Missile Defense Will Split NATO
Shirley Williams is the Liberal Democrat Foreign
LondonA year ago, it seemed quite a sensible and modest proposal:
a limited national missile defense of the United States, just sufficient
to deal with a small number of long-range ballistic missiles that might
be lobbed at the US by "rogue states" intent on blackmail. The
system would not be big enough to upset the balance of deterrence on which
peace between the nuclear powers has been maintained for nearly 40 years.
It could not protect the US if, for instance, Russia were to launch a
full-scale attack on it. But it did seem to offer a way to deal with a
new and unpredictable threat.
Even then, there were some doubts. A limited national missile defense
(NMD) system would require amending the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treatythe
1972 American-Soviet treaty that had ended a potentially disastrous arms
race. Russia, already uneasy about Nato expansion and bitter about the
Kosovo war, was adamantly opposed to any such amendment. The USs
European allies were concerned about a strictly national missile defense,
for fear that the US might become "decoupled" from Nato. An
NMD system would be controlled by the US, not by NATO, and the allies
would have no voice in its deployment.
Moreover, even this first stage of NMD requires upgrading the existing
early-warning radar systems both inside and outside the US. The two EU
countries which are part of the system are Denmark and Britain. The difference
between the systems in these two countries and their equivalents in the
US is that the former will carry with them no additional protection, despite
the attractive target they will present.
From the beginning, the NMD proposal has had a much greater potential
than its modest first stage. In the original proposal, NMD had three phases.
The frst was for 20 ground-based interceptor missiles based in Alaska;
the second for 100, a fgure to be achieved by 2007; and the third for
a much more ambitious missile defense capable of dealing with a substantial
number of warheads, involving some 125 missiles on two sites, in Alaska
and North Dakota. Beyond the third stage (c3), to be achieved by 2015,
lay the possibility of further development, toward something that might
resemble Ronald Reagans dream of a Star Wars defense. According
to the white paper on NMD just published by the US-based Lawyers Alliance
for World Security, "the NMD system is designed to be compatible
with future upgrades and extensions beyond the c3 level. Most importantly,
the NMD system will put into place a full sensor infrastructure capable
of supporting a much larger system." An upgraded early-warning system
at Fylingdales in Yorkshire, and the infrared installation at Men with
Hill, would be key elements in that infrastructure.
The British government has been trying to avoid talking about NMD, recognizing
that it has the potential to become a stormy issuelike the arms
issues that split the Labor Party for 25 years. In answer to parliamentary
questions, ministers have sought refuge in the bland reply that no offcial
request to upgrade Fylingdales has yet been made by Washington. They may
well be praying that the next test of the NMD system is a failure.
A NEW LEVEL | Now, however, the whole issue has moved to a different
level. It has been caught up in the partisan debate in the US Senate,
and it has become an election issue. Few people in Washington are talking
now about a strictly limited shield to deal with rogue states. What is
now under discussion is, on the one hand, a radical recasting of defense
to embrace a Star Wars scenario, or, on the other, an ambitious package
agreed between Russia and the US, linking sweeping strategic nuclear arms
reductions within the framework of Start II and III (the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty) to an amended ABM treaty.
Escalation of the NMD issue began with a breathtakingly bold move by the
new Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He persuaded the Duma, which has
sat on it for years, to ratify the Start II treaty and to start negotiations
on Start III. Start II means nearly halving the number of strategic nuclear
warheads on both sides, from 6,000 to between 3,000 and 3,500 by 2007;
Start III would mean halving them again, to only 1,500 on both sides.
Given Russias declining capacity to maintain and protect nuclear
weapons, such reductions would enhance western as much as Russian security.
But the Duma attached a condition: that there should be a satisfactory
outcome to the discussion about amending the ABM treaty. Russia is not
prepared to see the treaty guttedas it would have to beif
more than a very narrow NMD system was planned.
JESSE AT THE HELM | Yet a gutted and worthless treaty is exactly
what the chairman of the US Senates committee on foreign relations,
Senator Jesse Helms, wants. He has always opposed the ABM treaty. He does
not accept the limitations it imposes on US defence capacity; and he has
the support of 20 or more Republican senators. Furthermore, although he
has not spelled out the details, presidential hopeful George W. Bush is
sympathetic toward some kind of Star Wars defense.
