bush, however, must have learned something about the nature and intensity of foreign concerns over his administration’s plans in this area.

In a transparent effort to minimize negative reactions to the NMD issue, the trip conspicuously avoided Britain, France, and Germany in favor of Spain, Sweden, and Poland, and a visit to NATO headquarters in Belgium where NATO heads-of-state could be expected to be more constrained in any criticism than on their home turf. In the end, however, NATO did not give formal support for the U.S. NMD proposal.

Bush’s informal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was certainly the high point of the trip. Billed as simply a “getting to know you” social event without an agenda, the meeting proved surprisingly substantive and appeared to produce an unexpected degree of respect and cordiality between the two leaders despite major differences on a range of issues. In fact, Bush’s assessment of Putin—“I looked the man in the eye [and] I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy”—was so effusive that conservative commentators and Republican senators cringed in disbelief. Putin, while somewhat more reserved, spoke approvingly of Bush and the constructive nature of their exchange. Whether spontaneous or carefully planned, these reactions gave a very positive spin to two hours of frank discussion of their differing views on a wide-range of current policy issues, which Putin described in some detail to a selected group of U.S. journalists two days later in Moscow.

On the central issue of the ABM Treaty and NMD, Putin challenged the basic rationale of the U.S. position that North Korea and Iran pose a direct threat to U.S. security. He presented in some detail his conviction about the relatively primitive state of the two countries’ technology and proposed a U.S.-Russian cooperative effort to insure that rogue states would not become threats in the future. He pressed unsuccessfully for details on the planned U.S. NMD deployment and the aspects of the ABM Treaty that inhibited U.S. research and development, clearly suggesting the possibility of minor amendments.

Putin acknowledged that the United States has the right to withdraw from the treaty if it wishes to have complete independence of action. He warned, however, that this would give Russia the right to withdraw from START I and II so that it could also be independent of treaty constraints, allowing it to maintain its deterrent more economically. He emphasized that withdrawal would end mutual verification of future arms reductions and would increase the potential for rapid rearmament in the future. He stated that the collapse of the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship would adversely impact the nuclear non-proliferation regime by making it much easier for threshold states to claim nuclear status—a development contrary to the security interests of both the United States and Russia.

If Bush was listening—and Putin gave him credit for being a very careful listener—the trip will indeed prove to have been of extraordinary importance. Bush may now better understand why the rest of the world is deeply concerned about U.S. NMD plans.

Before allowing his administration to be further burdened with trying to persuade the world to accept a treaty-busting NMD, Bush should first revisit the value of such a system compared with its real costs to U.S. security. Can one really justify withdrawing from the ABM Treaty on the grounds that it might facilitate development and testing of undefined systems against uncertain future North Korean and Iranian threats at a probable cost of losing the START accords? Since START I and II substantially reduce and stabilize Russian strategic forces, which are the only threat that could destroy the United States, Bush should instead take his new friend up on the offer of a joint cooperative effort to eliminate incipient threats before they emerge.
This policy reorientation, which would receive almost unanimous international acclaim, would be far more likely to succeed than the achievement of a highly effective NMD and would do so at a fraction of the cost. And it would free the Bush administration of the increasing burden of a mission impossible of gaining international acceptance of U.S. pursuit of the will-o’-the-wisp of national missile defense.

Coup de Grace

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

The Democrats’recapture of the Senate may well have administered the coup de grace to President George W. Bush’s plan to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as the first step toward a robust national missile defense (NMD) in a world without arms control. Even before Senator James Jeffords’ courageous act of conscience, international opposition to Bush’s strategic vision was almost unanimous despite frantic administration efforts to win allied and world support, or at least acquiescence. Suddenly, instead of having a Senate controlled by extreme right-wing Republicans exhorting him to ignore foreign objections, Bush will have a Senate dominated by Democrats who share many of the same concerns.

In his May 1 speech at National Defense University, Bush reaffirmed his campaign rhetoric to reject the arms control regime built up over the past 30 years and to replace it with a system of military laissez-faire in which complete freedom of action would presumably result in the most security for the United States. In place of arms control agreements, the Bush doctrine would call for unspecified unilateral reductions in strategic offensive weapons. Unlike treaties, such unilateral actions could be arbitrarily changed at any time and, lacking verification measures, would not add to predictability or stability.

