Alternatives to a National Missile Defense and Short-Term or Interim Measures to Contribute to the Goal of Nuclear Disarmament

Tasneem Jamal

Makarim Wibisono

Ambassador Dr. Makarim Wibisono is Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination? 

The U.S. claim that a national missile defense (NMD) is directed only against the presently non-existent ICBMs of some developing countries (e.g., the DPRK, Iran and Iraq), is discounted by both China and Russia which are the only states that have the capabilities to hit the U.S. with nuclear-armed ICBMs. Since those countries are unlikely to clandestinely acquire a significant number of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles of an ICBM range, it might suffice to center the defense either on the capital or on the ICBM complex which is permitted by the ABM Treaty. The 1974 Protocol to that Treaty by which the Soviet Union/Russia chose the defense of Moscow and the U.S. its ICBM complex which it subsequently gave up could be reversed without affecting the substance of the Treaty.

The prevailing trend in the U.S. holds the deployment of an NMD to be inevitable. The strategic implications of an NMD would be different if carried out in the context of a phased program of nuclear disarmament. Even in that context, such a system could be considered threatening unless deployed in a globally agreed framework. In other words, an NMD cannot be considered outside the framework of complete and verifiable nuclear disarmament.

A number of lesser known anti-missile weapons can substitute for an NMD. They include theater missile defense systems. They are intended to protect U.S. troops and bases in relatively small regions of conflicts. This was attempted during the Gulf War in 1991. But some already under development could be expanded to protect large areas and perhaps even the entire U.S. according to experts both inside and outside the military.

Many of these systems have yet to be tested for the purpose for which they were originally intended, let alone a new, more ambitious one and the difficulty of adapting them would range from making simple changes in their computer software to perhaps adding sophisticated new sensors or other hardware.

With several of these weapons scheduled to be available as theater defenses by the year 2007, there is speculation that they might eventually be adapted to provide some form of NMD. It does devalue the argument that a missile defense can only be expedited through an NMD which is intended to track missiles through space and shoot down descending warheads from a land-based site in the U.S. Many of the theater defenses use interceptors, lasers or fragmentation explosives from ships or airplanes that could manoeuver close to countries like North Korea, whose missile program has been cited as one reason why an NMD is needed.

Some of these theater systems are now intended to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles in mid-flight or on their way down to a target, but knowledgeable sources assert that they can be adapted to destroy the kinds of faster long-range missiles that are the object of an NMD. That could be done by adding long-range sensors that would provide theater systems enough time to destroy missiles in mid-flight, or by targeting missiles soon after they were launched.

Russia has not objected to theater defense systems. One reason is that they do not violate the ABM Treaty. China, however, in addition to its objections to an NMD, does see theater defenses as a threat because they could protect Japan and Taiwan, its potential adversaries.

For the most part, theater defenses have not generated the same opposition either in the U.S. or in other countries as the idea for an NMD. This is because theater defenses are not intended to offer the kind of blanket protection from missile attack that would challenge existing theories of arms control which are based on mutual vulnerability.

Russia opposes NMD because it could be used to gain a strategic advantage and further entrench U.S. dominance by devaluing its nuclear arsenals. It is also opposed by U.S. allies in Europe because it would give America enormous political and military advantages, undercut the nuclear forces of England and France and expose Europe to the consequences of actions taken by America’s adversaries. From the viewpoint of China, it can not allow its limited retaliatory capabilities – approximately 20 warheads – to be neutralized by an NMD.

If China augments its nuclear force in response to an NMD, its regional rival, India, will do the same, as could India’s rival, Pakistan, thereby heightening tensions among the world’s newest nuclear powers. It might set off an arms race between these countries.

Thus, the political, strategic and technological factors militate against the deployment of an NMD. Indonesia is not opposed to any valid U.S. concerns for its security although it remains the pre-eminent military power. No one can dispute the right of any state to develop what it believes is appropriate for its defense. But an NMD – because of its wide-ranging ramifications – is not the appropriate modality to further this objective.

Short-term or interim measures to contribute to the goal of the elimination of nuclear armaments

Prior to the initiation of substantive nuclear disarmament measures, certain preliminary steps are in order that would combine the political and security aspects associated with nuclear weapons. The role of nuclear weapons in ensuring security – as was reiterated by NATO last year – should be delegitimized and existing nuclear doctrines such as deterrence abandoned. Otherwise, there will always be a threat of a resumption of the nuclear arms race and an escalation of the nuclear threat.

The ratification of the CTBT has now become imperative. The U.S., which took the lead, must now set an example by ratifying the CTBT without linking extraneous issues to such an undertaking.

Initiation of negotiations on a fissile materials cut-off treaty should focus equally on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament aspects. This is an achievable objective but must be pursued in the context of an agenda to “roll back” existing arsenals so that it would be possible to address related issues such as past stockpiles and future production, verification mechanisms and the right of civilian applications, universality and non-discrimination.

De-alerting, which involves the separation of warheads from delivery systems, would reduce the chances for inadvertent, unauthorized or accidental use. Coordinated action by the nuclear weapon states would end the practice of threatening to employ indiscriminate and disproportionate force. It would eliminate the risk of deliberate use of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats need no longer be defended as necessary to national survival.

The fact that an initial step such as de-alerting has been taken would increase confidence and lead to a number of other realistic and mutually reinforcing steps. These would include an end to launch-on-warning postures, removal of warheads from delivery vehicles and ending deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Another follow-up step would be the abolition of tactical nuclear weapons which are not covered by any agreement. They account for more than half of the global stockpile of nuclear warheads with their destructive potential. Conceived for use originally in the European context during the Cold War, they have lost their rationale.

The implementation of certain transparency measures such as declarations of stocks of nuclear weapons and of nuclear weapons-usable materials would help dispel regional and global concerns. Additional information on reserve stocks would have a positive impact on steps towards nuclear disarmament. These and other measures of this nature should be carried out under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A commitment of no first use of nuclear weapons is of paramount importance.

The proposal for a national missile defense would irretrievably complicate efforts to achieve the total abolition of nuclear armaments. In fact, it might lead to the resumption of a nuclear arms race. The importance of preserving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is self-evident.

These would constitute essential steps towards the abolition of nuclear arsenals. They are realistic and achievable proposals. Their implementation would gradually pave the way for rendering nuclear weapons reductions irreversible and move towards their elimination. But the question is whether the nuclear weapon states have the political will even to implement these measures of a marginal nature in the foreseeable future.

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