Removing the ABM Treaty Obstacle to U.S. and Soviet DefensesAgainst Missiles

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Removing the ABM Treaty Obstacle to U.S. and Soviet DefensesAgainst Missiles

November 15, 1991 24 min read Download Report
Baker Spring
Baker Spring
Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Baker is a former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy


After years of effort by Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the United States and the Soviet Union finally are within sight of an agreement to replace or modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit deployment of effective defenses against missile attacks. This may be the most important geostrategic development of the post-Cold War period.

What is responsible for this? First, in a dramatic reversal of Soviet policy, Mikhail Gorbachev on October 5 announced Moscow's willingness for the first time to consider U.S. proposals to deploy missile defense systems. Second, the House and Senate are expected within days to recommend deployment of a limited missile defense system, and to direct Bush to negotiate changes in the ABM Treaty to permit these deployments.

With these developments, suddenly the way is open to push aside the antiquated ABM Treaty and reach a new agreement with Moscow on the mutual and cooperative deployment of missile defenses. Bush should seize this opportunity by tabling a detailed proposal at the ongoing U.S-Soviet Defense and Space Talks (DST) in Geneva to replace the ABM Treaty.

Real Threats
Changes of heart in Moscow and the U.S. Congress on the missile defense issue are motivated by the same developments. The Persian Gulf War brought home to missile defense opponents in both countries that ballistic missile proliferation poses a growing threat to their territories. Ringed as it is by such nuclear powers as China, India, and almost surely Pakistan, and such potential nuclear powers as Iran, the threat of missile attack is even more immediate for Russia and the other Soviet republics than it is for America. The coming breakup of the Soviet Union, moreover, has increased the risk of proliferation and of accidental or unauthorized launches of parts of the Soviet arsenal. This threat, too, is even more real for Moscow than for Washington.

As it stands, the ABM Treaty is too restrictive to allow either America or the Soviet Union to deploy effective defenses against even limited missile strikes. It also restricts the development and testing of missile defense systems in ways that prevent America from fielding the most modern and efficient defenses. The DST negotiations in Geneva are the best forum for Bush to present his plans for replacing or modifying the treaty to overcome these prohibitions and allow for the timely deployment of modern and effective defenses. Bush's objectives at DST should include:

An agreement to allow eight sites of up to 100 ground-based interceptors and up to 1,000 interceptors in space. The single site of 100 interceptors allowed by the ABM Treaty, as amended in 1974, cannot provide even a limited nationwide defense. For this, at least eight sites of 100 interceptors each are required, along with space-based interceptors. This system offers "layered" protection by destroying missiles shortly after launch. Space-based interceptors, because of their global coverage, also can protect America's allies.

An expiration date
As now written, the ABM Treaty remains in force in perpetuity unless one side or the other withdraws. The lack of provision for regular renegotiation is one reason the treaty has become an anachronism in the face of a changing strategic environment. Whether the ABM Treaty is amended or superseded by a new agreement, a termination date of December 31, 1999, should be imposed, after which all restrictions on anti-missile defenses would be removed unless the two sides agreed otherwise.

Relaxed restrictions on the development and testing of non-nuclear ABM launcher and interceptor systems and components. Soviet and U.S. negotiators at DST have disagreed for years over what restrictions the ABM treaty imposes on the development and testing of ABM systems and components, including launchers and interceptors. Moscow has interpreted the treaty to prevent the U.S. from testing SDI systems in space. Moscow's position has been backed by ABM opponents in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere. The Reagan and Bush Administrations have interpreted the Treaty's limitations more broadly as permitting various space-based tests. The debate can be ended by simply easing restrictions to allow most tests, enabling both sides to develop the systems needed for a nation-wide limited defense.

An agreement to remove all restrictions on the development, testing, and deployment of ABM sensors. The ABM Treaty severely restricts the development, testing, and deployment of ABM radars, and perhaps other sensors, that detect missiles as they fly toward their targets and communicate information to interceptor systems. These restrictions are designed to prevent the deployment of just the type of effective nationwide defenses now contemplated. They also are ambiguous and in some cases virtually impossible to verify. Freeing each side to develop, test, and deploy sensors will eliminate all ambiguity and allow both sides to build nationwide defenses against limited attacks.

