Memorandum submitted by Dr Malcolm Chalmers,
University of Bradford
1. The global nuclear non-proliferation
regime is now at a cross-roads. The 1990's saw several important
successes for this regime, most notably the renunciation of nuclear
weapons by several key states (including Brazil, South Africa
and Ukraine), the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) and agreement by all recognised nuclear weapon states
to a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
2. In recent years, however, a number of
setbacks have substantially eroded the benefits obtained from
these achievements. Nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998
have been followed by the US Senate's 1999 refusal to ratify the
CTBT. Intensive efforts to contain the WMD programmes of Iran,
Iraq and North Korea have been only partially successful, further
eroding confidence in global WMD regimes.
3. Concerns over WMD proliferation have
been reinforced by concerns over the proliferation of ballistic
missile technology. Primarily because of the large-scale export
of Scud missiles during the Cold War, as many as 38 countries
may now possess operational ballistic missiles with ranges of
over 100 km. The main focus of NATO concern, however, is the possibility
that several potentially hostile states may soon acquire ballistic
missiles with much longer ranges. According to a recent CIA estimate.
"during the next 15 years the United States
most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North
Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq".
4. US concerns over the proliferation of
ballistic missiles to so-called "rogue states" are sufficiently
serious that they are now calling into question the survival of
existing strategic arms control treaties, first agreed between
the US and the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. In the near future
(and possibly as early as summer 2000), the US President is likely
to order work to commence on construction of a National Missile
Defence (NMD) site in Alaska, with the intention of providing
defence of the continental US against limited missile attack by
2005 or shortly thereafter. Such a deployment would be in breach
of the ABM Treaty in its current form. The US administration has
made clear, however, that it is prepared if necessary to withdraw
from the Treaty in order to go ahead with NMD deployment.
5. US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would
be a major, and perhaps terminal, blow to international non-proliferation
norms. The indefinite renewal of the NPT in 1995 was based on
clear commitments by existing nuclear weapon states to continue
the processes of disarmament that were under way, albeit belatedly,
in the early 1990s. If existing bilateral US / Russian treaties
are repudiated, however, the NPT is also likely to come under
increasing pressure. Regional nuclear-weapon-free zonesfor
example in Latin America, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africahave
a good chance of surviving, even if the NPT collapses. The strong
security guarantees provided by NATO, and increasingly perhaps
in future by the EU, may also help to prevent proliferation within
Europe (though questions might arise for Turkey, given its particular
vulnerability). Over time, however, the erosion of the normative
basis of the NPT will make it increasingly difficult to mobilise
international opinion against states in the Middle East and the
rest of Asia that seek to withdraw from the NPT in future. The
collapse of the START and ABM Treaties will also increase the
likelihood of arms racing between the US, Russia and China, increasing
international tension and wasting considerable economic resources
that might better be deployed for more useful purposes.
6. If such a dismal prospect is to be avoided,
efforts to save the ABM and START Treaties will have to be intensified.
At present, the likelihood of a successful conclusion to such
efforts does not appear high. Much time has been lost due to both
the Russian Duma's refusal to ratify the START 2 Treaty and the
US government's refusal to start START 3 negotiations until START
2 ratification takes place.
The probable election of Putin as Russian President in March will
present a new opportunity for START 2 ratification. Yet the conditions
attached to such ratification are likely to make clear that Russia
will no longer be bound by the Treaty if the ABM Treaty collapses
due to US withdrawal. START 2 ratification, therefore, would provide
an opportunity rather than a solution.
7. The key to the future of nuclear arms
control, therefore, lies in whether Russia and the US can reach
agreement on a "grand bargain", in which Russia agrees
to modify the ABM Treaty in return for US concessions on the content
of a START 3 treaty.
With domestic pressure for NMD deployment in the US growing, the
window of time in which such an agreement could be reached is
already narrowing sharply. Even if there are no further major
international upsets to the bilateral political relationship (as
have occurred recently over Iraq and Kosovo), the negotiation
of a new ABM/START package deal will require a sustained commitment
of energy from the political leadership of both countries.
