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10. Ballistic missile defence and nuclear arms control



I. Introduction

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

III. US–Russian strategic nuclear arms control

IV. Cooperative nuclear security initiatives

V. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

VI. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


In 2001 the international controversy over the US missile defence plans and the future of the 1972 ABM Treaty came to a head. On 13 December President Bush gave formal notice that the USA would withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 6 months. Bush’s announcement elicited a restrained response from Russia and China. The decision cleared the way for the USA to develop and deploy a ballistic missile defence system considerably larger in scale and scope than the limited system envisaged by the Clinton Administration.


The USA’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty—regarded as the cornerstone of strategic stability—did not halt progress in nuclear arms control. Russia and the USA continued to reduce their strategic offensive nuclear forces. Against the background of rapidly improving political relations, an agreement in principle was reached on a new strategic arms reduction deal which would bring about deep cuts in what remain essentially cold war-era nuclear force postures. In November 2001 Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to reduce by the year 2012 strategic offensive forces to 1700–2200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads (those positioned for rapid use on delivery vehicles) for each country. The deal effectively superseded the 1993 START II Treaty, the entry into force of which had been stalled by the controversies over missile defence and a series of other issues.


As the year ended, there remained considerable disagreement between Russian and US officials over the form and substance of the new arms reductions. Specifically, there was a dispute over whether they would be made as parallel, non-legally binding initiatives or—as eventually agreed—within the framework of a legally binding document. The US administration initially rejected Russian calls to codify the arms cut in the form of a treaty as being an outdated approach and as inhibiting US flexibility in adapting to unforeseen changes in the security environment.


There was also a disagreement over whether the nuclear warheads scheduled to be removed from delivery vehicles should be verifiably dismantled, as insisted upon by Russia, or should be placed in storage, as advocated by the USA. The acceptance of the US position in the May 2002 Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions has been criticized by arms control advocates as leading to less confidence and greater unpredictability in nuclear force postures, since thousands of nuclear warheads can be held in reserve and other ‘unaccountable’ categories and are available for redeployment. The agreement does not cover non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads, which remain outside any legally binding constraints.



Shannon N. Kile (United States) is a Researcher on the SIPRI Project on Military Technology and International Security. He is the author of chapters in the SIPRI volume A Future Arms Control Agenda: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 118, 1999 (2001) and SIPRI Research Report no. 7, The Future of the Defence Industries in Central and Eastern Europe (1994) and a co-author (with Adam Daniel Rotfeld) of a chapter in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE Yearbook (1997). He has contributed to two SIPRI books on Russian security policy: Russia and Europe: The Emerging Security Agenda (1997) and Russia and Asia: The Emerging Security Agenda (1999) and is the author of the SIPRI Fact Sheet 'Missile defence and the ABM Treaty: a status report' (2001). He has contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook since 1995 on nuclear arms control.

Shannon N. Kile