An agreement that clarifies and updates the distinction between "theater" and "strategic" defenses. The ABM Treaty limits only defenses against "strategic" missiles. This long has meant intercontinental ballistic missiles -- known as ICBMs -- or long-range missiles fired from submarines. But as other countries have been acquiring new missiles of their own, some of which have flight characteristics similar to some U.S. and Soviet "strategic" missiles, the ABM treaty's distinction between "strategic" and shorter-range or "tactical" missiles has become blurred. As a result, for example, the ban on defenses against strategic missiles could interfere with America's program to build and deploy anti-tactical ballistic missile systems, such as the Theater High Altitude Area Defense System (THAADS), to defend U.S. forces in the field and allies against advanced tactical missiles. The distinction between "strategic" and "tactical" defenses should be redefined and clarified in a way that permits the U.S. and the Soviet Union to develop and deploy effective theater defenses.

An agreement to ease prohibitions on the transfer of non-nuclear ABM technology to allies. Such allies as Britain, Germany, and Israel all have participated in the U.S. SDI program. Yet the ABM Treaty now bans the U.S. from transferring ABM components and technologies to these countries or to other friends and allies. It is in America's interests, as well as theirs, that these restrictions be eased substantially.

Participation of Russian Republic representatives in the negotiations
As things now stand, it is likely that the Soviet central government will not survive for the months and perhaps years it will take to forge an agreement at the DST negotiations. Representatives of the Russian Republic therefore should be invited to join the negotiations. A provision should be made for Russia -- and whatever coalition of republics it may patch together -- to take over Soviet treaty obligations and its place at the negotiating table in the event the Soviet government falls.

Negotiations to Change the ABM Treaty: A Tortured History

While Gorbachev's October 5 announcement is a startling breakthrough in U.S.-Soviet cooperation on strategic defense, the two sides in fact have been negotiating in Geneva over the future of the ABM Treaty since March 1985. There, at the Defense and Space Talks (DST), progress has been frustrated by Soviet attempts to use the talks to kill the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program, (The terms "ABM," for Anti-Ballistic Missile, and "SDI," for Strategic Defense Initiative, often are used interchangeably to refer in general to strategic defenses against ballistic missile attack.) first unveiled in March 1983 by Ronald Reagan. From the beginning of the talks, the U.S. sought an agreement that would allow both sides to develop, test, and deploy ABM systems and components outside the confines of the ABM Treaty. This position is close to what Gorbachev now seems to be proposing. The U.S., therefore, can draw on its experience in the DST negotiations in formulating a response to Gorbachev's most recent proposal. (For an analysis of the Defense and Space Talks, see: Ambassador Henry F. Cooper, "SDI and Arms Control" in Kim R. Holmes and Baker Spring, eds., SDI At The Turning Point: Readying Strategic Defenses for the 1990s and Beyond (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1990), pp. 77-99.)

Talks Languish
DST initially was grouped together under the rubric of the Nuclear and Space Talks, along with Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) negotiations and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). INF reached fruition in 1987 with a treaty to abolish an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear missiles on both sides. START was signed by Bush and Gorbachev in Moscow this July 31. DST, meanwhile, languishes.

At the outset of DST, the U.S. sought an agreement that would allow both sides to deploy strategic defenses, outside the confines of the ABM Treaty. The U.S. also sought to increase U.S.-Soviet cooperation on strategic defense by sharing information on research, testing, and deployments. The Soviets, by contrast, sought a commitment from the U.S. that it would not abrogate the ABM Treaty for a specified period of time. Moscow's negotiators also tried to restrict severely U.S. SDI testing.

The Soviet position at times seemed adamant. Example: Moscow indicated that it would not agree to any reductions in offensive weapons in either the INF or START negotiations, unless the U.S. agreed to abide by the ABM Treaty. Insisting on such strong "linkage" was the Soviet position until after the superpower summit at Reykjavik in October 1986. There Reagan refused to budge on his commitment to proceed with SDI even when Gorbachev offered, as an inducement for the U.S. to abandon SDI, deep cuts in Soviet nuclear weapons.

