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In the late 1990s, the United States began to focus on the possible deployment of defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. The planned National Missile Defense (NMD) system would have exceeded the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Recognizing this, the Clinton Administration sought to convince Russia to modify the terms of the Treaty. But Russia was unwilling to accept any changes to the Treaty. It also decried the U.S plan to deploy NMD, insisting that it would upset strategic stability and start a new arms race.
Russia claimed that the ABM Treaty is the "cornerstone of strategic stability" and that, without its limits on missile defense, the entire framework of offensive arms control agreements could collapse. Furthermore, Russia argued that a U.S. NMD system would undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent and upset stability by allowing the United States to initiate an attack and protect itself from retaliatory strike. The Clinton Administration claimed that the U.S. NMD system would be directed against rogue nations and would be too limited to intercept a Russian attack. But Russian officials questioned this argument. They doubted that rogue nations would have the capability to attack U.S. territory for some time, and they believed that the United States could expand its NMD system easily. Furthermore, they argued that, when combined with the entirety of U.S. conventional and nuclear weapons, an NMD system would place the United States in a position of strategic superiority.
During the Clinton Administration and first year of the Bush Administration, Russian officials stated that, if the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty and deployed an NMD, Russia would withdraw from a range of offensive arms control agreements. Furthermore, Russia could deploy multiple warheads on its ICBMs to overcome a U.S. NMD, or deploy new intermediate-range missiles or shorter-range nuclear systems to enhance its military capabilities.
Russia has also outlined diplomatic and cooperative military initiatives as alternatives to the deployment of a U.S. NMD. Russia has proposed that the international community negotiate a Global Missile and Missile Technology Non-Proliferation regime as a means to discourage nations from acquiring ballistic missiles. It has also suggested that it would cooperate with nations in Europe to develop and deploy defenses against theater-range ballistic missiles. Many analysts believe this proposal was designed to win support among U.S. allies for Russia's opposition to the U.S. NMD program. U.S. officials expressed an interest in the idea but said it could not substitute for defenses against longer-range missiles.
The Clinton Administration sought to address Russia's concerns by offering continued support to the fundamental principles of the ABM Treaty and by seeking to convince Russia that the U.S. NMD system would remain too limited to threaten Russia's nuclear deterrent. The Bush Administration, in contrast, has supported more robust missile defenses, but it also has stated that they will not be directed against Russia's offensive forces. The President has indicated that the United States will need to move beyond the limits in the ABM Treaty, but he suggested that Russia join the United States in developing a new strategic framework.
During the latter years of the Clinton presidency, the United States began to focus on the possible deployment of defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. The Administration, and many missile defense supporters, claimed that the United States needed to pursue National Missile Defenses (NMD) because "rogue" nations such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq might soon acquire longer range missiles that could strike U.S. territory, and the United States could not be certain that the threat of offensive retaliation would deter these unpredictable actors. The Clinton Administration realized that its plans for NMD would exceed the limits imposed by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union. Consequently, the Administration opened discussions with Russia in an effort to negotiate amendments to the Treaty that would permit the deployment of a limited NMD system.
Russian officials consistently and repeatedly insisted that the 1972 ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability (this is defined on page 4). They argued that any changes to the Treaty that permitted the deployment of defenses against long-range ballistic missiles would undermine international strategic stability, upset the nuclear balance established by the Treaty, and interfere with Russia's nuclear deterrent capabilities. During talks with the Clinton Administration, Russia refused to accept any modifications to the ABM Treaty that would permit national missile defenses and campaigned against the U.S. policy at meetings with other nations and international organizations. Russia also offered alternatives, suggesting that the United States, Russia, and the international community address emerging missile threats with diplomacy and arms control measures that would seek to stop the proliferation of new threats and with cooperation on theater-range ballistic missile defenses to address those threats that did emerge.