8. Yet a convergence of interests between
Russia and the US means that a deal is still possible. For Russia,
there are several reasons why a deal would be in its interests.
Russia cannot afford to maintain
the arsenals it is permitted under the START 2 Treaty. Because
of the Treaty's insistence on the dismantlement of multiple-warhead
land based ICBM's, Russia is unlikely to be able to afford to
deploy more than 1,500-2,000 strategic warheads by 2010, compared
with the 3,500 permitted by the START 2 Treaty. It is in Russia's
interestsmilitary and politicalthat the reductions
it will be forced to make as a result of START 2 are matched by
the US. Russian military planners are concerned that a combination
of US numerical superiority (as a result of START 2) and deployed
national missile defences (made possible by the collapse of the
ABM Treaty), together with acknowledged US superiority in anti-submarine
warfare, will give the US real "first strike" opportunities
in a future crisis. By locking in substantial reductions in US
warhead numbers, a START 3 Treaty would help to limit the extent
to which the US could obtain such an advantage.
In the absence of a deal, it is now
almost certain that the US will withdraw unilaterally from the
ABM Treaty, leaving it free to deploy whatever NMD systems it
believes are necessary. A "grand bargain", by contrast,
could allow Russia to maintain some degree of control over the
shape of US NMD programmes. Negotiations on ABM Treaty modification
would give Russia an opportunity to argue for measures to confine
US NMD systems to a limited anti- "rogue state". This
could include, for example, new limits on testing, increased verification
measures, and a lengthened notice for withdrawal from a modified
treaty. Russia might also use negotiations as a means of securing
US financial assistance for the modernisation of its own early
warning systems, currently in a state of increasing disrepair.
9. The US could also gain considerably from
a new strategic arms control deal:
The US and its allies have a strong
interest in repairing its strategic relationship with Russia,
seriously undermined in recent years by conflicts over NATO enlargement,
conflict in former Yugoslavia and policy towards Iraq. As part
of a strategic arms control deal, the US will also be in a strong
position to insist that Russia refrain from exporting nuclear
and missile technology to countries such as Iran, Iraq, North
Korea and China. Without such a deal, by contrast, there must
be a real risk that Russia will react by renouncing other existing
strategic arms control agreements, withdrawing from co-operative
approaches to proliferation, and putting its own nuclear forces
on higher levels of alert.
The US has a strong political interest
in ensuring that it does not have to withdraw from the ABM Treaty
in order to allow future NMD deployment. Russian consent to ABM
Treaty modification would neutralise what is otherwise certain
to be fierce criticism from the US's NATO and other allies. Even
if negotiations for Treaty modification result in some delay in
an NMD deployment timetable, this delay can be justified as a
means of creating a wider alliance consensus behind US actions.
The US continues to spend around
$35 billion a yearroughly 14 per cent of its total defence
budgeton its nuclear forces.
A deal would allow the US to make significant savings in these
costs. In response to unilateral US renunciation of the ABM Treaty,
by contrast, Russia is likely to withdraw from both START 1 and
2, and possibly the CTBT also. In these circumstances, the US
could well be faced by the substantial costs involved in a reinvigorated
nuclear arms race, with strong pressure for increased investment
in new generations of warheads and missiles.
Not least, a "grand bargain"
would be a credible demonstration of a joint US/Russian commitment
to fulfil their commitments under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty. It would ensure that levels of strategic arms continue
to fall over the next decade as they have done since the late
1980s. In the absence of such a deal, by contrast, both the existing
ABM Treaty and START regimes are likely to collapse.
10. Yet many issues will have to be settled
before a START 3/ABM Treaty bargain can be finalised. Amongst
the key problems that will be confronted are the following:
In the START 2 protocol signed at
the 1997 Helsinki summit, the US and Russia agreed in principle
that a subsequent START 3 agreement, to come into force by 2007,
would reduce the arsenals of both countries to a maximum of 2,000
to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads (from 3,500 in START 2).
