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Yeltsin's global shield: Russia recasts the SDI debate.

In January 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin completely rewrote the terms of debate over the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) by proposing a "Global Protection System" to defend against limited missile strikes. Yeltsin's proposal, which has support in the Russian military, converges nicely with the direction President George Bush had taken SDI in 1991--toward a global capability to defend against small-scale missile attack.

Even more important, the Russian president's initiative means that Russia now officially supports cooperation with the United States on missile defenses. This is in dramatic contrast to the long history of hostility toward SDI on the part of Soviet leaders.

Yeltsin's turnabout has enormous implications for the U.S. debate on missile defense. The standard arguments against defenses--which were all based on the assumption of Soviet hostility--are now without foundation.

For the past decade, every major argument against SDI has been based on the premise that the Soviets would strongly oppose U.S. deployment of strategic defenses--and perhaps even go to war over the issue. Critics asserted that the Soviet Union would counter any U.S. defenses with additions to its own offensive nuclear arsenal. They warned that this would set off an offensive-defensive arms race, and destroy any hope of future arms-control agreements.

SDI opponents further charged that the Soviets could easily overcome U.S. missile defenses with relatively inexpensive modifications of their offensive weapons. Consequently, SDI was criticized as a technical chimera and a costly sinkhole that might never offer effective missile protection.

Critics argued as well that to move forward with SDI would violate the 1972 ABM Treaty, which severely limits the numbers and types of missile defenses that can be developed, tested, and deployed. They contended that the Soviet Union would never agree to revise the treaty for the purpose of expanding defenses.

"Egregious Nonsense"

These arguments against missile defense--that it would set off an arms race, destroy the future of arms control, cost too much, prove to be technically infeasible, and require violations of the ABM Treaty--were all based on the assumption of Soviet opposition.

Soviet words, if not deeds, reinforced the standard case against SDI. Immediately following its introduction, Soviet leaders declared their hostility to the program--largely adopting the arguments of the program's American opponents. They also declared the ABM Treaty to be sacrosanct. Consequently, domestic critics could point to official Soviet statements against missile defense to validate their dire predictions of what would happen if the United States went forward with SDI.

By October 1991, however, statements in support of missile defense by some Soviet military and political officials suggested that the Soviet Union was reconsidering its previous opposition to cooperative missile defense. Within months, the Soviet position became irrelevant, as the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Nevertheless, the 1960s-vintage case against missile defense has become part of the accepted dogma of the arms-control community. Outspoken public critics of missile defense proved so wedded to Soviet opposition as the mainstay of their arguments against defenses that they ridiculed the notion that the Soviet Union could ever revise its position. Matthew Bunn of the Arms Control Association observed that suggestions that there existed some evidence of a potential shift in the Soviet position were "egregious nonsense" and represented "either shoddy scholarship or [were] downright dishonest."

Following President Yeltsin's declared support for global missile defenses, the critics interpreted the Russian president as endorsing cooperation only on the early warning of missile launches. Following Yeltsin's repeated reaffirmation of cooperation with the United States on missile defense, these same critics--who for years had eagerly pointed to negative Soviet statements to buttress their own arguments against defenses-- proclaimed that positive statements by President Yeltsin about missile defense should not be taken too seriously. The critics highlighted instead continued caution on the part of some unofficial Russian commentators and mid-level bureaucrats.

The past Soviet view of missile defense had a tremendous effect on the domestic debate on SDI, providing the basis for the standard case against American defenses. The much different Russian view introduced officially by Boris Yeltsin this year has set the stage for an entirely new chapter in our thinking about defenses.

The Yeltsin Initiative on Joint Defenses

In late January 1992, Russian President Yeltsin announced his country's readiness to "jointly work out and subsequently to create and jointly operate a global system of defense in place of SDI." The Russian president repeated this proposition in several fora, including his address at the United Nations. Yeltsin also reaffirmed his government's commitment to the ABM Treaty.

Speaking in broad terms, Yeltsin advocated holding open discussions on a cooperative system for global defense against ballistic missiles that would employ contributions from the Russian defense complex. Such cooperation would make defenses more affordable and less complicated, significant points for the cash- strapped Russian Federation. Joint development, according to Yeltsin, would begin with U.S.-Russian conceptual and technical definition. Ultimately the system would involve other states.

