U.S.-Russian Differences Remain on Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, September 2001 | Go to article overview

U.S.-Russian Differences Remain on Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


DESPITE A FLURRY of summer meetings between top U.S. and Russian officials on offensive and defensive strategic forces, Moscow remains unconvinced by U.S. arguments to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials have tried unsuccessfully since May to sell Russia on the idea of developing a new bilateral strategic framework that would involve, among other things, scrapping the 1972 ABM Treaty, building strategic missile defenses, and lowering offensive nuclear force levels. President George W. Bush first articulated the proposal in a May 1 speech and discussed it with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in June. But Moscow has continued to support maintaining the ABM Treaty, though over the past few months it has hinted that it would consider amending the accord.

Meeting July 22 in Genoa, Italy, on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Bush again lobbied Putin to back his new strategic framework. Putin demurred, but the presidents issued a joint statement saying their countries would "begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems." At a post-meeting press conference, Putin said the two matters would be discussed as a "set," and Bush said, "The two go hand-in-hand."

Nonetheless, there was confusion about what had been agreed. Later that day, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice insisted that the presidents had not agreed to link the issues of offense and defense formally and that Washington would go it alone if Russia refused to work with the United States.

Rice traveled to Moscow a few days later to craft a timetable for continuing the talks and to discuss the strategic framework proposal further with the Kremlin. Although she left Russia with a schedule for consultations, Rice made no headway in getting Russian leaders to accept the U.S. proposal. "We did not hear from Mrs. Rice any new arguments to cause us to review our fundamental approach to the 1972 treaty," a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said July 27.

An August 13 visit to Moscow by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yielded similar results. When asked whether Rumsfeld had persuaded him that the ABM Treaty had outlived its usefulness, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov answered, "I'm afraid not." Later that day, Ivanov stated, "We feel no compunction to leave one or any other treaty or accord which we currently have signed."

Throughout these high-level talks and after August meetings of government experts in Washington and Moscow, Russia repeatedly said that it had not received enough detailed information about U.S. plans. Putin, who also met with Rumsfeld August 13, said Moscow wants to be told of the "military and technical parameters of the [missile defense] proposals" and to know how low the United States would be willing to reduce its nuclear forces, along what timeframe, and how such reductions would be verified.

Washington says that it cannot yet answer these questions, asserting that future missile defense deployments will be based on what technologies pan out during research and testing and that the Pentagon is still conducting a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Rumsfeld, however, told various Moscow audiences that he should know the future size of U. …

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