Alarmed at the continuing failure to line up foreign support, Bush followed up his speech with the dispatch of teams of senior officials to “consult” all interested parties but with the understanding that the United States would replace the ABM Treaty regardless of their views. Not surprisingly, all reports indicate that these mock “consultations” were generally counterproductive. NATO could not even be persuaded to give a nod in support of the U.S. position.

Top Russian officials expressed the common complaint that the emissaries and high-level officials in Washington were unable to provide any additional information on such critical issues as the threat justifying this precipitous action, the “replacement” for the ABM Treaty, or the unilateral actions that would replace the START process. In short, Bush essentially asked the rest of the world to give the United States a blank check to do whatever it wishes.

On the home front, in addition to growing skepticism from the media and Democratic members of Congress, Bush’s vision encountered opposition from two unanticipated sources: technical reality and the military. Bush’s inner circle was apparently surprised to discover that there is nothing remotely close to deployment and that the layered defense they proposed could not be operational for a decade or more. Even the closest candidate, the Clinton administration’s unproven midcourse intercept system, which the Republicans had roundly criticized, is years away from deployment. Moreover, the military, which does not appear to be deeply involved in the Bush administration’s planning, is not enthusiastic about being saddled with an open-ended, high-tech NMD that could well prove to be a “black hole” for defense funds that the Pentagon would prefer to spend on conventional force modernization.

In this environment, the switch in control of the Senate could be decisive in protecting the ABM Treaty and the arms control regime. With Senator Thomas Daschle as majority leader, Senator Joseph Biden as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Carl Levin as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, all of whom spoke out strongly in opposition to Bush’s May 1 speech, there will be a profound and continuing debate on the questions the administration’s emissaries could not answer, and public attention will be focused on the consequences of Bush’s vision. No longer will Senator Jesse Helms be able to stifle debate in the Foreign Relations Committee or Senator Trent Lott be able to manipulate the Senate agenda, as he did in orchestrating the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

True, Bush can still constitutionally withdraw from the ABM Treaty on his own authority. But to take this unprecedented action in the face of majority Senate opposition and almost unanimous disapproval in world opinion would be a truly irrational action for the leader of the world’s last superpower.

With the switch in the Senate leadership having effectively administered the coup de grace to any plans to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Bush now has the opportunity and the obligation to reassess his plans. Rather than risk the success of his presidency on withdrawal from the ABM Treaty for no purpose, because there is nothing to deploy, he should refocus the NMD effort on the research and development, most of which is permitted under the treaty, necessary for such a system. Concurrently, he should intensify diplomatic efforts to eliminate the perceived missile threat at the source. To regain U.S. leadership, rather than dismantle the arms control regime, he would be well advised to consider bringing START II into force, which should be possible in the new Senate, and to initiating the long-delayed START III negotiations.

The First 100 Days

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

From an arms control perspective, the first 100 days of George W. Bush's presidency have been a disaster. President Bush has demonstrated that he believes, and intends to implement, his campaign rhetoric condemning past arms control accomplishments and even the concept of arms control itself. Unless he changes direction, Bush will have effectively demolished the arms control regime that has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years.

Bush's intentions became clear when he surrounded himself with advisers drawn almost exclusively from a small circle of individuals who share the belief that arms control is fundamentally contrary to U.S. interests because it places limits on U.S. development and deployment of weapons. Supremely confident of U.S. economic, technological, operational, and moral superiority, these advisers would prefer to forego constraints on the military programs of potential adversaries than to reduce U.S. military flexibility.

The principal target of this undisguised animosity toward arms control has been the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This treaty, negotiated by President Richard Nixon and overwhelmingly ratified in 1972, stands in the way of Bush's announced intention to move as quickly as possible to deploy a robust national missile defense (NMD) system. Such an NMD system would be antithetical both to the treaty's blanket prohibition on systems to defend the entire territory of either the United States or Russia and to practically every specific provision of the treaty.

