New US radar site threatens ABM treaty
The Guardian (London) April 25, 2000 ; Pg. 11
The United States was thrown on to the defensive as the UN nuclear disarmament
talks began yesterday by allegations that it had installed a new anti-missile
radar in northern Norway, a few miles from the Russian border.
Moscow has denounced the installation,
believed to be the world's most advanced tracking and imaging radar, as a
covert step towards the controversial US plan to develop a shield against
incoming missiles, and therefore a potential breach of the 1972
anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) treaty.
'Everyone should be aware that the collapse of the ABM treaty would have a
destructive domino effect for the existing system of disarmament agreements,'
the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, argued in yesterday's New York
Times. 'We would be back in an era of suspicion and confrontation.'
The Norwegian government said the radar, in the border village of Vardo, was
designed to keep an eye on potentially dangerous space debris, but that
explanation was derided as implausible by several independent scientists.
The revelations emerged as talks began at the conference on the 1968 nuclear
non-proliferation treaty (NPT) at the UN's New York headquarters, and US -Russian
talks on a new disarmament treaty, Start III, entered their second week in
The US and the Russia have both been under fire from disarmament watchdogs for
negotiating in bad faith.
Both have opted to stockpile and upgrade - rather than destroy - the warheads
they have removed from missile silos.
The Vardo radar could have an even more damaging impact on the already
precarious east-west nuclear balance. It was built in 1995 and moved to Norway
in 1998, according to the latest issue of the
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a US journal which monitors nuclear
When a Norwegian journalist, Inge Sellevag, asked the Norwegian government the
purpose of the new installation, he was told it was to be used by Nasa to
monitor 'space junk'. But Nasa knew nothing about Vardo.
John Pike, director of the Space Pol icy Project at the Federation of American
Scientists, said yesterday: 'One of the standard parts of creating a cover
story for an intelligence operation is that the story is plausible and this
cover story was not.
'This is a type of radar that was developed as part of the national
missile defence (NMD) network, and I assume the reason they put it up there is
to monitor Russian missile-testing.'
The proposed NMD system is a successor to Ronald Reagan's Star Wars scheme. It
is intended to create a nuclear umbrella over the US by co ordinating
an array of satellites, radars and missiles which would track and intercept any
incoming missiles. Such a system is banned by the ABM treaty.
Tests on NMD technology are still under way and President Clinton has yet to
give the system a green light, but the Vardo radar - along with the
proposed upgrading of the early-warning radars at Fylingsdales in Yorkshire and
Thule in Greenland - suggest that the Pentagon is already committed to the
Critics of the system believe the placing of the radars con firms that its
main target is Russia, not rogue states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea as
US officials have assured their counterparts in Moscow.
The Ministry of Defence's claim that the Fylingsdales radar was aimed at
monitoring North Korea were dismissed by Mr Pike, who said: 'Last time I
checked England was on the other side of planet from North Korea. It might be
a good place to hide from North Korea but not to watch it.'
Meanwhile, US plans to upgrade its nuclear stockpile and develop 'new nuclear
options for emergent threats' were revealed in energy department documents made
available to a court after a legal
challenge by disarmament and environmental groups.
Greg Mello, director of one of the groups, the Los Alamos Study Group, said
they revealed 'a shocking disregard for US commitments, especially those
enshrined in the NPT, to end the nuclear arms race.'
'It's imperative that these plans be stopped. If we don't
abide by the treaties we've signed, how can we get other countries to do so,'
Copyright 2000 Guardian Newspapers Limited