Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 123

ballistic missile defense plans reappeared in the headlines yesterday after Moscow proposed publicly that Russian specialists work with their Norwegian counterparts at a controversial radar site located some forty miles from the Russian border. The proposal, which Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made during a visit to Norway, involves the Globus II radar facility, which is located in the Norwegian town of Vardoe. The 132-foot, American-built radar was formerly installed at Vandenberg Air force Base in California–where it was identified by the code name HAVE STARE–before being transferred to Norway in 1998. It has been the subject of intense negotiations between Russian and U.S. arms control negotiators, and has likewise been a point of friction in relations between Moscow and Oslo. Critics of the radar–in Russia and in the West–contend that it is intended to be used as part of the U.S. national missile defense system and that, once operational, it will constitute a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. U.S. and Norwegian government and defense officials, meanwhile, claim that the Globus II radar will be under Norwegian control and will be used solely to track space debris. They deny that it will have any connection with U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts.

Ivanov’s outwardly innocuous proposal yesterday, which he made in the course of informal talks with Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland, appears to have been an effort by Moscow to call what it believes is Washington’s bluff on the matter. “Russia has some of the world’s leading experts for space debris,” Ivanov was quoted as saying. “Norwegian and Russian experts can inspect the radar together.” Jagland, however, reportedly responded to the proposal with a firm rebuff, saying that there is “no question of cooperating with the Russians on the development of the Vardoe radar.” He also said that Oslo had provided Russian authorities with sufficient technical detail about the radar, and offered a guarantee “that the radar will not be used to undermine the ABM treaty” (Reuters, The Norway Post, June 22; Russian agencies, June 21).

Details about the capabilities and possible uses of the Globus II radar emerged publicly this past spring, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an American journal specializing in nuclear arms control issues, published several articles about the radar’s history. Among other things, the articles noted that the radar had been used in California in several early tests of the U.S. national missile defense system. Theodore A. Postol, an MIT scientist and author of one of the articles, argued that the radar could be used to “provide critical information for a national missile defense system aimed specifically at Russia.” Postol has made headlines more recently for his criticism of U.S. national missile defense testing practices. He and other U.S. defense experts have likewise argued that the location of Globus II makes little sense in terms of monitoring space debris, but that it is perfectly located to monitor Russian missile tests conducted by the nearby Russian Northern Fleet and from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Critics of the U.S. national missile defense system also point–as do leading Russian defense experts–at the location of the Vardoe radar as proof that the U.S. system is directed not at “rogue states” like North Korea, Iraq and Iran, as Washington claims, but at Russia itself (The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2000; New York Times, February 22).

Indeed, there is apparently some question as to whether Norwegian civilian officials are themselves fully informed about the capabilities of the Globus II radar or of its possible use as a part of the U.S. national missile defense system. But question marks about the radar have generated a political debate in Norway, one which is likely to grow more intense as the facility comes closer to going on line later this year (AP, February 24). Such concerns, moreover, are likely also to dovetail with broader European misgivings about U.S. missile defense plans and Washington’s challenge, unpopular in Europe, to the ABM treaty.

Moscow can be counted on to play upon these concerns. Ivanov’s seemingly bland proposal yesterday is a natural follow-up to President Vladimir Putin’s recent call for the EU, NATO, Russia and the United States to work jointly toward creation of a missile shield for Europe which would not violate the ABM treaty. That proposal has found a receptive audience in European countries, and there is no reason why Ivanov’s call for Norwegian-Russian cooperation at Vardoe would not tap into similar sentiments. Indeed, Moscow has in recent months also voiced more ominous warnings about the adverse impact which completion of the Vardoe facility could have on bilateral relations between the two countries (Russian agencies, April 18, May 19; June 21; Izvestia, May 19). Further, public discussion in Norway could also turn to the uncomfortable fact that under conditions of increased tension between Russia and the United States–something Moscow promises if Washington goes forward with its ballistic missile defense plans–the Globus II radar could also become a target of Russian nuclear planners. All of these considerations suggest that the diplomatic jousting over the Vardoe facility has just begun, and that it will remain a part of the broader struggle between Washington and Moscow over the future of missile defense and strategic arms control more generally.