Recognizing that the ABM Treaty cannot be amended to accommodate a robust defense, Bush has set the stage for withdrawal from the treaty. While this is within a president's constitutional powers, it is not a trivial act. In fact, there is no precedent for U.S. withdrawal from a formal ratified and deposited arms control treaty. President Ronald Reagan, despite his enthusiasm for a "Star Wars" defense, never proposed withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

Bush's distaste for treaties has not been limited only to the ABM Treaty, but has also extended to formal restrictions on strategic offensive weapons. He calls for unilateral reductions, claiming formal treaties take too long to negotiate. Were he willing to use his influence with Senator Jesse Helms, START II could be brought into force promptly and START III negotiations could be undertaken immediately. Vague promises of unilateral reductions reflect the desire to maintain maximum flexibility in structuring U.S. forces with no constraints on future deployments. Freedom of action is given higher priority than the START II provisions eliminating Russia's 150 remaining 10-warhead SS-18 ICBMs as well as MIRVed SS-24s and SS-19s, and banning deployment of future MIRVed Topol-M land-based ICBMs.

In rejecting formal treaties, Bush abandons agreed verification procedures that will become increasingly important at lower force levels, as will specific provisions to guard against rapid breakout changing the strategic balance. In charting the nuclear future, Bush has apparently forgotten the admonition of President Reagan: "Trust but verify."

True to campaign rhetoric, the Bush administration states it will not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the spurious grounds that testing is required for stockpile safety and reliability. The administration apparently wishes to be in a position to test new types of weapons for new missions, such as low-yield earth-penetrating weapons.

As further evidence of his disdain for arms control agreements, Bush chose not to continue the promising negotiations, inherited from the Clinton administration, aimed at eliminating North Korea's ballistic missile development program and its missile exports. His personal public rejection of even attempting a diplomatic solution to this important problem was widely seen as reflecting not only a lack of interest in arms control but also a desire to maintain North Korea as a threat to justify his costly missile defense plans, as opposed to eliminating the threat at little or no cost through diplomacy.

The proposed 2002 budget for the Department of Energy includes substantial cuts for programs to reduce the leakage of materials and personnel from the Russian nuclear program. Coming on the heels of an independent bipartisan commission's recommendation to increase substantially the funding for these programs, one wonders about the administration's commitment to meaningful unilateral actions.

To say the least, the first 100 days have not augured well for arms control. The promised light at the end of the tunnel is not a glimpse of a new post-Cold-War, laissez-faire military paradise where the United States can do whatever it pleases, but rather an oncoming locomotive portending a disastrous collision with reality. Surely, President Bush does not want to be remembered as the man who killed arms control and replaced it with an ineffective defense in a world of military anarchy.

From an arms control perspective, the first 100 days of George W. Bush's presidency have been a disaster. President Bush has demonstrated that he believes, and intends to implement, his campaign rhetoric condemning past arms control accomplishments and even the concept of arms control itself. Unless he changes direction, Bush will have effectively demolished the arms control regime that has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years. (Continue)

Preserving the North Korean Threat

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

In deciding not to continue the Clinton administration's efforts to curb the North Korean ballistic missile program, President George W. Bush has gratuitously rejected a promising opportunity to improve U.S. security. In fact, the decision is so irrationally contrary to U.S. security interests that it is widely perceived internationally as intended to preserve, and even enhance, the North Korean ballistic missile threat so that it can serve as the rationale for early deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). This devastating assessment of U.S. motivation will only be refuted if the Bush administration's promised review of its North Korea policy leads to a prompt resumption of the deferred negotiations to stop Pyongyang's development and export of ballistic missiles.

The decision was apparently taken with little or no consultation with South Korea or Japan, the front-line states with the most at stake in U.S. missile policy toward North Korea. This latest example of disregard for the concerns of allies on the ballistic missile issue was underscored by the choice of the meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the principal architect of South Korea's policy of reconciliation with North Korea, as the venue for the short shrift of a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean ballistic missile issue. Kim was clearly very embarrassed politically at being blindsided and used as the backdrop for Bush's deferral decision.

Despite half a century of extremely difficult relations with North Korea, experience does not support Bush's hesitation in pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang. At a time of extreme tension, the United States was able to negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework, which froze the North Korean nuclear weapons program and provided for the phased elimination of the facilities that had been shut down. Without this arrangement, the world would today face a North Korea armed with several tens of nuclear weapons and could look forward shortly to a North Korean nuclear arsenal numbering in the hundreds. Building on this experience, the United States sought a similar arrangement curbing the North Korean ballistic missile program. By the end of the Clinton administration, negotiations had progressed to the point—characterized by U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman as "tantalizingly close"—to allow Clinton to contemplate going to Pyongyang to close the deal. Although time ran out on the immediate negotiation, the makings of a deal remain on the table. But this window of opportunity may well close because, in announcing its moratorium on missile testing, North Korea declared that its ban would last only as long as negotiations continued.

