U.S. Warns Russia, Ukraine on Missile-Related Sales to China

By Medeiros, Evan S. | Arms Control Today, May/June 1996 | Go to article overview
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U.S. Warns Russia, Ukraine on Missile-Related Sales to China


Medeiros, Evan S., Arms Control Today


THE CLINTON administration has strongly discouraged both the Russian and Ukrainian governments from allowing the sale to China of missile components or technology from the SS-18 ICBM. The missile is Russia's most powerful land-based ICBM, capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads over a distance of 10,000 kilometers. All SS-18s, which are slated to be destroyed under START II, were assembled in Ukraine.

After late-May press reports of a leaked U.S. intelligence report revealed that Beijing was exploring the possibility of buying SS-18 components from Russia or Ukraine, Defense Secretary William Perry confirmed that Washington had "information that China was seeking SS-18 technology from Russia." Perry told the Washington Times that "there have been communications at high levels to both the Russian and Ukrainian governments of our very specific concern on this." Perry also said "more general" warnings were conveyed to Chinese officials. Perry did not confirm another intelligence report that claims China has discussed the purchase of a complete SS-18 missile.

The transfer of a complete SS-18 or the uncontrolled transfer of the missile's first stage would violate Russia's and Ukraine's obligations under START I, which bans the transfer of strategic offensive weapons limited by the treaty. In September, the United States and its START I partners-Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan-signed a joint statement reaffirming that a treaty party which sells space launch services that incorporate treaty-accountable systems to other countries must retain command and control of the space launch vehicle. (See ACT, December 1995/January 1996.)

Any transfer of SS-18 components to China would also be inconsistent with Russia's and Ukraine's commitments under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR is a voluntary, multilateral export control agreement consisting of a set of guidelines originally adopted in 1987, restricting trade in components and technologies for missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers. The regime's guidelines were tightened in 1993 to prohibit the transfer of technologies that would contribute to a missile intended to deliver nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

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