Reagan's firm resolve apparently surprised and shook Gorbachev. Several months later, therefore, on February 27, 1987, Gorbachev "de- linked" the DST negotiations from the INF talks, thus allowing the INF Treaty to go ahead even if America continued to work on SDI. At the December 1987 Reagan-Gorbachev INF Treaty summit in Washington, the two sides struck a new compromise on SDI. Essentially, the U.S. agreed that it would observe the ABM Treaty for a limited -- but undefined -- period of time, and participate in discussions on strategic stability. Moscow agreed that no restrictions would be imposed on strategic defenses after the limited period ended unless both sides agreed otherwise in the interim. Moscow also agreed to allow the U.S. to test some ABM systems in space. (The White House, The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 23, No. 49, December 14, 1987, pp. 1495-1496.)

Soviets Disappointed
For the eighteen months following the summit, the two sides debated the meaning of their SDI compromise. Moscow attempted to withdraw commitments made in Washington on testing and on linkage, seeking again to link a DST agreement on SDI with the START negotiations then in progress. The two sides pretty much were back where they had begun in 1985. Moscow clearly had decided to wait out the remainder of the Reagan Administration, hoping to get a better deal from Reagan's successor. They were disappointed. Bush adopted the Reagan negotiating position at the DST talks.

The Genesis of Moscow's Turnaround

By the time Bush took office in 1989, global events were underway that ultimately would influence Moscow's approach to SDI. The overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe, and the weakening of the monolithic Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet state led to a more open debate in the Soviet Union on SDI, and to a fundamental questioning of the precepts of Soviet security as defined by the Communist Party throughout the Cold War.

By early last year, articles started appearing in Soviet military publications and civilian journals urging a genuine compromise with the U.S. on SDI. (For a catalogue of these Soviet statements, see: Keith B. Payne, Soviet Statements Sympathetic to Mutual BMD Deployment, Information Series No. 182, The National Institute for Public Policy, June 1990.) After years of resolve by the Reagan and Bush Administrations, the Soviet ice had begun to melt.

In January 1991, with the Soviet threat on the wane, Bush shifted America's SDI program away from defense against an all-out Soviet attack and toward protecting America against accidental, unauthorized, or limited strikes from a collapsing Soviet Union or from the Third World. Some in Moscow suggested that the Soviet Union, perhaps even more than the U.S., should be concerned about missile proliferation in the Middle East and elsewhere around the Soviet periphery. (The hardline Soyuz (Union) faction leader in the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, Colonel Viktor I. Alksnis made this point in a speech before the Congress on October 15, 1990.)

Then the Persian Gulf War brought home to both Washington and Moscow the dangers of proliferation, and the idea that traditional notions of deterrence, based on the threat of retaliation, simply would not deter an irrational dictator armed with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. A consensus began building in both Washington and Moscow that strategic defenses are essential if either country is to remain secure in the 1990s and beyond.

Gorbachev's Shocker
At the July 16, 1991, industrial nations' economic summit in London, Gorbachev signalled a change in Moscow's position on fielding defenses against ballistic missiles, pledging to cooperate with Western countries on questions related to early warning of missile strikes. The signing of the START Treaty in Moscow on July 31 demonstrated that Moscow had backed away from its threats to withdraw from START if the U.S. failed to observe the ABM Treaty, although an ambiguous, face-saving statement was inserted into the negotiating record. The accelerating shift in Moscow's position culminated on October 5. In a televised address, Gorbachev said "We [the Soviet Union] are prepared to consider proposals from the United States of America on non-nuclear anti-missile defense systems." This signaled Moscow's recognition that it could not force Washington to kill the SDI program.

The Soviet history of ambiguity and policy reversals on the strategic defense issue indicates that hard negotiating likely lies ahead, despite Gorbachev's apparent acceptance of some level of strategic defense. Coming as it did along with sweeping proposals for offensive weapons cuts, the Gorbachev proposal clearly repudiates the former Soviet position that defenses are incompatible with offensive reductions. Still to be resolved, however, are the specific terms for allowing the deployment of defenses outside the confines of the ABM Treaty and what sort of testing may take place prior to deployments.

The record of the DST negotiations reveals that the ABM Treaty in many respects is an ambiguous document, and that several important technical issues, including questions about restrictions on ABM sensors, exporting defense technologies, and distinguishing between strategic and tactical missile defenses, also remain to be resolved in the course of negotiations.