In rejecting Secretary of State Colin Powell's proposal, made the day before, that the Bush administration should take up the negotiations with North Korea where the Clinton administration left off, Bush suggested that it was not possible to negotiate with Pyongyang on the issue since an agreement required "complete verification" and Pyongyang may not be honoring existing agreements. Actually, Pyongyang has kept its side of the bargain in the Agreed Framework on its nuclear program as well as the United States has. As to verification, U.S. national technical means alone can monitor the critical elements of a ballistic missile agreement bearing most significantly on U.S. security. The tests required for the development of long-range missiles are easily detectable, and the export of North Korean ballistic missiles on a scale that would affect U.S. security would also soon be apparent.

If an agreement included a ban on all missile production and the elimination of existing missiles, additional verification measures would indeed be necessary. But, as desirable as these constraints would be, they need not be absolutely comprehensive to provide high confidence that the North Korean missile program had in fact been adequately constrained. Indeed, working out a mutually acceptable balance of obligations and verification measures is what negotiations are all about.

Whatever one may think about the need for a national missile defense, the United States will be far better off preventing the further development and unlimited production of North Korean ballistic missiles for the next decade before the enhanced NMD, which Bush apparently advocates, can possibly become operational. President Bush should therefore promptly revisit his decision to defer resumption of ballistic missile talks with North Korea and follow Powell's wise advice to resume the negotiations with the objective of reaching an early, adequately verified agreement. The United States cannot afford to be perceived as being prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to eliminate the North Korean missile program diplomatically in order to preserve the threat of a growing North Korean missile capability as a rationale for undertaking a major national missile defense.

Even the Last Superpower Needs Friends

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's decision to re-examine sanctions policy against Iraq suggests that the Bush administration may be moving beyond campaign posturing to real-world problem solving. In reviewing its foreign policy options, the administration must remember that even though the United States is now the only superpower, it cannot act alone in Iraq or elsewhere but must seek broad support to implement successfully controversial foreign policy objectives.

By driving a wedge between the United States and much of the world community, the sanctions against Iraq have undercut the U.S. policy objective of maintaining the international consensus that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to re-emerge as a regional threat armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ten years of sanctions have not rectified Saddam's truly outrageous behavior or brought down his regime. The sanctions have, however, come under increasing criticism by countries such as France and Russia that want to resume economic relations with Iraq and by many countries that believe the sanctions have unfairly impacted ordinary Iraqis. Although it is probably true that adequate food and medicine could have been available had Saddam not manipulated their distribution for political purposes, it is widely perceived that sanctions have resulted in serious privation among innocent civilians.

This situation can be remedied by limiting the sanctions to equipment that could potentially contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq's indigenous capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. This narrowing of sanctions would be a small price to pay to keep the countries presently seeking to end sanctions united in the effort to prevent Saddam's rearmament. In return for the relaxation of sanctions, Iraq would have to readmit United Nations inspectors, which Saddam has vowed never to accept. However, if inspections were reoriented from the almost impossible task of seeking out the last remnant of Iraq's pre-Gulf War WMD programs to the simpler but more important task of monitoring whether a WMD rearmament effort is underway, this inspections process could be a more focused and less intrusive effort. This would put UN inspectors on the ground while allowing Saddam to claim he had protected Iraqi sovereignty. If Saddam can be persuaded by countries favoring resumption of trade to accept such an arrangement, the main U.S. objective will have been achieved. If Saddam rejects the initiative out of hand, as he may well do, he will have lost much of his political leverage to end the existing sanctions.

As he reviews the world scene, Powell will also find that ample opportunities already exist to deal constructively with other non-proliferation problems. If addressed in concert with other interested parties (South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia) and not allowed to become fodder for U.S. domestic political posturing, North Korea's WMD and ballistic missile programs should be containable. And even Iran, where further political change seems likely, may present a fertile field for constructive diplomacy together with other concerned parties.

