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10. Ballistic missile defence and nuclear arms control

Contents

SHANNON N. KILE

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Summary

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superseded the 1993 START II Treaty, the entry into force of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to codify the arms cut in the form of a treaty as being an outdated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.

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