Going Beyond the 1972 ABM Treaty

When the two sides get down to serious negotiating over strategic defenses, they quickly will discover that at least seven flaws in the ABM Treaty will have to be remedied. (For the text of the ABM Treaty and the 1974 Protocol amending the Treaty, see the Appendix.)

FLAW #1: ABM Treaty restrictions do not permit deployment of even a limited nationwide defense against ballistic missiles.

Article III of the ABM Treaty, as amended by a July 3, 1974, protocol, limits America and the Soviet Union each to one site of no more than 100 stationary launchers and interceptors. Article V of the Treaty bans, or severely restricts, the deployment of space-based or other interceptors that are not stationary land-based systems. Because of these restrictions, America cannot deploy enough interceptors of the types required to defend its entire territory against limited missile strikes.

The Soviet Union has deployed its single permitted ABM site around Moscow, providing some coverage for the capital and its environs. America, by contrast, does not have even a lone ABM site. And even were the U.S. to activate its single permitted site, at Grand Forks, North Dakota, and install the most sophisticated ground-based interceptors now under development, it could not protect coastal areas, southern states, or Alaska and Hawaii.

The Remedy: An agreement to allow eight sites of up to 100 ground- based interceptors and up to 1,000 interceptors in space.

This agreement would allow the U.S. to deploy the anti-missile defense system known as G-PALS, for Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. With its 750 ground-based interceptors and space-based interceptors known as Brilliant Pebbles, G-PALS will protect the entire country against strikes of up to 200 warheads. To remove any uncertainty about the scope of deployments on each side, a separate memorandum of understanding should be drafted to outline broad verification and "confidence-building" measures, which would include exchanges of information on the location of ground-based deployments, provisions for mutual inspections, and shared information on the numbers and essential characteristics of deployed space-based interceptors.

FLAW #2: The ABM Treaty has no expiration date.

Article XV of the ABM Treaty declares: "This Treaty shall be of unlimited duration." But the politics and technology of missile defense have changed dramatically in the nearly two decades since the ABM Treaty was signed on May 26, 1972. Nobody then could have predicted, for example, that the treaty-designated Soviet ABM test site at Sary Shagan might become part of an independent Kazakhstan, or that U.S. negotiators would have to be thinking about with whom to negotiate if the Soviet central government collapses. Similarly, ABM Treaty negotiators in 1972 could not have taken into account the increased dangers of accidental launch posed by the proliferation of ballistic missile and nuclear weapon technology. And the ABM Treaty, written at a time when the only missile interceptors under development were armed with nuclear weapons, could not adequately take into account modern technologies, such as hit-to-kill kinetic energy weapons and advanced sensor systems, that make effective non-nuclear nationwide defenses feasible and affordable.

Most other important arms control agreements include expiration dates, recognizing that the politics and technology evolve, and that agreements made in one decade may not hold up in the next. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) II Treaty, would have expired at the end of 1985 even if it had been approved by the U.S. Senate. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed by Bush and Gorbachev on July 31, reportedly will expire fifteen years after ratification. Even the multilateral Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will expire in 1995, unless an agreement is reached to extend it.

The Remedy: An expiration date.

Given the rapidly changing technology of strategic defense, and such political developments as ballistic missile proliferation and the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely that any agreement on strategic defenses signed today will remain relevant much past the turn of the century, if that long. Whether the ABM Treaty is amended or superseded by a new pact, an expiration date should be set. December 31, 1999, is a reasonable date given the pace of political and technological developments. This date also makes sense because the U.S. will be completing its G-PALS deployments and will be ready to reevaluate its defensive requirements. After December 31, 1999, either side would be unrestricted in testing and deploying new strategic defense systems, unless a new agreement is reached.

FLAW #3: ABM Treaty limits on the development and testing of ABM launchers and interceptors are too strict and in some cases unclear.

Article V of the ABM Treaty bars either side from developing and testing "ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based." This article, however, does not ban the development and testing of advanced technologies based on "other physical principles," unknown in 1972. These technologies, in fact, are subject to discussion between the U.S. and Soviet Union, as set forth in Agreed Statement D that accompanies the Treaty.

