News

USIS Washington File

05 June 2000

Text: Vershbow on National Missile Defense: Political Implications

(June 3 workshop on political-military decision-making in Berlin)
(3,660)

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. Permanent Representative on
the North Atlantic Council, discussed the political and security
implications of a limited national missile defense (NMD) deployment at
the XVIIth International Workshop on Political-Military
Decision-Making in Berlin June 3.

While stressing that President Clinton has not yet made a decision on
the deployment of such a system, Vershbow compared the old "Star Wars"
Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s -- which was intended to
protect against "a full strategic attack" by the former Soviet Union
-- with NMD, which "is designed to give us the ability to block
attacks by a few tens of missiles against U.S. territory, without
undermining the strategic relationship with Russia."

"If the President decides to deploy NMD, we would like to do so within
the framework of an adapted ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty that
would strictly limit the size of the system in order to preserve
strategic stability," Vershbow said. "The changes we have in mind
would leave the U.S.-Russian nuclear balance on the same basis on
which it has rested for the last five decades. But they would permit
us to respond to the new threats that have emerged since the ABM
Treaty was signed in 1972."

He addressed some of the chief concerns of the Allies about NMD: 

-- Destabilization of the strategic balance with Russia: "We are
trying to address Russian concerns in three broad areas" -- reassuring
Russia that a limited NMD system would not threaten its strategic
deterrent; continuing to pursue strategic arms reductions; and
offering Russia "a range of cooperative programs in the areas of
Theater Missile Defense (TMD), voluntary transparency measures, and
assistance in restoring Russia's ballistic missile early warning
network."

-- Decoupling of U.S. and European security: The United States
believes a limited NMD "could actually strengthen U.S. capability and
resolve to carry out its NATO and global security commitments in
future crises." North Korea, Iraq or Iran "would know that they had no
hope of deterring us from coming to the defense of our allies in Asia
or in Europe."

-- A weakening of deterrence: "The core of deterrence is the ability
to convince a potential adversary that the risks of attack far
outweigh any potential gains.... Defense complements and reinforces
deterrence."

-- Overstated threat: North Korea, Iran and Iraq don't need
intercontinental-range missiles "to intimidate their neighbors.... We
can only conclude that they want long-range missiles to coerce and
threaten more distant countries in North America and Europe. They may
believe that even a small number of missiles could be enough to sway
our actions in a crisis if we had no defenses against it."

-- Erosion of disarmament and arms control regimes: "The ABM Treaty
remains a cornerstone of strategic stability, and ...our proposed
modifications are designed to preserve and strengthen the treaty....
The best way to preserve the ABM Treaty is to avoid putting the
President into the position ...of being forced to choose between the
ABM Treaty and an NMD system that he judges necessary to protect the
American people. Allied solidarity on this point...would help convince
Moscow to negotiate seriously and, as a result, help preserve and
strengthen the ABM Treaty."

In concluding, Vershbow said the Allies' views are being "carefully
considered" and again urged Alliance solidarity: "I believe that the
reality of the missile threat to Europe is coming into focus for our
Allies and hope that this reality will galvanize us toward a common
response," he said.

Following is the text of his remarks as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE: POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow
U.S. Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council
Speech at the XVIIth International Workshop
on Political-Military Decision-Making
Berlin, Germany
June 3, 2000

(as prepared for delivery)

My colleague from the Pentagon has just described how our defense
planners and technicians are making it possible to "hit a bullet with
a bullet" converging at more than 25 times the speed of sound,
hundreds of kilometers above ground. This is a daunting technological
challenge.

An even greater challenge, however, will be on the political front.
How can we manage the implications of a limited National Missile
Defense for our relations with Russia, for transatlantic ties, and for
the arms control and disarmament structure built up and nurtured so
carefully during the last 40 years?

Let me repeat two of my colleague's key points. President Clinton has
not yet made a decision on the deployment of a limited NMD system. The
decision on whether to move ahead with NMD, anticipated later this
year, will be based an four major criteria: the threat; the
technology; the cost; and the implications of a limited NMD system for
our national security and arms control objectives, including relations
with our Allies and with Russia and China. The fourth criterion -- the
political and security implications of a limited NMD deployment -- is
the subject of my remarks.

