Moscow Summit Brings Two Minor Arms Control Agreements

Article excerpt

IN A SUMMIT dominated by other issues, including the Russian financial crisis and regional security issues such as Kosovo and Iraq, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin signed two minor arms controlrelated agreements during their September 1-2 meeting in Moscow. The agreements concerned the sharing of early-warning information and the disposition of plutonium no longer required for military purposes. Other arms control and non-proliferation issues, such as Russian ratification of START II, were discussed, but without major breakthroughs.

The "Joint Statement on the Exchange of Information on Missile Launches and Early Warning" has two main components. First, the United States and Russia will share, on a "continuous" basis, early-warning information on the launches of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles by any nation, a measure that goes beyond previous information-sharing agreements. (North Korea's August 31 test of the Taepo Dong-1 "is exactly the kind of information that we would have passed on to the Russians" had this agreement been in effect, explained Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for national security affairs, in a September I White House briefing.) Each side will be responsible for processing its own early-warning data, retrieved from launchdetection satellites and ground-based radars, at its national center before providing it to the other party. In addition, Yeltsin announced in his September 2 press conference with Clinton that a joint early-warning center, the first of its kind, will be established on Russian territory. Many details of the agreement must be worked out in the months ahead, however, especially with respect to the scope of the data to be shared.

Second, the United States and Russia agreed to establish a multilateral pre-launch notification regime for ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles. In this way, any state that chooses to participate could provide advance notification of a missile launch.

The joint statement aims to bolster the reliability of Russia's early-warning system. In his September 1 briefing, Bell said the joint statement "is especially relevant at a time when Russia's early-warning system is under stress from budget difficulties, systems failures and the closure of earlywarning radars on the soil of nations outside Russia." Despite these concerns, however, the U.S. government remains confident that there is little chance of an accidental Russian nuclear launch. Ted Warner, assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, said at the September 1 briefing that there are not "significant dangers" of an accidental launch today and that the joint statement will reduce this small risk even further. …