Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 74

In the wake of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s state visit to Washington April 4-6, U.S.-Ukrainian military cooperation could make significant progress in missile defense cooperation. The presidential joint statement agreed “to work together on missile defense, including beginning negotiations on a framework to facilitate such cooperation and closer industry-to-industry collaboration.”

Missile defense may appear tangential to U.S.-Ukrainian military cooperation, but high-level advocacy exists on both sides. This is not surprising, because significant commercial, military, and political interests are at stake for both sides in the missile business. The United States hopes to glean useful ballistic missile technology and hardware and tie Ukraine to Western export control norms. Ukraine is looking to boost a key industry and improve its prospects for joining NATO.

Missile defense cooperation has been rising steadily over the past year. The Ukrainian parliament ratified a “General Security of Defense Information Agreement” with the United States in June 2004. This agreement established guidelines for handling and protecting classified material — an important preliminary step for increasing cooperation and information flows. Ukraine is the only CIS member to have concluded such an agreement with the United States. According to U.S. government sources, that same month, Department of Defense officials visited Ukraine and met with representatives from the National Space Agency of Ukraine, the National Security and Defense Council, and Yuzhnoye, Ukraine’s missile design bureau.

Pentagon officials also stated that, in February 2005, senior executives from Yuzhnoye met with the Department of Defense to describe possible cooperative opportunities. Then in March, senior Pentagon officials consulted with their Ukrainian counterparts in Kyiv to prepare for the April state visit and to discuss missile defense cooperation. In addition, according to one official in the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Agency plans to conduct a U.S.-Ukraine missile-defense workshop with Ukrainian experts in June to explore operational concepts in missile defense.

These cooperative efforts seek to capitalize on Ukraine’s long-standing missile expertise and its newer sea-launch capabilities. Yuzhnoye has historically been the primary producer of Moscow’s strategic missiles and the major supplier of space-launch vehicles, such as the Cyclone and Zenit systems. While this industry lagged after the Soviet collapse, Ukraine’s military and space-launch industries remain a high priority for the country. One Ukrainian official noted that since 2002 more than 70 launches of Ukrainian-produced space launch vehicles have placed more than 150 satellites from nine countries in orbit.

More recently, international joint ventures, such as Yuzhnoye’s participation in the Sea Launch Project using the Zenit 3SL space launch vehicle, have also proven profitable. One U.S. industry representative close to the program stated that since the initial release of the Sea Launch platform in 1999, the platform has successfully launched 15 large commercial payloads. Such activities provide a commercially viable outlet for what was once a highly militarized industry.

Most importantly for the United States, many proliferators and emerging missile states today base their missile programs on Soviet-era designs. Yuzhnoye and Yuzmash (Ukraine’s missile manufacturing plant) could provide unique insight into these missile threats. From the Pentagon’s perspective, this expertise is attractive for testing its ballistic missile defense system.

As the Defense Department focuses on more realistic and strenuous testing of its ballistic missile defense system in the future, Ukraine would be a good partner. In the past, Pentagon officials revealed that Ukrainian specialists have proposed the use of the Cyclone-3 rocket for testing the ballistic missile defense system. The three-stage liquid-fuel launch vehicle resembles North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, which provides opportunities to test against targets more representative of real world threats. Moreover, Ukrainian expertise could be leveraged as NATO moves forward on potential development and testing of a theater ballistic missile system. Such cooperation could also provide a tangible boost to President Viktor Yushchenko’s NATO’s aspirations.

Expanding U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian defense sector also could curb long-standing proliferation concerns over Ukrainian military exports. More specifically, Ukraine’s missile technology and robust industry is attractive to proliferators and emerging missile states – a concern not without precedent. The alleged sale of the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq added to the unsavory character of the Leonid Kuchma regime. More recent revelations that Ukraine sold 18 unarmed nuclear-capable X-55 cruise missiles to Iran and China in 2001 are equally alarming (EDM, March 23). Tying the Ukrainian defense sector more closely to the Euro-Atlantic community could increasingly influence this industry to embrace Western norms of export control and mitigate proliferation issues.

In this regard, Yushchenko’s attitude is encouraging. On March 28 he stated that Ukrspetsexport (Ukraine’s state-owned arms trading company) “must operate transparently with clean hands and within the law. We do not need…deals that would later spark scandals, because of [these] scandals we are losing customers” (UNIAN, March 28).

But even Yushchenko has pointed out that Ukraine will remain a key player in the arms business. Ukraine “should not be satisfied that it earns some $500 million in weapons exports” to about a dozen countries. “I expect a new, aggressive business approach…that would focus more on manufacturing of weapons, instead of simple trade and overhauling [of Soviet-designed surplus arms].” Thus, even in the post-Kuchma era, Ukraine’s missile industry could emerge as a concern. However, by increasing defense cooperation, the United States could provide Ukrainian industry with brighter prospects and a real reason not to be tempted to tread along the proliferation path.