Beginning in the 1980s, it became clear that the U.S. and Soviet Union -- and experts within the U.S. -- differed substantially over what kind of tests are permitted by the treaty. Particularly in dispute were tests in space. The crux of the debate was over what constitutes "research" and what constitutes "development" and "testing." The ABM treaty permits all research, but places some restrictions on development and testing. Although the Soviet position has varied, its basic assertion had been that space-based tests, even in the course of research, are not permitted because they would provide the base for a territorial defense, which is prohibited by Article I of the ABM Treaty.

Meanwhile, proponents in America of what came to be known as the "narrow" interpretation of the ABM Treaty also sought to prevent SDI tests in space, narrowly defining development and testing, such that they are banned by the treaty. The Reagan Administration by contrast made the case for a "broad" interpretation of the ABM Treaty. It also made the case that systems based on "other physical principles" not known in 1972, could be tested after discussion with Moscow and unless agreed otherwise; SDI opponents argued the contrary, that such tests were barred unless otherwise agreed.

The Remedy: An agreement to allow development and testing of most non-nuclear ABM launcher and interceptor systems and components.

By eliminating most restrictions on the development and testing of missile defense launchers and interceptors, the hair-splitting treaty interpretation debates of the 1980s can be relegated to history. An agreement should be reached that allows both sides to develop and test any new non-nuclear strategic defense interceptors or launchers, whether mobile, land-, sea-, air-, or space-based. (If the Treaty is amended, one easy way to exempt these systems from limits would be to agree that they all constitute systems based on "other physical principles" under Agreed Statement D, and that all development and testing of such systems henceforth will be allowed.) So that each side can be confident that tests are not being used as a cover to breach the limits on deployment set by the new agreement, each side would agree to confidence-building measures, including open exchanges of information, and verification procedures, including on- site inspections.

If the treaty is amended, a ban can remain on developing and testing interceptors with multiple warheads and launchers that can be rapidly reloaded, since the U.S. has no plans to deploy such systems over the next decade -- assuming of course that a termination date is set for the treaty. The U.S. also can continue to accept the treaty's testing limits on stationary, ground-based interceptors of the type deployed in 1972, and still deployed around Moscow -- namely nuclear- armed interceptors. Exempting most non-nuclear launchers and interceptors from any restrictions on development and testing imposed by Article V of the ABM Treaty will serve several purposes. First, it will allow the U.S. adequately to test all systems needed to deploy an effective nationwide defense, including ground- and space-based systems, against a limited nuclear strike. Second it will allow Moscow to continue to test its currently deployed ABM interceptors under the more strict standards imposed by Article V, while providing incentives for the Soviet Union to move away from dangerous nuclear-armed interceptors. Finally, it will put to rest the debate over the broad versus narrow interpretations of the ABM Treaty.

FLAW #4: The Treaty imposes restrictions on the development, testing and deployment of ABM sensors that are too severe and unverifiable.

ABM sensors are radars or other systems that detect and track ballistic missiles in flight. Article III of the ABM Treaty limits severely the numbers and locations of deployed ABM radars. The Treaty even imposes restrictions on radars that are not specifically ABM radars. Under Article VI, powerful early-warning radars must be located "along the periphery" of each nation's territory and "oriented outward." It is this provision that was violated when Moscow constructed its massive radar site at Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, in the 1980s. Smaller radars capable of managing and directing a defensive battle are also restricted and limited to allowed ABM sites. Within these limits, neither side can deploy a radar system capable of providing even a limited nationwide defense.

The ABM Treaty also addresses the question of systems capable of "substituting for ABM radars," restricting their development, testing, and deployment. This could include systems like the space-based infrared sensors planned for G-PALS. Debate over the limits on development and testing of these "substitute" systems also is subject to "broad" and "narrow" interpretations.

Further, many of the treaty's restrictions on the development, testing, and deployment of ABM sensors simply are not verifiable. This is because ABM sensors are defined as having what is known as "internalized battle management capabilities," that is the ability to detect and analyze an attack, and pass information directly to ABM interceptors. It is virtually impossible, however, to determine via observation whether a satellite has the ability to communicate directly with interceptors.

The Remedy: An agreement to remove all restrictions on the development, testing, or deployment of ABM sensors.