The opportunity for serious progress in bolstering the non-proliferation regime is within our grasp. But, if any of these efforts are to succeed, Powell must also listen carefully to what the world is saying about the apparent Bush commitment to deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) in clear violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Not only have Russia and China vehemently opposed the proposed U.S. NMD deployment, but Russia has also shown no interest in amending the ABM Treaty. Russia has even threatened to withdraw from START II—and possibly START I and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—if the ABM Treaty is abrogated. Moreover, U.S. NATO allies, Japan, and even South Korea, as well as almost all members of the United Nations, have also expressed serious concerns about the consequences of unilateral U.S. action to deploy a treaty-non-compliant NMD. Unless the United States backs off from its explicit threat to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and its implicit threat to eschew arms control treaties that would in any way restrict U.S. freedom of action, the international community is unlikely to follow the U.S. lead when it jeopardizes other countries' economic and political interests.

In the process of transitioning the Bush administration from campaign rhetoric to responsible policies, Secretary Powell should draw on his considerable talents and prestige to determine and communicate objectively to his new colleagues the attitudes of other countries to U.S. military and arms control policies. As in the case of Iraq, he must bring home to the administration that the United States needs the genuine support of the world community, which must not be alienated by objectives driven by U.S. domestic political considerations.

The Right Thing to Do

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President Bill Clinton's decision to "just say no" to the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) is probably his most important security decision. To avoid any misunderstanding, he also wisely refused to authorize contracts for preliminary construction work on the system that would have been seen as signaling a commitment to deployment. Although the NMD decision has simply been kicked down the road, Clinton's action has bought time and forced the next president to review the facts before making this fateful decision.

While Clinton's decision surprised those who view all actions as election-year politics, it was the only logical outcome of Clinton's position from the beginning. After he signed internally contradictory legislation making it U.S. policy both to deploy an "effective" NMD as soon as technologically possible and to negotiate nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, Clinton formally stated that his decision would depend on four criteria: status of the technological readiness, the threat, cost, and the impact on U.S. national security, including arms control. He also made it clear that this should be done by negotiating any necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty, which he has considered fundamental to strategic stability.

None of Clinton's criteria support a deployment decision at this time. The technology is not sufficiently advanced to permit a responsible deployment decision and there are also serious questions as to whether the proposed system can effectively defend against even a very limited threat because of its inherent inability to handle even simple penetration aids. The threat itself is questionable since North Korea, the country on which the system is focused, shows diminished interest in pursuing an ICBM capability and appears willing to abandon its missile program if the price is right. Moreover, weapons of mass destruction can be delivered much more easily by other means, such as aircraft and ships, against which NMD provides no protection.

If the need were real, the United States could afford the estimated $60 billion price tag, but it is not clear what the eventual price tag will really be, and presidential candidate George W. Bush's vision for the program would certainly cost hundreds of billions of dollars. But the real costs of the system—as Clinton clearly recognized—are the negative impacts of a deployment decision on U.S. arms control objectives and our relations with the rest of the world.

Russia has adamantly opposed deployment and refused on principle to consider ABM Treaty amendments, which it sees as a slippery slope leading to systems that could endanger its deterrent and undercut past as well as future arms control agreements. China considers the system a threat to its minimal deterrent. Our NATO allies are seriously concerned about the deployment for reasons ranging from the negative impact on relations with Russia to perceptions of U.S. unilateralism. In fact, it is difficult to identify any country that supports U.S. NMD deployment. Clearly, this is a high cost to pay for a system that probably would not work against a threat that is very unlikely to materialize.

Clinton's action has built some much-needed time into the NMD decision process for his successor. Candidate Al Gore has associated himself with Clinton's criteria, and the technical problems with the present system will not soon be resolved, while the perceived threat itself may well recede. There is also no indication that Russia will agree to amend the ABM Treaty or that China will be persuaded that the proposed NMD system is not a threat to its deterrent. While candidate Bush has called for a much more robust "global" defense, he has not revealed how this would be accomplished. He will find the system he envisages is much more complex, technically demanding and expensive than he imagines and that a responsible deployment decision is years off. As president, he would probably also discover that the international consequences of repudiation of the ABM Treaty are too high a price to pay for an undefined and probably nonachievable NMD system. One recalls Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968 for military superiority and as president after a year of intensive study proceeding to negotiate the ABM Treaty and SALT I.