First, it is important to understand what NMD is -- and is not -- all
about. Headline writers often use the term "Star Wars" or "Son of Star
Wars" to describe NMD. In fact, the two are very different. "Star
Wars" -- the Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s -- was aimed at
protection of the United States against a full strategic attack by
forces of the former Soviet Union. In sharp contrast, NMD is designed
to give us the ability to block attacks by a few tens of missiles
against U.S. territory, without undermining the strategic relationship
with Russia. If the President decides to deploy NMD, we would like to
do so within the framework of an adapted ABM Treaty that would
strictly limit the size of the system in order to preserve strategic
stability. The changes we have in mind would leave the U.S.-Russian
nuclear balance on the same basis on which it has rested for the last
five decades. But they would permit us to respond to the new threats
that have emerged since the ABM Treaty was signed in 1972. (Treaties
sometimes do have to be adapted as the strategic environment changes
-- a case in point is the CFE Treaty.)

For analytical purposes, let me borrow Deputy Secretary Talbott's
breakdown of the fourth criterion into the "four Ds" that encapsulate
Allied worries about NMD, and go into these points in more detail. The
four Ds are: destabilization of the strategic balance; decoupling of
U.S. and European security; a weakening of deterrence; and erosion of
disarmament and arms control regimes.

Destabilization

Let me start with concern about possible destabilization of the
strategic balance, which means the effect on Russia. Russia is the
other party to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It still has
thousands of nuclear warheads. And Russia's approach to adapting the
ABM Treaty will have a significant impact on the reaction of other
states, including China and our Allies in Europe and the Pacific.

Our approach is cooperative. We want to avoid forcing the President to
make an either/or choice between the ABM Treaty as it stands, and an
NMD system that he judges is necessary to protect the American people.
To avoid this choice, of course, the Russians must be prepared to
negotiate in good faith. At the same time, we need to recognize that
Moscow has sincerely-held concerns about NMD deployment that must be
addressed. Although we anticipate no breakthrough during the
President's meetings in Moscow in the next few days, the President and
everyone on his foreign policy team are attempting to lay the
groundwork for reaching agreement if and when the Russians make a
political decision to negotiate ABM Treaty changes. The President
will, I would note, meet several more times with President Putin in
the second half of this year, so the negotiations will continue.

In pursuing an agreement, we are trying to address Russian concerns in
three broad areas. First, we are reassuring Moscow that a limited NMD
system would not change the foundation of our nuclear relationship
because it would not threaten Russia's strategic deterrent.
Accordingly, we are seeking only those changes in the ABM Treaty
necessary to address the threats we see emerging -- that is, the
threats of weapons of mass destruction deployed on long-range
ballistic missiles that could come into the hands of unpredictable and
dangerous states of concern, such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and
Libya.

Moreover, since our planning is based on a two-phased approach to NMD
architecture, we are also taking a phased approach to changes in the
ABM Treaty. Since North Korea poses the more immediate threat to the
United States (the deployment of an intercontinental ballistic missile
as early as 2005), we currently seek only Treaty amendments to permit
a limited NMD system centered in Alaska. As threats from the Middle
East emerge that call for a second NMD site, we would then seek a
second set of Treaty amendments.

This phased approach maximizes our chances of reaching agreement with
Russia on ABM Treaty adaptation. Based on objective analysis, neither
Phase I nor Phases I and II combined would threaten Russia's strategic
deterrent Russian officials; and commentators have stated repeatedly
-- and accurately -- that Russia has the capability to overwhelm the
limited NMD system we have in mind. Late last year, General Yakovlev,
Commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces said publicly; "The
SS-27 is able to breach any anti-missile system that exists in the
world and any which will be built in the near future." Analyses in the
Russian military press belie the hyperbole of the Defense Ministry's
chief propagandist, General Ivashov. These analyses show that, even in
the hypothetical case of a large-scale U.S. first strike, Russia would
still have more than enough warheads to overwhelm the limited NMD we
are considering.

Russia's real concern has been that deployment of a limited NMD system
would establish the infrastructure that would permit us to break out
of the agreed terms of an adapted ABM Treaty. One of our negotiating
challenges will be to give the Russians sufficient confidence that a
U.S. NMD system will remain limited. To this end, we have put forward
some ideas for confidence-building and transparency measures,
including possible enhancements of the ABM Treaty's verification
regime. To the degree that Russia is genuinely concerned about
possible NMD expansion, the best way to set that concern to rest is to
ensure that any limited NMD system would be deployed within an arms
control framework, with the legal limits and extensive transparency
and verification measures we are proposing.

The second element of our strategy with Russia is to continue to
pursue strategic arms reductions. One of the major accomplishments of
START II -- its ban on MIRVed ICBMs -- was a large step toward
eliminating any strategic advantage from a first strike. A START III
accord -- negotiated in parallel with changes in the ABM Treaty to
permit a limited NMD -- would ensure that, as Russian strategic force
levels decline, U.S. forces will come down as well. In short, we are
not seeking -- and we are trying to demonstrate to Russia that we are
not seeking -- to combine NMD with numerically superior U.S. offensive
forces. In fact, the reverse is the case.