Any new ABM agreement should include a "sensors go free" provision, removing all restrictions on the development, testing, and deployment of ABM radars or sensors. This will allow the U.S. to deploy Brilliant Eyes, a space-based sensor planned for GPALS. These systems will be able to communicate directly with ABM interceptors. The U.S. also could deploy the mobile Ground Based Radar system, which will help manage defensive battles for ground-based interceptors.

If restrictions on sensors are eliminated, America and the Soviet Union, or its successor, will be able to take the first steps toward deployment of a nationwide ballistic missile defense. By allowing sensors to go free, the two sides also will prevent future squabbling over whether sensors used to support "tactical" ballistic missiles, like DSP, have strategic applications that would subject them to ABM Treaty restrictions.

Gorbachev in his October 5 speech and in a July 16, 1991, letter to the Group of Seven industrial democracies, expressed an interest in sharing information on early warning of missile attacks provided by space-based and other sensors. To the extent national security allows, Bush should accommodate Gorbachev's request in a separate agreement on confidence building measures to accompany the new ABM agreement or amended ABM Treaty. But Bush should make it clear to Moscow that if it wants access to U.S. sensor data to warn of missile attacks on its territory, it will have to eliminate the ABM Treaty's restrictions on the development, testing and deployment of ABM sensors.

FLAW #5: The ABM Treaty does not adequately define the distinction between "strategic" ABM systems, which are restricted by the Treaty, and the non-restricted "tactical" anti-missile systems used to defend allies or forces in the field against shorter-range missile attacks.

Article II of the ABM Treaty defines an ABM system as "... a system to counter strategic ballistic missiles or their elements in flight trajectories." The Treaty imposes no restrictions on systems to counter shorter-range missiles like Iraq's Scuds. Such weapons are also known as "tactical" or "theater" missiles. The dividing line between the two, however, is unclear and needs updating.

U.S. and Soviet negotiators last defined this dividing line in 1978. The exact text is classified, but unclassified accounts say that a strategic missile is one whose range and flight characteristics are those of at least the Soviet SS-N-6 Sawfly submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). (Sidney N. Graybeal and Patricia A. McFate, "GPALS and the ABM Treaty," April 3, 1991, reprinted in the Congressional Record, August 1, 1991, pp. S11625-S11627.) The Sawfly can travel about 1,800 miles and is the shortest-range strategic missile deployed on either side.

As Third World countries acquire ever more sophisticated missiles with longer ranges, the standard set in 1978 is becoming obsolete. Example: the 1,350-mile-range Chinese-built CSS-2, currently deployed by Saudi Arabia. Its flight characteristics, such as re-entry speed and angle of attack, closely match those of the SS-N-6 Sawfly. As such, an interceptor missile designed to counter "tactical" missiles, such as the CSS-2, could become subject to ABM Treaty restrictions even though the treaty was not intended to restrict these interceptors.

Already the definition of "strategic" is creating problems. According to Pentagon officials familiar with the 1978 secret agreement, existing technical definitions defining a "strategic" ABM system may apply to planned U.S. anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) systems, including the Theater High Altitude Area Defense System (THAADS) and possibly the U.S.-Israeli Arrow. If so, Moscow could argue that those systems should be limited under the ABM Treaty. The definition will have to be updated to permit the U.S. to test and deploy these or similar systems unhindered by any ABM agreement.

The Remedy: An agreement that clarifies and updates the distinction between "theater" and "strategic" defenses.

The distinction between a strategic and tactical anti-missile system should be clarified and updated to permit unrestricted deployment by the U.S. of systems now on the drawing boards that defend U.S. troops in the field against shorter-range missiles. This means changing the accepted technical standards, such as re-entry speed and angle of attack, of offensive weapons that would be considered "strategic" in contrast to "tactical."

Given the increasingly sophisticated missile arsenals in the Third World, the distinction between strategic defenses and tactical defenses will have to be a flexible standard. On providing credible evidence that a change in the standard is warranted -- such as the deployment of a new missile of longer range by a country other than the five acknowledged nuclear powers -- either Washington or Moscow should be able to announce a change in the standard on six months' notice. (The five acknowledged nuclear powers are the U.S., Britain, China, France, and the Soviet Union.) An appeal process could allow challenges to the new definition if the other side did not accept the evidence. If the two sides still could not agree, either would be free to declare the other in violation of the ABM Treaty or successor agreement and to withdraw.

