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Bulltin of atomic scientists exposes US scandal - Introduction to ABM Treaty "Talking Points"

28 April 2000

Introduction to ABM Treaty "Talking Points"

By Stephen I. Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

You would think that 10 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States would be doing everything it could to get Russia to reduce its bloated, aging, and dangerous arsenal of approximately 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. You would be wrong.

In fact, as revealed here for the first time, in documents obtained exclusively by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, U.S. negotiators have sought to allay Russian fears about a possible U.S. national missile defense (NMD) system by ruling out any future reductions in strategic nuclear warheads below the 1,500-2,000 level and encouraging Russia to maintain its nuclear forces on constant alert.

At the meeting earlier this year in Geneva where the documents below were presented to Russia, Russian negotiators countered with an offer to slash the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads held by each side (from the START II level of 3,000-3,500 to 1,500). The United States rejected the offer but provided no public justification for why it required more warheads.

That the United States is asking Russia to forsake deep reductions in nuclear weapons for the indefinite future is bad enough. This news is certain to anger many delegates to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, currently taking place at the United Nations, who have been highly critical about the lack of progress in arms control and disarmament since 1995, when the United States renewed its promise under Article VI of the treaty to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

Worse yet, the United States is encouraging Russia to continue to maintain its strategic nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert, ready to fire within minutes of receiving a launch order. As a consequence of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the continuing economic difficulties in Russia, Russia's early-warning network is a shambles. So many satellites and radars are inoperative or only partially functional that for as much as 12 hours a day, Russia has no means of detecting an ICBM launch from the United States. As for attacks from U.S. Trident submarines, each of which can carry up to 192 warheads, Russia essentially has no detection capability at all. Combining decaying and inoperative early warning systems with a "launch on warning" posture for thousands of nuclear weapons is a recipe for nuclear disaster.

Russia's continuous high-alert posture has already led to one major scare. On January 25, 1995, Russian radar technicians detected a routine scientific rocket launch from Norway but misinterpreted it as a Trident missile from a U.S. submarine. President Boris Yeltsin hurriedly convened a threat assessment conference with his senior advisers and for about eight minutes they deliberated whether to launch a counterattack before the incoming missile arrived. Fortunately, Russian military officers were able to determine--with only two or three minutes to spare--that the rocket was in fact heading away from Russian territory and therefore posed no threat.

Although the Clinton administration's rationale for a limited NMD system centers around "rogue states" like North Korea, only Russia has the capability today and into the indefinite future to deliver a significant number of extremely powerful nuclear weapons to targets in the United States in 30 minutes or less. While the risk of deliberate nuclear war is far lower than in years past, the risk of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons is rising, in no small part because of Russia's increasing reliance on nuclear weapons even as its early-warning systems (its eyes and ears) fall into disrepair.

But the Clinton administration has chosen to ignore this very real and growing danger and is instead expending significant time and political capital seeking to modify the ABM Treaty to allow the deployment of a not-yet-fully tested limited missile defense system against a threat which has yet to fully materialize. It is outrageous that the United States would not only pursue this path but actually exacerbate the danger by encouraging Russia to continue to deploy thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

About the Documents

These documents were presented to Russian officials by U.S. negotiators during meetings in Geneva on January 19-21, 2000. John Holum, senior adviser for arms control and international security affairs at the State Department, headed the U.S. delegation. Yuri Kapralov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's arms control department, led the Russian delegation. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs translated the English-language documents into Russian. A trusted source recently obtained a copy of the translated documents and provided them to the Bulletin. The documents were subsequently translated back into English and have been reviewed by both Russian and English language speakers for accuracy.

The first three documents appear to be talking points for the U.S. delegation, most likely presented to the Russians by John Holum. The U.S. delegation also presented its Russian counterparts with a proposed protocol and annex to the ABM Treaty that would modify the treaty and allow the legal deployment of the first phase of the planned U.S. national missile defense system.

The documents discuss SHF (Super High Frequency ) radars, which are also known as X-band radars. Their frequency band is 3 to 30 gigahertz, which includes the X-band (8-12 gigahertz).

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