Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 168

Russia and the United States yesterday took a small step toward repairing military ties damaged by the NATO air war against Yugoslavia. Following talks in Moscow, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that the two sides had finalized an agreement establishing a joint center in Colorado to monitor possible false alarms of missile attacks caused by year-2000 computer bugs. Reports yesterday suggested that up to twenty Russian officers would arrive at the center sometime in December to begin work. The United States will foot the bill for the project (Reuters, Russian agencies, September 13).

The Russian and U.S. presidents had reached an agreement last fall to set up the early-warning center, and negotiations between defense officials from the two countries earlier this year had looked promising. Moscow cut off the talks, however, together with all other military contacts with leading NATO countries, following the start of the alliance’s air campaign in the Balkans. To date, the Kosovo peacekeeping operation and, now, the joint early-warning center, are the only projects on which Russia’s Defense Ministry is cooperating with the West.

U.S. defense officials have made it clear over the past year that they see little chance of the year-2000 computer glitch causing the accidental launching of Russian or U.S. nuclear missiles. They have, however, expressed some concerns about the proper functioning of Russia’s early-warning system, and about the possibility that Y2K problems could cause Moscow mistakenly to perceive a missile attack against it. More generally, U.S. defense officials have also suggested that their Russian counterparts may be taking the Y2K threat rather cavalierly, and that they have not moved expeditiously enough to test their systems. Russian dealings with Y2K have also been complicated by the government’s money crunch.

Perceived shortcomings in the Russian military’s approach to Y2K were highlighted again last week. The U.S. Defense Attache’s Office in Moscow reportedly warned in a cable to Washington that the Russian Defense Ministry had skipped a basic step in readying its most important military computers for the year-2000 technology challenge. The cable said that time constraints had resulted in the Russian Defense Ministry “bypassing the system certification process and moving directly to operationally based testing.” The cable apparently provided no further details, but some experts were quoted as saying that the omission was a worrisome one. A spokesperson for a U.S. Senate panel on the Y2K problem said that U.S. concerns were eased somewhat, however, by Moscow’s commitment to work with the U.S. Defense Department on the problem (Reuters, September 8).

During their meeting in Moscow yesterday, Cohen and Sergeev reportedly also discussed another, related initiative which had been set out earlier by the presidents of the two countries–the creation of a permanent joint missile early-warning center in Moscow to monitor Russian and U.S. data. Cohen and Sergeev apparently reached no agreement on that project yesterday, but the two men did suggest that future suggestions could prove successful (Reuters, September 13).