The time that has been bought will also allow pursuit of diplomatic activities that could well reduce the perceived need for an NMD. These include: giving diplomacy a chance to work out the North Korean problem, building an international consensus to constrain Iraq, developing better relations with a changing Iran, and developing an improved cooperation program with Russia and China to counter missile proliferation.

In passing responsibility for an NMD deployment decision on to his successor, President Clinton indeed did the right thing. Freed from the pressures of election-year politics, the next president will have ample time to contemplate the implications of succumbing to the siren song of NMD.

Telling It Like It Isn't

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

As the debate on whether the president should decide this year to initiate deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system has intensified, the extent and significance of the missile threat has taken on an increasingly central role. The proposed system has clearly not been adequately demonstrated for a deployment decision to be made and a decision without Russian agreement to amend the ABM Treaty would clearly have serious adverse consequences for U.S. arms control policies, as well as for relations with Russia, China, and U.S. allies. Consequently, the question arises whether there is really a credible missile threat from North Korea and other "rogue" states that justifies deployment, despite the high technical risk and negative consequences.

In its 1999 estimate, the U.S. Intelligence Community, under strong congressional pressure, modified its methodology in assessing the missile threat from rogue states to focus on worst-case scenarios based on conceivable technological developments. This led to estimates that North Korea could now have a minimal capability to inaccurately deliver a non-nuclear warhead to Alaska or Hawaii and could develop a similar limited capability against the continental United States between 2000 and 2005. These estimates have been restated and significantly modified by senior administration officials who proclaim that a North Korean missile threat to the United States exists today. If these misleading statements are allowed to stand, the Intelligence Community will be credited, however unfairly, at home and abroad, as becoming the instrument for rationalizing a politically driven decision to deploy a NMD, despite overwhelming arguments to the contrary.

Few, if any, observers abroad agree with the U.S. assessment of the immediacy or significance of the alleged North Korean missile threat. In fact, the world looks in disbelief at the spectacle of the only remaining superpower cringing in terror at the prospect that a weak, impoverished North Korea might develop a missile capable of reaching the United States, and wonders what the true U.S. motives are in seeking a NMD.

Russian officials look at the North Korean threat as a clumsy excuse for a small deployment that would become a very slippery slope, eventually leading to a base for a robust defense directed at Russia. China dismisses the North Korean threat as a transparent ruse to deploy a system directed at China. Our NATO allies are confused and troubled by a U.S. program that appears unnecessary and provocative. At the upcoming five-year nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York, the rest of the world will undoubtedly make clear its collective belief that the North Korean threat does not justify an NMD deployment that would impede or reverse the commitment of the nuclear-weapon states to reduce nuclear arms.

The manner in which intelligence estimates have been modified and exploited by senior administration officials is particularly disturbing. In defining the earliest date of the threat, the secretary of defense and others changed the intelligence estimates' wording from "could" to "will." When this proved inadequate to inspire sufficient urgency, "will" became "is," which, in turn, has become "already achieved." This hyperbole in high places may make for effective rhetoric, but to those who do not have access to the heavily caveated estimate, it further demeans the credibility of U.S. intelligence.

To be fair, the authors of the estimate were clearly uncomfortable with their directed worst-case task and took pains to underscore that they did not consider political changes or diplomatic efforts that might influence the outcome, such as North Korea's declared moratorium on its missile tests and negotiations on its missile program's future. Of particular significance to a deployment decision, they also noted that there are much easier and cheaper means for a rogue state to deliver a few weapons than by ICBMs and that any nation capable of delivering ICBMs would respond to U.S. missile defenses by developing penetration aids, which others judge would easily overcome the proposed system. (See p. 33.)

An even more significant consideration is the extreme unlikelihood that a rogue state, having developed missiles capable of reaching the United States, would in fact ever actually launch an attack when faced with the certainty of devastating U.S. retaliation. Given the implausibility of such an attack, NMD advocates now raise the specter of nuclear blackmail, but this too is highly unlikely since it would invite a pre-emptive strike, unless the United States simply chose to ignore the threat.

Given these circumstances, the president's decision is not helped by bombastic rhetoric, telling it like it isn't, designed to inflame flagging public concern about the alleged North Korean missile menace. The president does deserve a considered, net assessment of the likelihood of such a capability developing and being used to threaten or attack the United States.


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