The independent resource on global security

6. Nuclear arms control and ballistic missile defence



I. Introduction

II. Ballistic missile defence and the future of the ABM Treaty

III. The START treaties

IV. Other Russian–US arms control agreements

V. Negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty

VI. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

VII. Conclusions


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In 2000 the nuclear arms control agenda continued to be dominated by the controversy over the USA’s plans for a limited national missile defence (NMD) system and the future of the 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty). The missile defence controversy remained a ‘virtual’ one, since US President Bill Clinton decided in September 2000 not to move forward with authorizing the deployment of an initial NMD system. Nevertheless, it took on an increasingly important international political dimension during the year as concerns about the implications of NMD were expressed by China, Russia and a number of states in Europe and Asia, among them key US allies. In addition, there was a renewed debate in the USA about the technical feasibility and likely effectiveness of the planned system. This spurred interest in alternative missile defence architectures, including those involving sea- and space-based systems.


The missile defence controversy largely overshadowed the vote in April 2000 by the Russian Federal Assembly (parliament) to ratify the 1993 START II Treaty. The prospect loomed that the treaty would never enter into force because of the ABM Treaty-related conditions attached by the Russian Parliament to its ratification bill.


There was one bright spot for nuclear arms control during the year: the 2000 Review Conference of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) ended with the adoption by consensus of a Final Declaration setting out a number of concrete nuclear disarmament goals.



Appendix 6A. Tables of nuclear forces


Full text Appendix 6A [PDF].



All the nuclear weapon states have nuclear weapon modernization and maintenance programmes under way and appear committed to retain nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. During 2000, Russia and the USA continued to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear delivery vehicles within the framework of the START I Treaty, and the Russian Federal Assembly ratified the START II Treaty. However, within the START constraints, in the near future US modernization plans call for the deployment of new Trident II missiles on older Trident SSBNs, while Russia is modernizing its strategic forces by deploying new intercontinental ballistic missiles and additional strategic bombers and is slowly constructing a new generation of ballistic-missile submarines. Moreover, both countries continue to maintain large stockpiles of strategic and non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear weapons and to underscore their importance for their security policies.



Appendix 6B. The 2000 NPT Review Conference


Full text Appendix 6B [PDF].



The message generated by the 2000 NPT Review Conference in the wider disarmament and international security context was mixed. On the one hand, the nuclear weapon states were prepared to sideline their differences over START, NATO expansion, Iraq, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and national missile defence and theatre missile defence in order to achieve consensus on both a joint statement and a Final Document. This appeared to be a recognition of the high priority they assigned to their collective interest in sustaining the NPT regime. They also agreed a much more extensive programme of action to implement nuclear disarmament than that drawn up in 1995. Indeed, some might argue that the Final Document might act as a preparation, or even a substitute, for the long-heralded fourth UN Special Session on Disarmament given its range of unilateral, bilateral and multilateral actions, and in the priority it gave to confidence-building measures, arms reductions, verification and the irreversibility of disarmament activities.


These commitments will need to be translated into visible consequences before the Final Document can be judged to have been anything other than a piece of paper. Although the holding of the 2000 NPT Review Conference created incentives for some states, such as Russia, to ratify both bilateral and multilateral arms control treaties, little progress in disarmament was recorded during the remainder of the year. Differences clearly exist over how to translate some of the commitments into practical actions, and what may now be needed is a concerted multilateral effort to identify how the commitments can be operationalized and to seek the agreement of states to implement them. It is these follow-up activities which will determine whether the 2000 NPT Review Conference will be seen as signalling a significant shift in global attitudes and policies towards nuclear weapons.



Appendix 6C. The illicit traffic in nuclear and radioactive materials


Full text Appendix 6C [PDF].



The theft and diversion of and unauthorized traffic in nuclear and radioactive materials may pose serious national and international security threats. Illicit trafficking affects all countries to a certain degree because of the proliferation, public health and safety risks involved. There is an urgent need to: (a) reduce existing highly enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles; (b) raise global standards and uniformity for physical protection; (c) strengthen and extend the application of safeguards; (d) ensure the existence of modern prevention and detection infrastructures as well as the appropriate legal framework; (e) facilitate better cooperation and information sharing among countries and international bodies; and (f) continue to intensively assist Russia and the other newly independent states to contain proliferation. In addition, a better understanding of the problem of illicit trafficking that includes the motivation of traffickers, links to organized crime and the profile of potential end-users is necessary.

Shannon N. Kile