Finally, we have put on the table a range of cooperative programs in
the areas of Theater Missile Defense (TMD), voluntary transparency
measures, and assistance in restoring Russia's ballistic missile early
warning network. As President Putin's National Security Advisor,
Sergey Ivanov, acknowledged earlier this week, Russia and the U.S.
both face ballistic missile threats -- indeed, some of these threats
are closer to Russia. Through the various cooperative programs we have
proposed, both countries would reap tangible security benefits. They
would confirm that a cooperative approach to ballistic missile defense
is in our common interest.

The Russians will ultimately have a calculation to make: whether it is
better to accept the potential deployment of a limited U.S. NMD system
within an adapted ABM Treaty and continue on the path of strategic
arms reductions; or, alternatively, whether to jeopardize the
strategic predictability provided by the ABM Treaty and START process
at a time which they can least afford an arms buildup.

Decoupling

Our Allies are concerned about the Russian dimension of NMD, but they
also have several concerns about NMD's effects on NATO and the
transatlantic relationship. Since September a series of high-level
U.S. officials have met Allies in Brussels, Washington and other
capitals to brief on U.S. thinking and our negotiations with Russia,
and to have an in-depth exchange of views on the implications of NMD
deployment.

Some Allies fear NMD will undermine the NATO Alliance's principle of
shared risk and could ultimately lead to the "decoupling" of the U.S.
from Europe. We don't think this stands up to scrutiny. First of all,
there will be no fundamental change in the shared vulnerability of
North America and Europe to Russian nuclear forces, and U.S. forces --
conventional and nuclear -- will remain in Europe as a tangible symbol
of "coupling." Moreover, we believe a limited NMD could actually
strengthen U.S. capability and resolve to carry out its NATO and
global security commitments in future crises. If the U.S. were capable
of defending itself against a small-scale missile attack by a state
like North Korea or Iran, those countries would know that they had no
hope of deterring us from coming to the defense of our allies in Asia
or in Europe. Deputy Secretary Talbott has posed the question to
Allies, "Why would the U.S. be a better Ally if we were vulnerable to
a missile threat?" We have yet to hear a good answer to that question.

We recognize that, at some point, the question will arise of defense
for our European Allies against the sort of threats that now concern
us. In part, the answer for many Allies may be Theater Missile
Defense, this is because geography suggests that many of the potential
missile threats would be of less-than-intercontinental range. TMD is
not limited by treaty and we have active bilateral programs of
cooperation with several Allies on TMD. NATO is conducting important
feasibility studies as well, based on the long-established Alliance
requirement for a multi-layered air and missile defense. Insofar as
the issue extends to potential cooperation against longer-range
missiles, we have told the Russians that this is an issue that we
reserve the right to raise in future negotiations, including, if
needed, broadened rights under the ABM Treaty to cooperate with our
Allies. We have told the Allies that we would be open to discussing
cooperative steps to meet the threat. In fact, President Clinton said
in Lisbon this week that we would be willing to share anti-missile
technology with Allied and friendly countries facing the same threats
in the coming years.

Deterrence

A second concern voiced by many Allies is that NMD would undermine
deterrence. As I noted earlier, with the limited NMD we have in mind,
deterrence as we have known it for the past 50 years would remain at
the heart of U.S. and NATO strategy vis-a-vis Russia's nuclear arsenal
and against any other conceivable adversary. The core of deterrence is
the ability to convince a potential adversary that the risks of attack
far outweigh any potential gains. In fact there are two parts of this
equation. The threat of retaliation drives home that the negative
consequences of aggression would be huge. But deterrence is also
bolstered if we can reduce the chance that an attack would succeed. As
stated in a recent commentary in the Financial Times, defense
complements and reinforces deterrence by "making America's enemies
understand that any attack on its territory would be a futile as well
as a fatal gesture."

Threat

Third, some Allies believe we are overstating the threat. They simply
do not believe the leaders of countries of concern would launch a
suicidal ICBM attack on the U.S. A recent commentary in the London
Independent said, "... the thought of any of the (countries of
concern) launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. is ludicrous,
given that they would be smoking holes-in-the-ground within hours."
Allies may differ on the intentions of the leaders of North Korea,
Iran, Iraq and Libya. But there can be no doubt that at least some of
these countries will acquire the capability to deliver WMD with
long-range missiles during the next 5, 10 or 15 years. The possibility
for miscalculation will grow exponentially as we try to predict the
behavior of these closed states. We agree that these states are
unlikely to use their missiles and WMD programs against us. Rather, we
believe they seek missile and WMD capabilities primarily as
instruments of coercion, to complicate U.S. decision-making or limit
our freedom to act in a crisis.