The US continues to be reluctant to go below the 2,500 level,
in part because the Joint Chiefs are committed to the maintenance
of a strategic "triad" (land-based missiles, sea-based
missiles (based in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans) and strategic
bombers). In 1999, by contrast, Russia proposed that the limit
be reduced to 1,500. Russia may be prepared to settle for a higher
ceiling, but only if the US is willing to amend the START 2 ban
on the deployment of multiple warhead (MIRV) ICBM's. If Russia
were permitted to deploy three warheads on each of its new SS-27
Topol-M missiles, for example, it could deploy an additional 800-1,000
warheads over and above currently planned levels. Such a deployment
would have the additional advantage, from a Russian point of view,
of providing additional assurance of being able to overcome US
strategic missile defences.
Russia will press for the inclusion
of US nuclear-armed submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM's)
in a future agreement. The US, for its part, is anxious to bring
the large (but unknown) arsenal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons
within a START 3 accord. Both types of weapons will become more
important as the number of limited weapons decreases. Demands
to expand the scope of an agreement to include them are therefore
entirely understandable. But the inclusion of either SLCM's or
tactical weapons would also have to confront considerable resistance
from the forces most directly affected, as well as raising considerable
practical verification problems.
Under current START treaties, both
sides can "break out" quickly, and in a potentially
destabilising fashion, by returning warheads to their missiles.
As the number of deployed strategic warheads declines as a result
of future agreements, however, there is a growing need to limit
the ability to do this by agreeing limits on the number of warheads
(both strategic and tactical) held in reserve stockpiles. Yet
warhead limits will require agreement on new verification regimes
that go far beyond those currently in place for START. Unless
postponed for negotiation in a separate protocol, agreement on
the details of warhead verification measures could provide a further
obstacle to rapid movement towards a START 3 deal.
In the interests of rapid progress towards a
deal on ABM Treaty modification, it might be possible to postpone
agreement on some of these issues into future rounds of talks.
The US may be prepared, for example, to concede some limited Russian
re-MIRVing in return for US NMD deployment. The issues of SLCM's
and warhead numbers might initially be tackled through confidence-building
and transparency measures, with a view of agreeing limits in future.
Such an agreement could meet the Russian desire to maintain strategic
parity, together with an affordable capacity for assured retaliation.
It would allow the US to deploy an NMD force capable of providing
some degree of protection against North Korea, but not against
13. The wider international community also
has considerable interests in a new US / Russian arms control
It would help smooth the way for
Russia's long transition to medium-power status, a process currently
at a very fragile and potentially destabilising stage. Recognition
of Russia's leading role in strategic arms control would provide
an important symbol of its indispensable role in global security,
going some way to repairing the damage done to East/West relations
by NATO enlargement and the 1999 Kosovo war.
It would guarantee further sharp
reductions in both US and Russian arsenals, bringing closer the
day when genuinely multilateral nuclear disarmament talks (including
the small nuclear weapons states) becomes a possibility. If bilateral
arms control collapses, the US is soon likely to become the world's
single nuclear superpower, with clear "superiority"
in both offensive and defensive systems, and therefore likely
to be more tempted to pursue its security unilaterally. By constraining
US and Russian forces within a treaty framework, by contrast,
the possibility of future "minimum deterrent" agreements,
also involving China, France and the UK, would be kept open.
A new strategic deal would buy time
for benign political change in those countries that provide the
main rationale for US NMD programmes. At present, US global security
policy is preoccupied by the potential threats posed by Iraq and
North Korea, states that are poor and insignificant in every respect
except their possible future WMD and missile capabilities. Other
states of concern may also acquire such capabilities in future.
Yet political change in North Korea, in particular, would enable
much of the political heat to be taken out of the US's current
obsession with NMD.
With new defensive technologies becoming
available, and the nuclear "balance" becoming more multipolar
in character, the forms that strategic arms control take in the
21st century are likely to be very different from those adopted
in the special circumstances of the Cold War. A START 3/ABM Treaty
"grand bargain" does not provide a model for the future.
