ABM and Arms Control, Part II
Last week we covered the genesis of the ABM Treaty. This
week we''ll take a look at the current arms control proposals on
the table as well as the pro''s and con''s of each. I will not use
this space to give too many personal opinions; that I will save for
the "Week in Review" link. [You may also need your glossary
from the 6/1 ABM piece.]
To review, under the 1972 ABM treaty, the U.S. and USSR were
each limited to two defensive sites and 200 missile launchers.
One site for the respective capitals, the other a land-based site
which could protect offensive weapons. Each side also has the
right to withdraw from the treaty on six months notice if it
decides that its supreme interests are jeopardized by
The best estimate today is that the U.S. has about 6,750 strategic
nuclear warheads (on ICBMs, submarines and long-range
bombers) while Russia has 5,400. Under the 1991 START I
treaty, both sides are to be below 6,000 warheads by December
2001. The January 1993 START II treaty was to target levels of
3,000-3,500 by December 2007. But each side has placed
preconditions on START II. The U.S. Congress insists START
II not be implemented (meaning the U.S. can not unilaterally
drop below 6,000) until START I targets are met by both sides.
For their part, the Russians won''t adhere to either treaty until
they are assured the ABM treaty stays intact.
Additionally, when analyzing the two positions, it is important to
note that Russia spends just $5 billion on its total defense
budget, the U.S. close to $290 billion. Russia''s economy is in a
shambles, the U.S. is the envy of the world. Russia can not
afford to maintain anything near its current nuclear force
levels. The U.S. can, but the Pentagon would rather see more
funds spent on conventional forces, the chief wish of the Russian
military establishment as well.
President Clinton and Russian President Putin recently concluded
a series of talks in Moscow and no further arms control
agreements were reached, outside of a decision to develop a joint
warning system in Moscow that will be manned by both sides.
The Clinton administration has proposed, over the past few
months, a new limited national missile defense (NMD). Under
the Clinton plan, the U.S. would build a system based in Alaska
and one continental U.S. position (probably North Dakota) for
the purpose of defending the U.S. against a limited missile attack
from "rogue" states such as Iran or North Korea. The NMD
would initially have a total of 100 interceptor missiles, building
over time to 250. In order for this proposal to be adopted,
however, the Russians would have to go along with amending
the ABM treaty since it is clearly a violation of existing
parameters. Of course, under the same treaty, we could simply
give six months notice and withdraw from it, but the U.S. doesn''t
want to pursue that confrontational route if it can help it.
While the U.S. talks of establishing the NMD to ward off an
attack from the likes of North Korea, the Russians see NMD as a
direct threat to their own strategic forces. While "limited" at
first, they fear that NMD could be enlarged to the point that
Russia''s declining nuclear forces would no longer provide a
reliable deterrent. Because of the sad state of their economy,
their force numbers are already being driven down. They would
like to see the U.S. offensive capability reduced as well.
Back when ABM was signed, the feeling was, on both sides, that
by limiting the defense option you were taking away the
incentive to build up offensive forces since both sides already
had more than enough warheads to annihilate the other, even
in a counterattack to a first strike. The U.S. argues that the NMD
proposed by Clinton would still allow the Russians to launch a
successful response to an attack as more than enough warheads
would get through any shield.
The Russians, and many of our allies, counter that NMD would
lead to a new arms race. Those with limited forces would seek to
build up their offensive capability in order to be able to
overwhelm any defense. And in the case of Russia, a new arms
race would further postpone any plans of economic recovery and
As to the point of NMD creating a new arms race, opponents of
it point not just to Russia potentially rearming, but mainly to
China currently has somewhere between 13 and 20 single
warhead long-range missiles. Regardless of whether the U.S.
builds a NMD or not, China is clearly going to build up, and
modernize, their strategic forces. The fear is that NMD forces
them to build to far greater levels than would otherwise be the
case. For example, would the U.S. find that by 2020 we face a
China with 500 nuclear warheads instead of 20?
But the implications of a resurgent China extend beyond its own
borders. What would its traditional enemy India do?
Undoubtedly, they would increase their own forces. And what
then would Pakistan do? An already bankrupt nation would
probably be forced to use its last bits of currency to try and keep
up in this projected arms race.
And China is also worried about U.S. relations with Japan and
South Korea. The U.S. is already in a joint venture with Japan to
develop a "theatre missile defense" for East Asia which China
fears would be used to protect Taiwan. And as for our
relationship with South Korea, obviously, as long as we have
30,000 plus of our own forces on the Korean peninsula, we will
be concerned about protecting them.
China feels that putting long-range radars and other advanced
devices in this region gives the U.S. the ability to detect and
destroy Russian or Chinese missiles as they were launched.
[Incidentally, NMD in China stands for "Ni Ma De." I don''t
know Chinese but I''m told it is not a very favorable expression
about one''s mother.]
China will do all it can to block NMD because, as strategist
Robert Kagan puts it, "(They) understand that a worried,
vulnerable America is more likely to be pliant in negotiations
over Taiwan''s future than a confident America. A NMD would
negate China''s entire strategy."
President Clinton has said he would decide on a NMD based on
four criteria: the missile threat, technological viability of the
program, the effect on arms control and cost.
Next week, the European reaction to NMD, the proposal from
candidate George Bush, and final thoughts.