Ask yourself this question: "Would our nations have been so ready to
liberate Kuwait if Saddam Hussein could have attacked our homelands
with chemical or biological weapons aboard long-range missiles?" Once
again, missile defense will take away any perceived coercive advantage
to those states of concern by denying them the possibility of a
successful missile attack.

Let me make one more point on threat. The burden of proof is on those
who argue that we are overstating the threat. They must explain why
North Korea, Iran and Iraq -- all poor countries with plenty of more
urgent uses for their scarce resources -- are seeking
intercontinental-range missiles. They don't need ICBMs to intimidate
their neighbors -- short- and medium-range missiles would suffice. We
can only conclude that they want long-range missiles to coerce and
threaten more distant countries in North America and Europe. They may
believe that even a small number of missiles could be enough to sway
our actions in a crisis if we had no defenses against it. It is
incumbent on us to minimize the chances of such miscalculation.
Limited NMD offers an effective way to do so.

Disarmament and Arms Control

A widespread Allied concern is that NMD will lead to an unraveling of
the arms control and disarmament process -- a concern undoubtedly
reinforced by the Senate's vote on the CTBT and comments by some
politicians and commentators in Washington outside the Administration.
We believe strongly, however, that the possible deployment of a
limited NMD system is compatible with the ABM Treaty, further START
reductions, the NPT and other non-proliferation regimes. President
Clinton and other top Administration officials have stated repeatedly
that the ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of strategic stability, and
that our proposed modifications are designed to preserve and
strengthen the treaty. The ABM Treaty has been amended in the past and
allows for changes to take into account changing strategic
circumstances. The best way to preserve the ABM Treaty is to avoid
putting the President into the position that I described earlier, that
is, of being forced to choose between the ABM Treaty and an NMD system
that he judges necessary to protect the American people. Allied
solidarity on this point -- especially in public statements and in
meetings with the Russians -- would help convince Moscow to negotiate
seriously and, as a result, help preserve and strengthen the ABM
Treaty.

On START, we have consistently reaffirmed that the implementation of
stabilizing and verifiable nuclear reductions remains a high priority
of U.S. foreign, security and nonproliferation policy. Over the past
30 years, the U.S. has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment
on nuclear disarmament -- we have eliminated 59% of our nuclear
weapons and NATO has reduced its sub-strategic nuclear warheads by
85%. We expect this trend will continue with Russian ratification of
START II and renewed engagement on START III, which we hope will lead
to even more substantive reductions.

Conclusion

U.S. policy-makers take seriously the President's fourth criterion --
the political and security implications of a possible limited NMD
deployment. In Washington's deliberations on this issue, the views of
Allies are being carefully considered. After six months of fruitful
consultations in Brussels and elsewhere, we recognize that Allies
share our strong interest in preserving the ABM Treaty and in avoiding
a confrontation with Russia that could threaten prospects for a
cooperative relationship. In the end, the President will have to make
his decision based on what is best for U.S. security and in the best
interests of the American people. While no country will hold a veto
over NMD deployment, we have sought the most vigorous possible
dialogue with Allies, Russia and China on the implications of a
limited U.S. NMD.

Fortunately -- after an initial period of some misunderstanding -- we
and our NATO Allies are consulting closely and listening to each other
on NMD. I believe that the reality of the missile threat to Europe is
coming into focus for our Allies and hope that this reality will
galvanize us toward a common response. When Europe was threatened by
Soviet theater-range missiles in the 1980s, the United States listened
to its Allies and moved quickly to respond through INF deployments.
Acting together then opened the way for successful INF negotiations
and the ultimate removal of an entire missile class from Europe. In
this case, we need a different kind of dual-track strategy:
considering the necessary defensive measures to deal with the emerging
threat, while working to ensure that the international arms control
and non-proliferation regimes are not undermined. The same fundamental
truth applies: We will do better if we act together.

We believe our approach to NMD can be carried out in conformance with
the core purposes of the ABM Treaty, with further strategic
reductions, with a stable strategic environment, and with continued
progress against proliferation. We will continue to listen to Allied
and international concerns about our plans, as well as seek
understanding and support.

(end text)

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