But it could provide a bridge between the two "generations"
of arms control, helping to ensure that the whole attempt to bring
nuclear forces under international control is not abandoned.
BEYOND START 3: THE
14. The immediate priority is for a US/Russia
settlement. Yet such a deal cannot be agreed without considering
the potential impact on what may already be the world's third
nuclear power, China.
According to current US plans, the
deployment of 100 ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska,
together with associated early warning radars, is designed to
provide defence of all 50 US states against the launch of "a
few tens of warheads accompanied by simple penetration aids"
This force would be incapable of providing defence of the US against
Russia, even if further sharp reductions in its strategic force
take place over the next decade. It could, however, substantially
reduce the effectiveness against the US of China's ICBM force,
currently estimated to consist of only 20 CSS-4 missiles. Chinese
officials have made clear their concern that such a development
might weaken China's leverage in future East Asian crises (for
example over Taiwan). In response to US NMD deployment, therefore,
it is possible that China may seek to deploy a larger ICBM force
of its own.
Some Russian commentators have expressed
concern that future bilateral agreements with the US might leave
Russia vulnerable to China's large, but unconstrained, force of
medium-range missiles. In draft START 2 ratification instruments
discussed in 1999, moreover, Duma deputies insisted on the right
to withdraw from the Treaty in the event of "large-scale
build up by a third nuclear-weapon state".
The country most likely to fall into this category is China.
Substantial Chinese investment in
building up its nuclear forces, in response to an erosion of the
ABM Treaty regime, would raise considerable concerns for the US
and its allies. It would not only make it more difficult for the
US and Russia to agree further reductions beyond any agreed START
3. It might also revive concerns amongst the US's East Asian allies
regarding the credibility of US security guarantees, perhaps encouraging
those in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan who favour the acquisition
of national nuclear forces.
15. The SALT, START and ABM Treaties were
all based on the unrivalled superpower status of the US and the
Soviet Union during the Cold War. Ten years later, however, the
US is the world's single military superpower, with a defence budget
at least five times greater than that of Russia.
Both the START and ABM Treaties continue to be useful as a means
of managing the rundown of the massive arsenals acquired by the
US and Soviet Union during the Cold War. But future agreements
will also have to take into account the arsenals, and interests,
of other nuclear weapon states such as China.
BEYOND START 3: EUROPE'S
A. Arms Control
16. EU member states have no direct involvement
in ABM /START negotiations. Both as custodians of the NPT and
as permanent UN Security Council members, however, Britain and
France have a particular responsibility to ensure that the outcome
of these talks is consistent with wider international concerns.
17. If a START 3 Treaty is successfully
negotiated, moreover, Britain and France could play an important
role in pressing for a five-power nuclear transparency regime.
Such a regime could play an important role in allaying US and
Russian concerns about third-country nuclear build-up and help
to verify European "no increase" commitments, while
postponing the fraught question of how to set ceilings in a five-power
reduction agreement. Five power discussion might also play a role
in persuading the US and Russia to adopt a more European approach
to defining "how little is enough?" for minimum deterrence.
B. European Strategic Defences
Europoean Union states also have an interest
in ensuring that future versions of the ABM Treaty do not exclude
the possibility of US NMD technologies being used in future for
the defence of Europe. If countries such as Iran and Iraq do obtain
long-range missiles, and the US is building its own defences against
these potential threats, it will be hard for European governments
to resist domestic pressure for preparation of their own. If the
US were to agree to a Treaty that allowed it to deploy its own
national defences, but forbade it from helping Europe to do the
same, the effects on NATO cohesion could be extremely damaging.
Deployment of European strategic defences is
still some time away, and is unlikely to become a serious possibility
until a much greater consensus on the threat is reached. No such
defence can be leak-proof, so vulnerability to coercion will remain
even after deployment. The more quickly that EU states move towards
deployment, moreover, the more expensive it is likely to be. While
there is a good argument for the UK and other EU governments to
commission precautionary research on NMD options, therefore, proposals
for more substantial investments will have to be weighed against
other, arguably more pressing, defence priorities. European states
should keep their options open, while postponing hard decisions
for as long as possible.