To underscore the seriousness of his initiative, Yeltsin appointed a special commission to work out a concept of a global defense system, to establish a joint Russo-American center for early warning of ballistic missile attacks, and to organize exchanges of defense technologies. This commission, which helped brief Yeltsin for the June 1992 summit in Washington D.C., was led by noted Russian scientist and academician Evgenii Velikhov--a former opponent of ballistic missile defense (BMD) expansion.

Why Russian Support For Cooperative Defense?

There appears to be a consensus for cooperative defense among the top Russian political leaders, and support for the concept from some senior military officers. Indeed, Velikhov, when asked about opponents of joint BMD, reportedly stated, "[t]here are practically none among either designers or the military. The critics of this proposal in both Russia and the United States are, rather, maniacs obsessed with old ideas and they have no influence."

There remain, nevertheless, significant points of contention in Russia on the broad subject of missile defense and cooperation with the United States. In particular, questions persist over the space-basing of interceptors, the feasibility of significant outlays of capital for defenses in a time of economic crisis, the possible threat to the Russian nuclear deterrent posed by defenses, and fears of a one-way technology transfer from Russia to the United States at fire-sale prices. These concerns are voiced primarily within parts of the military, and by members of the old Soviet foreign policy and arms-control establishment.

For example, Alexei Arbatov, formerly of the Soviet delegation to the Nuclear and Space Talks in Geneva and now director of the Center for Arms Control and Strategic Stability, regularly publishes articles skeptical of expanded or cooperative BMD. In late 1991 Arbatov wrote an article with U.S. SDI critic Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council arguing that Moscow's emerging interest in expanded missile defense is a "wrong decision." Even Arbatov, however, admits that BMD critics now have little influence over Russian policy-makers. There are four major reasons for strong Russian support for missile-defense cooperation.

1. Integration With the West. A key motivation for cooperative defense lies in Russia's desire to establish good political relations with the West, so as to receive economic aid. Following his January speech, Yeltsin told a BBC correspondent, "We want to be a full-blooded member of the European Community, of the world community. That's why we think it's a good idea to build up special global defense forces together and to work together on space programs to replace `Star Wars.'"

The Russian government seeks to become, in the words of Foreign Minister Kozyrev, a "normal great power." Cooperative security programs with other great powers would provide an important underpinning for Russian international status at a time of political and economic crisis. According to well-known Russian academic Sergei Blagovolin, the creation of a joint defense "will be a most important practical step toward interdependence in military affairs."

Russian officials suggest that there are specific economic benefits to be gained from cooperation with Western industrialized countries in missile defense. These include capital and technology to aid in economic reform and defense conversion, opening markets for Soviet high-technology goods like the S-300 (billed as the "Russian Patriot"), reducing the cost and complexity of their own BMD systems, and maintaining employment for Russian scientists and engineers to stem the "brain drain."

At the same time, many influential Russians (including First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin) have suggested that the United States could benefit from technology exchanges in areas where the Russians have made considerable advances: heavy lift launch capability, research in directed energy technologies, and the Topaz nuclear reactor, to name a few.

2. The Increasing Proliferation Threat. With the dramatic changes in the strategic environment, the new Russian leadership has shifted its security focus from the Western threat to the threat from "the South." According to Sergei Rogov, deputy director of the USA and Canada Institute, a primary threat to Russian security is the threat of "certain former republics [that] may find themselves under the influence of regional power centers like China or Iran." Russian commentators have also expressed increased concerns about the possible escalation of regional conflicts to include threats to Russia.

Consistent with this shift in thinking, senior Russian military officers have argued that missile defense has become important because the leaders of those Third-World states acquiring missile capability may be less deterred by the threat of retaliation than was the United States during the Cold War. The recent Gulf War was almost certainly instructive for the Russian military and political leadership. Of particular concern is the possibility of war within or among the former Soviet Union republics that might spiral out of control and ultimately involve missile use against Russia.

3. The Need To Reestablish An Early Warning Network. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited a much-diminished capability to detect and track ballistic missile launches and tests. As the former republics divide up Soviet military assets, the Russian leadership cannot be confident it will have long-term access to key installations, and it cannot afford to rebuild them on Russian territory.

For example, ground-based radars once located in what were Soviet republics are now located in independent states. Even in the near term, the Russian early warning network has suffered the same economic shocks as has the rest of the former Soviet military, making effective maintenance and operation difficult. Russian interest in beginning cooperation with a joint early warning system reflects the military and political leadership's alarm at the state of its early warning capability, and the belief that only cooperation with the United States will give them access to the early warning capability it needs.

