Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 198

Russian determination to resist any rewriting of the 1972 ABM treaty was in evidence again yesterday as a top Defense Ministry official warned that Moscow would overcome any antiballistic missile defense system the United States were to deploy. In remarks to the influential Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, First Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov said that Russia’s nuclear arsenal has the “technical capabilities” to defeat any U.S. antimissile defense system and that Moscow would use those capabilities if Washington forced it to do so. Mikhailov offered few specifics, but did reiterate earlier Russian threats both to deploy more warheads atop its current missiles and to increase the number of warheads carried by its new Topol-M ICBM. He also said that Russia could target any ABM facility built by the United States. Like other Russian commentators on this issue, Mikhailov suggested that Moscow’s proposed countermeasures would be both effective and a great deal less expensive to implement than U.S. plans to build a limited national missile defense system (AP, Russian agencies, October 25; International Herald Tribune, October 26).

Mikhailov’s remarks come in the wake of yet another unsuccessful session of Russian-U.S. arms control talks, this one held in Moscow on October 21-22. Like previous sessions, last week’s negotiations were held behind closed doors. Few details of its proceedings were made public. There was little hope of success going into the talks, however, in view of the fact that last week Russian officials had made their continued opposition to revisiting the ABM accord quite clear. At the conclusion of the latest negotiations, a source close to Russian military leaders was quoted as suggesting that the two sides had found little about which to agree (Reuters, Itar-Tass, October 22).

The key differences in these talks are reported to revolve around Washington’s insistence that any START III agreement be linked to its proposed revisions to the ABM accord. Moscow desperately wants a START III agreement because it would reduce nuclear arsenals below levels envisioned in the START II treaty and thereby help Russia maintain relative parity with the United States. But Moscow is apparently not willing to trade concessions on the ABM treaty for a START III accord. Russian negotiators, moreover, are reported to be put off by what they describe as American unwillingness to give guarantees that the antiballistic missile defense system it initially deploys will not be further strengthened in the future. A third complicating factor is the Russian parliament’s failure to ratify the START II treaty. U.S. negotiators had made progress on the START III agreement. but this was contingent on ratification of START II. Russian officials have warned that further strategic arms control talks will become pointless if the ABM treaty is changed in any way.