Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 184

One man who has kept anything but a low profile is Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry’s main department for international military cooperation. In remarks yesterday, the hardline Ivashov also underscored Moscow’s insistence on continued observance of the ABM treaty. Indeed, Ivashov suggested to reporters that a series of recent Russian-U.S. negotiations–ostensibly aimed at reaching agreement on amendments to the ABM accord sought by Washington–had accomplished nothing and provided little more than opportunities for both sides to restate their views on the issue. He also repeated Russian dismissals of U.S. arguments in favor of deploying ballistic missile defenses. Ivashov said that Washington was exaggerating the missile threat posed by North Korea, Iraq and Iran–so-called “rogue states”–and that its talk of possible accidental missile launches by Russia and China were based on equally dubious assumptions (Russian agencies, October 5).

If accurate, Ivashov’s remarks yesterday seem to confirm what has been apparent for more than a month now: that Clinton Administration efforts to preserve an amended ABM treaty while proceeding with the development of a national missile defense system are failing (see the Monitor, August 23; September 10). Despite an agreement reached this past June in Cologne by the Russian and U.S. presidents to discuss modifications to the ABM accord, Russian leaders have refused since that time to budge on any of the key issues. The deadlock has stymied other Russian-U.S. arms control initiatives, including the Kremlin’s efforts to win ratification of the START II accord by the Russian parliament.

Russian-U.S. talks on a possible follow-up START III accord are likewise going nowhere. Many experts believe that the Clinton administration has attempted to trade the launching of START III talks for Russian acquiescence to the U.S. proposed changes in the ABM treaty. Washington had earlier insisted that START III talks had to wait for Russian ratification of START II. Moscow is intensely interested in the follow-up START III negotiations because it sees an agreement there as one possible means of maintaining relative nuclear parity with the United States despite the rapid obsolescence of its own strategic nuclear forces.

The U.S. debate over the missile defense and the ABM treaty has already become highly politicized, and is likely to become more so as the U.S. presidential election approaches. Republican front-runner George W. Bush has already called for the United States to proceed with the deployment of a ballistic missile defense system, and other GOP candidates have joined increasingly assertive congressional republicans in the same effort. This has left the Clinton administration between a rock and a hard place. Its attempts to stake out a middle ground by proceeding with missile defense while negotiating changes to the ABM accord with Moscow are foundering on Russian objections. And Moscow’s position, it is worth noting, seems itself to have hardened at least in part because of the approaching elections in that country.

Critics of U.S. missile defense plans have argued that deployment of a national missile defense system will actually undermine U.S. security by alienating and alarming the Russians and Chinese–who continue to pose the most serious strategic threat to the United States–but simultaneously fail to provide a fully reliable barrier against potential missile attacks by rogue states. That Russia and China will consider increasing or diversifying their own strategic nuclear arsenals as a response to current U.S. missile defense plans has been suggested by remarks coming from their respective national capitals. Indeed, U.S. missile defense plans appear to be yet another issue driving Moscow and Beijing to make common cause. The two countries have already conferred officially to discuss their joint opposition to a proposed U.S.-Japanese theater missile defense system in Asia. On September 28 Russian and Chinese Foreign and Defense Ministry officials reportedly met for the first time to discuss U.S. national ballistic missile defense plans as well those pertaining to theater defense in Asia (RIA, September 28).