4. Increased U.S. Support for Missile Defense. In late 1991, with Senators Sam Nunn and John Warner in the lead, Congress fashioned the Missile Defense Act (MDA) of 1991, demonstrating to the Russians that the internal U.S. debate over missile defenses was nearing a compromise solution. The possibility of a U.S. domestic political compromise leading to new BMD deployment and a more assertive approach to ABM Treaty revision clearly influenced the evolving Russian position on BMD. The commitment to missile defense embodied by the MDA has provoked some Russians to propose cooperation as an alternative to facing a U.S. missile defense capability unconstrained by the absence of Russian participation.

Velikhov's Global Protection System

In June 1992 the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaia gazeta published Velikhov's concept for cooperative global defenses. As outlined by Velikhov, the Global Protection System is a part of a non-proliferation regime designed to monitor the spread of mass destruction weapons and their delivery systems, notify the world community of ballistic missile launches and tests, and to protect "member states" from missile attack. Velikhov has stated that all "peace-loving states" should join in the operation of a "supranational ABM system." The first stage would be the establishment of a joint early warning center to include the United States, Russia, and the other former Soviet republics. This would be followed by cooperation in defense technologies and the eventual deployment of interceptors. Velikhov noted that such cooperation would require modification to current Western technology-control regimes, such as COCOM.

At the June summit, both the United States and Russia publicly agreed to pursue further joint study and immediate conceptual development. It was further agreed to form a high-level group, led by the U.S. State Department's Dennis Ross and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov, to discuss the following issues: joint early warning cooperation; the potential for cooperative BMD development and technology programs; and the legal basis for GPS--possibly to include new treaties and agreements and/or modifications to the ABM Treaty. This high-level group, which first met this July, reaffirmed both sides' commitment to jointly developing and deploying a GPS. The negotiators agreed to continue discussions through the creation of three working groups: 1) Global Protection System Concept Development; 2) Technology Cooperation; and 3) Non-Proliferation.

Seeming ABM Contradictions

On the surface, it appears that President Yeltsin's declared commitment to both GPS and the ABM Treaty is a contradiction. The evolving Russian position on the Treaty, however, does not view that agreement and the cooperative deployment of defenses as incompatible.

Many Russian political and military officials, for example, have suggested that the treaty be revised to facilitate progress on cooperative missile defense. In contrast, most recently, a senior member of the Russian high-level delegation on GPS suggested that the Russians may even consider the ABM Treaty as irrelevant to GPS. In a press conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Berdennikov drew a distinction between national defenses that are limited by the ABM Treaty and GPS--which would be jointly developed, created, and operated, and not subject to the treaty's restrictions. Berdennikov stated: our view no amendments are needed in the antiballistic

missile defense treaty of 1972 in order to clear the way for

the establishment of a global defense system. We think that treaty has lost none of its importance; moreover, at a time when the strategic offensive systems have been drastically cut back, the treaty has grown even more important, and is the bulwark of strategic stability. We think it is no hinderance to the establishment of a global defense system because it restricts national defenses, while a global defense system that is to be developed, created and operated jointly, better on a multilateral basis, is not viewed by us as a national system.

Archaic Remnant

Past assumptions about missile defense as a certain catalyst for heightened arms competition and East-West enmity are archaic remnants of the Cold War. Rather than starting an arms race and undermining the arms-control process, as the critics promised, strategic defenses have become a means for East-West cooperation.

The Bush-Yeltsin summit in June showed that cooperative missile defense can be pursued parallel to major reductions in offensive weapons. Similarly, the cooperative pursuit of defenses, following an agreement to revise or replace the ABM Treaty or interpret it as irrelevant to GPS, clearly will not involve U.S. abrogation or violation of the treaty, as claimed by the critics. Moreover, consistent assertions by critics notwithstanding, missile defense easily can be anticipated as technically credible and affordable when the United States and Russia cooperate rather than compete.

Russia and the West clearly have mutual incentives to move together to deploy defenses, with each side gaining greater security. This opportunity to pursue common security interests--not at the expense of one another, but in cooperation--would help define the type of improved relations that hopefully will characterize the post-Cold War order.
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Title Annotation:Boris Yeltsin's policy of cooperation with the US on Strategic Defense Initiative
Author:Payne, Keith B.; Vlahos, Linda; Stanley, Willis
Publication:Policy Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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