NMD Bill Clears Congress as Senate Re-Examines ABM Treaty

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, April/May 1999 | Go to article overview
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NMD Bill Clears Congress as Senate Re-Examines ABM Treaty


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


IN LATE MAY, the House approved legislation stating that it is U.S. policy to both deploy an "effective" national missile defense (NMD) system "as soon as is technologically possible" and to "seek continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces." The bill, which is identical to a measure adopted by the Senate in midMarch, will now be sent to President Clinton, who is expected to sign it. The legislation will not alter the administration's plans to make a decision in June 2000 on whether to deploy a limited NMD system. Clinton has already stated that the decision will be based on four key criteria: technological readiness, the maturity of the socalled "rogue state" missile threat, cost factors and arms control considerations.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a series of seven hearings throughout April and May on ballistic missile defenses and the ABM Treaty, in anticipation of a vote this year on several amendments to the treaty that were signed in 1997 but have not yet been submitted to the Senate. Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) had given the White House a June 1 deadline for submitting the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on ABM Treaty succession as well as two agreed statements establishing a "demarcation line" between strategic and theater missile defenses. The Clinton administration will not meet Helms' deadline, however, because it has refused to submit the ABM amendments for Senate advice and consent until Russia has ratified START II. Failure to transmit these agreements has already prompted Helms to freeze all committee action on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to question the validity of the so-called "flank agreement" to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. (See p. 46.)

After the adoption of two amendments, dealing with reductions in Russian nuclear forces and appropriations of funding, the Senate on March 17 passed legislation, sponsored by Thad Cochran (R-MS), calling upon the United States to deploy an effective NMD system against limited ballistic missile attack "as soon as is technologically possible." (See ACT, March 1999). That same day, Clinton endorsed the Cochran bill as amended because it made clear that no final decision had yet been made on NMD deployment and recognized the importance of cost and arms control factors in such a decision.

On March 18, the House approved a one-sentence bill, sponsored by Curt Weldon (R-PA), stating "That it is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense." This version, however, did not have White House support because it made no mention of the basic criteria for deployment. In a compromise designed to ensure passage of NMD legislation this year, the House accepted the Cochran language on May 20 by a vote of 345-71.

In voting for the Senate language, Weldon argued that the two amendments were meaningless and accused the administration of deferring an NMD deployment decision until 2000 so that Vice President Al Gore could announce U.S. intentions to field such a system in the midst of a presidential campaign.

Not surprisingly, Russia continued to denounce U.S. interest in NMD. "By pursuing a policy of creating and deploying a [NMD] system, which is banned by the ABM Treaty, the U.S. ignores the opinion of an absolute majority of the states of the world, which justifiably regard such a policy as directly undermining global security and stability," a Russian Foreign Ministry official stated May 27.

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