CONCLUSION: A THREE
The dangers posed by nuclear weapons to human
survival have not disappeared with the end of the Cold War. The
UK, as one of five recognised nuclear weapon states, has a particular
responsibility for ensuring an adequate response to these dangers:
The top nuclear arms control priority over the
next year is to ensure that the US and Russia reach agreement
on a START / ABM Treaty "grand bargain" before the US
carries out its threat to pull out of the ABM Treaty unilaterally.
The UK should do everything in its power to encourage both sides
to make the necessary compromises, while urging the US to avoid
precipitate actions which could have serious consequences for
wider international non-proliferation efforts. In parallel with
these efforts, the UK government should also make clear its support
for five-power nuclear talks, commencing after a successful START
3 accord. Such talks would bring all five nuclear-weapon states
into formal negotiations for the first time, and would help to
fulfil their collective NPT commitment to actively pursue nuclear
The UK, along with its allies, should continue
to give a high priority in foreign and security policy to efforts
to contain, and if possible reverse, proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction. Recent setbacks in efforts to persuade Iraq
and North Korea to abandon WMD programmes should not be used to
justify an abandonment of these efforts, and it should not be
pessimistically assumed that proliferation is inevitable.
Yet there remains a substantial possibility
that these anti-proliferation efforts will not be successful.
As a result, Western Europe (including the UK) could soon be vulnerable
to WMD-armed ballistic missiles, fired from potentially hostile
states in the Middle East. As long as such deployments remain
a real possibility, the UK and its NATO allies should not rule
out the long term option of European strategic defences. Given
their likely cost and partial effectiveness, however, European
governments should not seek to replicate US efforts at rapid deployment
of such defences.
1 National Intelligence Council, Foreign Missile Developments
and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the US through 2015, CIA Publications,
September 1999.START 3 AND THE ABM TREATY: TIME FOR A "GRAND
The START 2 Treaty was signed by Presidents Yeltsin and Bush in
January 1993. It was ratified by the US Senate in January 1996.
The Treaty was submitted to the Russian Duma in June 1995, but
progress was halted by Russian opposition to NATO air strikes
in Bosnia. It was resubmitted to the Duma in April 1998, but then
postponed by the international political crisis (in August) and
US-led attacks on Iraq (in December). NATO operations against
Yugoslavia in March 1999 led to a further delay in Duma consideration
of the Treaty. Alexander Pikayev, "The Rise and Fall of START
II: The Russian View", Carnegie Endowment Working Papers
No 6, September 1999, p 7. Back
Sam Nunn, Brent Scrowcroft and Arnold Kanter, "A Deal with
Russia on Arms Control?", Boston Globe, 13 September
Stephen I Schwartz (ed), Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences
of US Nuclear Weapons since 1940, Brookings Institution, 1998
p 31. Back
Walter B Slocombe, US under-secretary of defense for policy. "Testimony
to the House Armed Services Committee", 13 October 1999 Back
Alexander Pikayev, op cit p 29. Back
USS, The Military Balance 1999-00, 1999 estimates Russian defence
spending at $55 billion in 1998. Estimates by Russian analysts
suggest a much bigger gap. Alexei Arbatov, for example, estimates
Russia's 1997 defence budget at only $25-30 billion. Alexei Arbatov,
"Milatary reform in Russia: Dilemmas, Obstacles and Prospects",
International Security, Spring 1998-97 Back
For further discussion, see Malcolm Chalmers, "Bombs Away"?
Britain and nuclear weapons under New Labour", Security Dialogue,
Vol 30, No 1, 1999 pp 61-74; Malcolm Chalmers, "UK nuclear
weapons policy after the SDR", Brassey's Defence Yearbook
1999, 1999, pp 253-266. Back