Implications of Strategic Defense Deployments for US-Russian Relations

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This report, edited by Dr. Alexei Arbatov, Director of the Moscow­ based Center for Anns Control and Strategic Stability, concludes that the ABM Treaty remains a fundamental bulwark to strategic stability and warns that major changes to the Treaty would be ill-conceived.

Russian views on the deployment of strategic defenses are far from uniform, however. This report, which draws on assessments written by “think tanks” associated with the Strategic Rocket Forces, Air Defense Forces, Space Systems Command, Russian Foreign Ministry and various groups in the Russian Academy of Sciences, clearly demonstrates the vitality of the strategic debate currently underway in Moscow and differences of opinion on essential points.

President Boris Yeltsin’s contradictory United Nations proposals of January 1992 “to deploy and operate jointly a global system of protection,” and to continue support for the ABM Treaty, “came as a complete surprise” to most experts in Russia which “had not been preceded by any comprehensive study” and which appeared to be “motivated by political rather than strategic calculations.” (page 9)

The report notes a “general trend” of greater support in three influential Russian circles for the idea of deploying (including jointly with the US) a large-scale anti-missile system” (10). First, support for SDI comes from “a powerful lobby in the military-industrial complex with vested interests in development, testing, and deployment of new generation anti-missile defenses” (10). The heads of these defense and space corporations “insisted on inserting” the clause on building a joint defense system in Yeltsin’s UN speech. (11)

Second, Russian support for SDI comes from new officials in the Russian Government and Parliament with little background in strategic issues, but who are intent on improving political and economic relations with the West. (12) Third, a loose coalition of academics, politicians and journalists support SDI apparently “to acquire popularity in the West and to contrast themselves against the established academic arms control community.”  (13)

The report concludes that “the majority of the arms control academic community is opposed to the deployment of large-scale ground- and space­ based” defenses. (13) They believe the US “is unlikely to share with the Russians its advanced space technologies,” and that parallel defensive deployments “would create additional complications for the US-Russian strategic relationship and anns reduction efforts.” (13)

In this view, ballistic missile threats “are inflated” and more useful political and military measures should be taken to address the nuclear proliferation problem. (13) Opponents of SDI within Russia include “the older diplomatic establishment”, the Strategic Rocket Forces and think tanks, research and industrial corporations linked to strategic offensive forces and some Air Defense institutions. (14)

Arbatov himself proposes “the complete renouncement of a space ABM system and the retention of mobile theater ABM systems to protect overseas armed forces of the US and its allies, as well as certain peripheral southern areas of Russia.” If needed in the future, “additional ground-based ABM sites may be deployed.” (16) This view has also gained support from the PVO Strany (air defense forces). (16)

Arbatov and a Deputy Director of the Center for Arms Control and Strategic Stability, Gennady Lednev, conclude that “the probability of an unauthorized launch should not be ruled out”, but that its rectification through “a major revision” of the ABM Treaty “would involve serious political and legal problems.” (18)

The next essay, “Strategic Offensive Forces and Ballistic Missile Defense” written by Vladimir Dvorkin (Deputy Director, Main Institute of the Armed Forces, Strategic Rocket Forces) and Victor Surikov (Deputy Director, Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine-Building), argues that “a limited ABM system combined with deep strategic offensive force reductions may become an extremely powerful destabilizing factor.” (27) As a result, the authors argue that the US and Russia would have to”negotiate qualitative, quantitative, and deployment limitations” on strategic defenses in order “to facilitate follow-on to START agreements.” (30)

The following essay, “Strategic Defense Options for Russia” written by four experts from the Central Institute of the Armed Forces, Air Defense Forces, adopts a more positive view of strategic defenses. Two types of defenses are proposed: a point defense of ICBM launchers and of key installations, especially those representing “a danger to the environment.” (37) Space-based defenses, however, are strongly opposed as upsetting “the strategic balance, based on the principles of nuclear deterrence,” and as posing a strong break-out and anti-satellite capability. (41) Finally, this essay proposes conditions for a hypothetical collective defense system (42).

The final essay, “Prospects of ABM Programs and Agreements” by A. Arbatov argues that “the economic, political, and administrative turmoil” in Russia “is certainly not conducive to abrogation” of the ABM Treaty. (45) While Moscow could entertain some modifications to the Treaty, “any US decision to withdraw unilaterally and proceed with deployment would be perceived as a great setback in US-Russian relations.” (46) In the tradition of “historic compromises”, it may be possible for Moscow and Washington to negotiate an expansion of ground-based ABM defenses, initially emphasizing cooperation on the development of mobile anti-tactical systems, and on the deployment of space-based sensors, while prohibiting space-based interceptors. (47-48)

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