This report provides a detailed review of Russia's reaction to U.S. policy on missile defense and U.S. proposals for modifications to the ABM Treaty. It begins with a brief background section that describes the central limits in the ABM Treaty and U.S. policy on the deployment of missile defenses. It then describes, in more detail, Russia's objections to the U.S. proposals. The report also provides a summary of possible military responses that Russia might take after the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty and begins deployment of missile defenses and contains a discussion of Russia's proposals for diplomatic and military alternatives to the U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses. The report concludes with a brief discussion of the U.S. response to Russia's objections, a few issues for Congress, and a summary of the Russian reaction to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
The ABM Treaty
The United States and Soviet Union signed the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty) in May 1972. This Treaty prohibits the deployment of ABM systems for the defense of the nations' territory, or an individual region, or defenses that can provide the base for such a defense. It permits each side to deploy limited ABM systems at two locations, one centered on the nation's capital and one at a location containing ICBM silo launchers. A 1974 Protocol further limited each nation to one ABM site, located either at the nation's capital or around an ICBM deployment area. Each ABM site can contain no more than 100 ABM launchers and 100 ABM interceptor missiles. The Treaty also specifies that, in the future, any radars that provide early warning of strategic ballistic missile attack must be located on the periphery of the national territory and oriented outward.
The Treaty bans the development, testing, and deployment of sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based ABM systems and ABM system components (these include interceptor missiles, launchers, and radars or other sensors that can substitute for radars). Each party can propose amendments, and, in the Standing Consultative Commission established by the Treaty, they can consider possible proposals for further increasing the viability of the Treaty. Each party can also withdraw from the Treaty, after giving 6 months notice, if "extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." (1)
In September 1997, the Clinton Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Succession that named Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan as the successors to the Soviet Union for the Treaty. This agreement never entered into force because Congress insisted that the Clinton Administration submit it to the Senate for advice and consent, as an amendment to the Treaty. The Clinton Administration never did so, in part because it feared that the Senate might reject the agreement in an effort to abolish the Treaty. Some Members of Congress argued that the ABM Treaty was no longer in force because the Soviet Union has ceased to exist. The Clinton Administration, however, determined that, in the absence of alternative arrangements, Russia would serve as the successor to the Soviet Union for the Treaty.
The Bush Administration did not explicitly accept the argument that the ABM Treaty was no longer in force and Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz said the United States would withdraw before violating the Treaty. During their nomination hearings, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld referred to the Treaty as "ancient history" and Secretary of State Powell stated that the Treaty is no longer relevant to our strategic framework. The President Bush has also said that the ABM Treaty is outdated, and that the United States must move beyond the limits in the Treaty to deploy effective missile defenses. He announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Treaty on December 13, 2001; this withdrawal took effect on June 13, 2002.
National Missile Defense Plans
Clinton Administration. The Clinton Administration's plan for NMD, which it outlined in 1999, called for the deployment of 100 interceptor missiles at a single site in Alaska. (2) This system would have been designed to defend against a relatively limited threat of perhaps 20 missiles. Eventually the system might have expanded to 200-250 interceptors at one or more sites to defend against a larger and more sophisticated threat. It might also have included space-based sensors and components currently banned by the ABM Treaty. The Administration recognized that this site, and some of the technologies under consideration, would not have been consistent with the limits in the ABM Treaty. As a result, it participated in discussions with Russia in an effort to modify the ABM Treaty to permit a limited deployment. It would, however, have retained many of the central features of the Treaty that limit the capabilities of ABM systems.
President Clinton announced on September 1, 2000 that he had decided not to authorize deployment of an NMD system because he did not have "enough confidence in the technology, and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system." In two of three tests, the defensive missile had failed to intercept its target. The Administration announced that it planned to continue with research and development on its NMD technologies, and that it would continue discussions with the Russians about the ABM Treaty. But the final decision on whether to begin NMD deployment would be left to Clinton's successor.
Bush Administration. President Bush has emphasized that he places a high priority on defenses that could protect the United States, its forces, and its allies from ballistic missile attack. He outlined his Administration's approach in a speech on May 1, 2001, (3) when he indicated that "we can draw on already established technologies that might involve land-based and sea-based capabilities to intercept missiles in …