Still facing a Cold War chill

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]

seriously."

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

August.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.