TCS Daily


Going Ballistic

By Richard Weitz - August 10, 2006 12:00 AM

In the latest issue of Russia's leading defense weekly, Voenno-Promishlenniy Kur'er, Russia's senior military officer accuses American officials of seeking "absolute military superiority" over Russia and China by pursing unlimited ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs. The broadside by Gen. Yurii Baluyevskiy, Chief of the Russian General Staff, indicates that BMD has again become a major source of tension between Russia and the United States. It also amounts to a rejection of recent U.S. Congressional efforts to revive Russian-American BMD cooperation by directing it in innovative directions.

Since the early 1990s, BMD issues have complicated Russian-American relations. On the one hand, the two governments long differed over how to modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Their dispute came to an incomplete resolution in December 2001, when the new George W. Bush administration gave formal notice of its decision to withdraw unilaterally from the treaty without seeking a substitute accord. On the other hand, Russia and the United States have engaged in protracted discussions about possible bilateral BMD cooperation. Russian officials and companies have evinced a long-standing interest in such collaboration, primarily because they have hoped to sell Russian military technologies to the United States and other NATO governments.

Recurring disagreements between Russian and U.S. officials over the nature of the ballistic missile threat have repeatedly derailed these attempts at BMD cooperation. Most Russian analysts typically discount the threat from ballistic missiles relative to other security challenges such as defending against terrorists employing other means of attack. Russian officials accordingly have made clear that investing heavily in joint Russian-American BMD projects is not a priority. They also have expressed bewilderment that Washington intends to deploy BMD assets in Eastern Europe when their avowed purpose is to counter ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East and North Korea rather than from Russia. In May 2006, for example, General Baluyevskiy said that only someone ignorant of geography could fail to see that the only logical target of American BMD systems based in Poland and its neighbors would be ICBMs from Russia rather than Iran. Russian representatives have also repeatedly warned that U.S. BMD efforts could spur a chain reaction of nuclear weapons proliferation along Russia's periphery.

In the area of theater missile defense (TMD), the Russian-U.S. dialogue, carried out largely under the auspices of the NATO-Russian Council, has confronted several additional problems. First, the interoperability challenge is enormous. The two sides' BMD systems employ different technical standards, command-and-control procedures, and operational doctrines. Second, restrictive technology transfer policies regularly impede defense cooperation between NATO countries and Russia. Third, Russia's growing military cooperation with China has reinforced caution among NATO governments about sharing BMD technologies. Not only could China use any intelligence in this area to overcome U.S. BMD systems, but Chinese experts might share such data with North Korea or Iran.

The differences became evident after NATO decided in March 2005 to develop an Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) system by the end of this decade. The move appears to have prompted Russian defense policy makers to consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This pioneering accord banned all Soviet and U.S. ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,000 kilometers. Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov raised the withdrawal issue with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he visited Washington in January 2005. In March 2006, General Vladimir Vasilenko, the head of the Ministry of Defense Research Institute, said even more explicitly that Russia might need to withdraw from the treaty. Although intermediate-range missiles would facilitate Russia's implementation of its new doctrine regarding preemptive strikes against foreign-based terrorists, they also could help overcome a NATO TMD system.

In May 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act advocating greater Russian-American BMD cooperation. It called for innovative forms of collaboration, including the possible use of Russian missiles as exercise targets for U.S. BMD systems and American use of launch data from Russia's early warning radars.

Rather than explore this initiative, Russian officials have stepped up their criticism of U.S. BMD plans. On the one hand, Russians have denounced American programs as aiming to achieve strategic superiority. On the other hand, President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian defense policy makers have claimed that Russian strategic designers have developed revolutionary new BMD-penetration technologies. In particular, they have asserted that Russian engineers have created a new strategic missile that could change course in flight and, thanks to its unpredictable trajectory, overcome potential BMD systems.

The long history of failed attempts at Russian-Western BMD collaboration, combined with the growing Russian campaign against U.S. BMD plans, suggests that proposals such as the May 2006 Congressional initiative will likely fail. Extensive Russian-American technological sharing and developing a common BMD architecture represent unattainable goals. For the next few years, we can expect only marginal progress such as further data exchanges regarding both countries' BMD development plans and their evolving BMD concepts of operations. We should also anticipate continued attacks against the Bush administration's strategic defense plans despite the all-too-obvious missile threats in northeast Asia and the Middle East.

The author is a Senior Fellow and Associate Director of the Center for Future Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute.

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6 Comments

BMD vs ICBM
Won't someone explain to me please why anyone would object to a defense against ballistic missle bombardment? Without the usual 'spark an armaments race' nonsense please since a race to create a truly effective BMD would seem to me to place severe restrictions on the efficacy of ballistic missles.

Re: BMD vs ICBM
Not too sure meself, but I think the argument runs that the first nation to 'enjoy' a reliable BMD might be more inclined to use its ICBMs - feeling safe behind its own shield.

Russian complaints, however, are entirely specious and really just reflects its post-imperial impotence in anything not related to oil and gas.

Does anyone believe Russia would attempt total military dominance if it could?
As usual the Russians demonstrate why they are to be trsted and why they are such fine allies. I can't see why BMD isn't pushed forward to a few hundred missiles.

Re: Does anyone believe
Russia under Putin more aggressively plays 'realpolitik' then it has done since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It will make noises about such initiatives, attempt to dominate the ex-USSR space in various malicious ways (such as supporting separtist movements in ex-USSR countries that don't play its game) and honeying up to China and Iran by, for example, providing advanced weaponry and weapons technology.

All this regardless of the wider implications.

It is thoroughly cynical - more so than most countries' foreign policies (even France's) - and potentially dangerous.

Russia playing stupidly dangerous game cuddling with China
Russia has been succesfuly invaded from china, China has been succesfuly invaded from Russia. Both have been succesfuly invaded from the central Asian barbarian generator, the stepes, between them.

Given this, Russia plays a stupid game giving China advanced weapons, they will wind up pointed back at them.

Russia also plays a stupid game with Iran, by giving them the bomb, Russia gives Chechnyans the bomb. The Islamo-facists would profit more & risk less by nuking moscow instead of new york. it would open up several ex-soviet countrys in central Asia to their influence. Irans power would spread hugely to the east.

BMD vs BMs
Possibly it's just a reflection of my own live and let live philosophy but it seems to me that a viable BMD system used by a majority of the worlds nations would preclude the launch of ICBMs. I find it very encouraging that Japan, among others, has expressed it's desire to deploy BMDs, though not exclusively, in preference to nuclear equipped ballistic missles. Let's face it - any nation that has seent the US/USSR waste trillions in pursuit of nuclear/missle parity ought to have learned the folly of such a strategy. Instead, the development of smaller, more portable nuclear devices would become more important to those nations that would use such weapons to attack their 'enemies', especially through surrogates such as al Quida and Hezbollah.

At best BMDs would close one avenue of nuclear warfare. At worst they would encourage terrorist sponsors to equip their surrogates with nukes, a prospect I believe unlikely to appeal to sane governments or rulers. India and Israel for example have had nuclear weapons capabilities for decades yet neither has offered to so equip any surrogate force. Iran, and even Pakistan, on the other hand, have both supported terrorist organizations as a matter of course and are therefore suspect.

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