Helms has already let it be known that any agreement reached between Clinton
and Putin would not be approved by the Senate. He has another card up
his sleeve: the 1997 amendment the Senate made to the ABM treaty reserved
the right of the Senate to determine whether or not Russia was the legal
successor state to the old Soviet Union-and therefore whether the ABM
treaty was still valid. It is becoming clear that a faction of the Republican
party not only wants to deny any triumphant swansong to a detested president;
it distrusts international arms control treaties as such. The Senates
refusal last year to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may have
been a straw in the wind.
The Clinton administration, meanwhile, is trying to sound and act as if
everything is proceeding normally. It is discussing with Russia the changes
to the ABM treaty needed for a limited NMD. On April 30th, in his Boston
foreign policy speech, Al Gore identifed himself with the presidents
view that the treaty could be retained.
The political implications of NMD are immense, however, and cannot be
hidden. For Russia, entirely dependent for its strategic defense on nuclear
weapons, any NMD system beyond a limited frst or at most second stage
undermines mutually assured deterrence. Having its own NMD system is beyond
the bounds of its resources. So the temptation would be to multiply the
number of warheads, together with decoys and other counter-measures on
each intercontinental ballistic missile to ensure that some get through.
Putin is sensibly offering massive mutual nuclear disarmament insteadat
least for now.
For China, which has only about 20 warheads, NMD is even more threatening.
Relations across the Taiwan Strait are more tense than for several years,
but the situation has been contained by some helpful decisions by Bill
Clinton and by Taiwanese President-elect Chen. Clinton recently vetoed
the sale of four Aegis class destroyers to Taiwan, and Chen wisely asked
the US Senate not to proceed with the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act,
which will increase the numbers of weapons that the US could send to Taiwan.
But a US commitment to NMD would almost certainly compel China to review
its current levels of nuclear warheads. It has even indicated that it
might attack surveillance space satellites if NMD goes ahead. To quote
the white paper again: "Even an NMD program intended to counter a
threat of 20 to 50 (presently nonexistent) North Korean warheads is likely
to provoke a Chinese deployment of several hundred long-range strategic
warheads...NMD, whose ostensible purpose is to protect the nation from
the threat of nuclear attack, will have occasioned a substantial net decrease
in US security."
EUROPEAN RISK | As for Europe, Javier Solana, the EU foreign and security
policy spokesman, has cautioned the US that any system must not "strain
transatlantic links," nor provoke a crisis with Russia. The words
are restrained, but the concern felt by EU governments runs deep, and
it is straining fragile coalitions such as Germanys. How can political
leaders justify to their people cooperating in a defensive system which
defends only one of them, the US? What will happen to mutually assured
deterrence, the foundation stone of peace in the nuclear age? What advantage
is there for Europeans in smashing the ABM treaty, which has successfully
limited the nuclear arms race? And why risk dismissing the best opportunity
for substantial nuclear disarmament in years, following the Dumas
indication of willingness to ratify Start II and III?
Republican opinion in Washington is determined that if Americans can be
protected against rogue missiles they will be. Europeans, less used to
technological solutions to political problems, note that William Perrys
visit to North Korea, and the opening of talks with South Korea, are gradually
bringing North Korea in from the cold. And a cautious reintroduction of
a once-isolated rogue state into the international community is bearing
fruit (despite setbacks) in Iran. The EU approach is to bring troublesome
neighbors within the scope of the rule of law, by insisting on basic human
rights, democratic institutions and the market economy as prerequisites
for trade and aid.
Of course, it can be argued that the EU should produce its own NMD. A
fellow of the Brookings Institution, Ivo Daalder, recently advocated this
course. But a world of isolated superpowers, each protecting itself against
the other at colossal expense, and giving up on international institution-building,
is not what Europeans want and is not in the interests of peace. The issues
at stake are at least as important as those which led to the ABM treaty
itself, in 1972. There is little time left for the Europeans to make their
voices heardbut they must. Britain, the closest US ally and the
base for the essential early-warning system, carries a very special responsibility.
©Prospect, June 2000
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