FLAW #6: The Treaty imposes an unwarranted prohibition against exporting defense systems and components.

Article IX of the ABM Treaty prohibits the "transfer to other States... " of ABM systems or components. As a global power America depends on allies to help defend its interests and security. U.S. policy from the outset of the SDI program was to provide protection against missile attacks not just for the U.S. but also for its allies. The extent to which the U.S. can cooperate with its allies, however, is severely restricted by Article IX.

The Remedy: An agreement to ease prohibitions on the transfer of non-nuclear ABM technology to allies.

Easing Article IX restrictions will ensure that the U.S. can continue to assist its allies in defending themselves against missile attacks, and that Britain, Germany, Israel, and other countries can continue to participate in the U.S. SDI program. There should be provisions, however, to prevent either America or the Soviet Union from providing defenses to other states as a means of improving their own territorial defense. Example: Moscow could not deploy interceptor missiles in Mongolia, and the U.S. could not deploy missiles in Canada, for the purpose of expanding the Soviet or American defensive capabilities beyond those permitted by the new agreement. To assure this, no transfers would be allowed beyond that needed to provide a level of protection to the receiving state similar to that afforded the U.S. or Soviet Union under the terms of the treaty.

FLAW #7: The ABM Treaty is an agreement with the Soviet Union, a state that may soon cease to exist.

The turmoil roiling the Soviet Union may well bring the complete collapse of Soviet central authority. This breakup of the Soviet Union need not mean increased risk for the U.S.; on the contrary, it will reduce enormously the possibility that a resurrected unified Soviet state again could threaten America and its allies. The breakup of the Soviet Union would raise questions, of course, about the status of the ABM Treaty and other treaties signed by the Soviet Union, and about ongoing talks, including the DST negotiations.

The Remedy: Participation of Russian Republic representatives in the negotiations.

Representatives of the Russian Republic should be invited to join the negotiations at every step. Arrangement should be made for Russia, and whatever coalition of republics it may patch together, to take over Soviet treaty obligations and to take the Soviet seat at the negotiating table in the event the Soviet center dissolves. Bush should conduct behind-the-scenes negotiations with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other Russian Republic leaders to ensure a smooth transition of Moscow's international authority from the Soviet Union to Russia or a Russian coalition once the Soviet central government collapses. At the same time, Bush should tell Soviet and Russian authorities that the U.S. will consider the ABM treaty null and void if it determines the Soviet Union, or its Russian successor, incapable of upholding its obligations under the Treaty.

Conclusion: Seize the Opportunity

Moscow's October 5 offer to consider American proposals for deploying ABM defenses is the type of opening for which the Reagan and Bush Administrations have worked. This gives Bush the chance to put forward a new set of negotiating objectives for the Defense and Space Talks in Geneva, laying out for Moscow precisely the steps that will allow America and the Soviet Union to begin deploying effective defenses against missile attacks over the next few years.

Bush should seek an agreement to supersede the 1972 ABM Treaty, or if need be that would amend the ABM Treaty. Either way, his objectives should be the same. He should seek to remove existing restrictions on the deployment of ABM launchers and interceptors and replace them with an agreement permitting the deployment of up to 800 ground-based interceptors and 1,000 space-based interceptors. This will be sufficient to protect all of America against limited launches of ballistic missiles from the collapsing Soviet Union or elsewhere.

Removing Undue Restrictions. ABM Treaty provisions also will have to be modified to allow for greater development and testing of ABM systems including launchers and interceptors. Unlimited development, testing, and deployment of radars and sensors also should be allowed. Any agreement also will have to define clearly and modify the distinction between "strategic" defenses, which will be limited, and "tactical" ballistic missile defenses, which will not. Undue restrictions on the transfer of ABM systems to allies also should be removed in any new agreement. Finally, Russian Republic representatives will have to be included in all negotiations, and provision made for Russia to take over Soviet treaty obligations and negotiations if the Soviet central government collapses.

If Bush succeeds in these negotiations to deploy strategic defenses, he will enable America to defend itself against the major threat to its survival in the world today: ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. He should move quickly and decisively toward this end.

Baker Spring is a F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy