Still facing a Cold War chill
- By Dan Verton
- Jul 10, 2000
The Clinton administration must rethink arms control policies if it is to
deploy a limited missile-interception system and avoid a nuclear arms control
crisis with Russia, experts recently warned Congress.
The debate about whether the Pentagon should go forward with its national
missile defense (NMD) plans has centered on the technical feasibility of
building a command and control network capable of detecting, finding and
knocking incoming missiles out of the sky. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish,
director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, attempted to put
the debate to rest on June 28 when he told the House Armed Services Committee
that Pentagon officials "believe the capability is here."
Yet the real hurdle facing the Clinton administration, and in all likelihood
the next administration, is finding a way to recast Cold War-era arms control
policies so that they take into account new threats and a changing international
landscape, defense experts told committee members.
The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and
the former Soviet Union is the foremost challenge to U.S. policy-makers.
The treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from developing or deploying
an anti-missile system on land, at sea or in space.
Committee chairman Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) said the problem is not
with NMD but with the ABM Treaty, which he terms a "Cold War relic" that
does not address new threats from other countries, such as China, North
Korea, Iran and Iraq. Stephen Cambone, director of research at the National
Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies, agreed, writing
that such regimes "are badly in need of being rethought."
"U.S. arms control policies — based on Cold War precepts — continue
to create roadblocks that prevent us from moving forward to acquire capabilities
that can strengthen deterrence against today's threats," said Robert Joseph,
director of the Center for Counterproliferation Research at NDU, in written
testimony submitted to the committee. Joseph went so far as to write that
the administration's attempt to keep the ABM Treaty intact has resulted
in an NMD architecture that "has become so contrived that it will have only
a minimal capability against near-term threats."
Although some legal scholars have argued that the demise of the Soviet
Union has nullified the United States' adherence to the ABM Treaty, Russia
remains opposed to the Pentagon's plans for NMD. When asked by Rep. Owen
Pickett (D-Va.) if there is any way to build a limited system that would
not violate the ABM Treaty, Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for
acquisition and technology, responded simply, "No."
Russia has since proposed an alternative to a U.S.-only NMD system.
The Russian plan, introduced during President Clinton's recent trip to Moscow,
calls for the use of theater missile defenses that would erect a defensive
umbrella to protect the United States, Russia and Europe from so-called
"states of concern." This system would provide what is known as a "boost
phase" defense, capable of shooting down missiles while they are still over
the territory from which they were fired.
Gansler said the Russian proposal is not viewed as a viable replacement
for NMD. The Russian theater defense system is "certainly not going to cover
the United States," Gansler said. However, "we have to take those [proposals]
The Pentagon is also studying various NATO-sponsored theater missile
defense plans, Gansler said. But he added that any NATO system would be
"more of a complement than a replacement" for NMD.
The administration's commitment to the ABM Treaty may also have caused
it to overlook what Joseph called "the most promising and cost-effective
avenues of defense." A sea-based ABM system — such as the type of system
used by the Navy aboard its Aegis destroyers — or a space-based system could
provide for boost-phase intercepts and offer the greatest potential for
countering the missile threat as it matures, Joseph said.
According to Gansler, the United States is pushing for modifications
to the ABM Treaty that would be acceptable to Russia and allow the NMD system
to go forward as planned. A deployment readiness review is scheduled for