USIS Washington File

20 October 1999

Changes in ABM Treaty Would Benefit Russia and the United States

(Ken Bacon stresses bilateral cooperation to avoid costly nuclear
errors) (1060)
By Susan Ellis
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Defense Department Spokesman Ken Bacon, in remarks to
international reporters at the State Department's Foreign Press Center
October 20, offered wide-ranging perspectives on the U.S. defense
posture and relationships with overseas allies. He emphasized that the
United States has undertaken "a very significant scaling back on (its)
reliance on tactical or theatre nuclear weapons in just the last
decade," and stressed the importance the nation places on adherence to
arms treaties.

Asked whether the United States plans new initiatives to convince
Russia to change its position on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)
Treaty, Bacon said the treaty "is a fundamental building block of arms
control. We want the treaty to continue. But the treaty allows for
review and change and we believe some changes are appropriate to allow
us and Russia to address new threats on the horizon."

He named the threats as limited attacks, when compared to "strategic
nuclear attacks that Russia and the United States prepared for over
the decades (during the years of the Cold War)."

He said that, in pursuit of an agreement on the ABM Treaty, Defense
Secretary Cohen went to Moscow and met with his counterpart, "Marshal
(Igor) Sergeyev, the former commander of the strategic rocket force,
so he's very knowledgeable about these issues." They discussed some of
the changes the U.S. would like to make, Bacon said, adding, "We will
continue to talk with the Russians."

Bacon said the cogent point is that the National Missile Defense
System, "should President Clinton decide to deploy it next summer, and
the changes we want to make in the ABM Treaty, do not threaten Russia.
What we're building and what we're proposing would do nothing to stop
the type of attack that Russia could today launch against the U.S. or
any other country in the world. What we're looking at is a very
limited system that could deal with a very small number of warheads
coming at us, not the thousands that Russia could launch today under
the current limits.

"We think this is an important point. We think that Russia faces some
of the same threats that we do from emerging nuclear powers that may
not respond to deterrents in the same way that Russia and the U.S.
have, and therefore, we will continue to talk with them on this."

Asked what help Russia might expect from the United States to deter
attacks, Bacon said that "cooperation" would be a better word. "Russia
has an extremely sophisticated strategic rocket force; an extremely
sophisticated radar technology. Unlike the United States, Russia does
have a National Missile Defense System deployed around Moscow. We
don't have one deployed anywhere in the United States now. So Russia
has considerable knowledge and skill in this area," Bacon said.

The United States is proposing that both countries cooperate to
address "what we believe is a threat to both countries," he said.
There are no firm proposals at this stage, he added, but rather "types
of cooperative events we could approach together. There are still a
lot of decisions to be made both in Moscow and Washington on this."

The crucial point, Bacon said, "is that we see this as a common
problem and there are common solutions" to be reached by the U.S. and
Russia working together.

As examples of such cooperative ventures, Bacon said the Russians
"could deal with specific radars...with sharing surveillance
technology. One thing discussed publicly is the Clinton-Yeltsin
proposal for a shared early warning center. Russia has volunteered to
establish that center in Moscow. There have been discussions under way
on our side, conducted by Assistant Secretary of Defense Ted Warner.
These are ways that build on the confidence-building measures that we
already have between our two countries."

The shared early warning center, he said, "would have Russian and
American technicians sitting together, reviewing radar, infrared and
other data that indicates missile launches -- so that we sort of
eliminate chances for miscommunication and misunderstanding in crisis
situations, whether they're real crises or anomalies that occur

To illustrate how such bilateral cooperation could prevent
misunderstanding, he explained that "a huge gas fire somewhere in the
world...can sometimes be picked up on our satellites and
misinterpreted as a missile launch. This is a problem that's common to
both countries and it's happened in the past."

Bacon was asked about a study published October 20 in the Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists, based on information on the U.S. nuclear
program released as a result of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
The article stated that during the Cold War years, the United States
had placed nuclear weapons in some allied nations without the
knowledge of their leaders.

The U.S., Bacon said, has a "longstanding policy worked out in
cooperation" with its allies around the world "to not comment
specifically on where we or other NATO allies maintained tactical
nuclear weapons." The policy, he added, is both for security reasons
and because of the domestic political sensitivities of some of the
host countries.

"But I can tell you that now in the very limited number of places that
we, as a member of the NATO alliance, have nuclear weapons, it's done
with the consent of the host countries," Bacon said.

Further, he said, the article's writers "made inferences or
extrapolations about which countries were included, and they did this
by using some alphabetical guesswork. They assumed that countries were
listed in alphabetical order. Some of their guesses are wrong."

However, he stressed, "the basic point that the article in the
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists makes is that at one time, during the
height of the Cold War, the 1950s, 60s and 70s, we did have a large
number of tactical nuclear weapons deployed around the world. And the
article also makes the point that that number has decreased
dramatically since the height of the Cold War and, as it points out in
the last tactical nuclear weapons are a very small
part of our defensive arsenal."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)