Improving the International Control of Ballistic Missiles

Tasneem Jamal

Jürgen Scheffran

Jürgen Scheffran works with IANUS, Zintl Institute, Germany  

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?

Since ballistic missiles were first used by Germany in World War II, missile proliferation has been of great concern to many nations. Ballistic missiles allow aggressors to strike distant targets quickly, with little warning, and with a high probability of penetration. They played a destabilizing role and wasted enormous resources during the Cold War. Grave concerns have been raised about the spread of ballistic missile systems and technologies, in particular, to the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula. The use of ballistic missiles in the two Gulf Wars demonstrated their political significance in regional conflicts, though their military utility is rather questionable. Altogether there are good arguments why a world with less or no ballistic missiles would be a better place.

There is still time to prevent a destabilizing and costly arms race between offensive and defensive missiles, assuming that the development of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is a complex and time-consuming task and NMD deployment would be delayed by technical difficulties (especially after the failure of the July 7 test). In the past, ballistic missiles have been largely ignored in international arms control and disarmament negotiations, although the preamble of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) demands “the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.'” In his speech to the House of Commons in London on July 3 Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs of the United Nations, raised the question, “why is public debate mired today in a duel between deterrence and defence, with scant attention to missile disarmament?”

Previous efforts have focused on export control by the major suppliers of missile technology and bilateral arms control and disarmament of the former superpowers (INF Treaty, START Treaties). The current restrictions on the transfer of missile-related technology are embodied in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), created by the G-7 States in 1987. Although membership has grown from 7 to 28 countries and some missile programs could be delayed, the effectiveness of the regime is limited by fundamental problems and shortcomings. The MTCR is a voluntary, non-binding agreement with restricted membership. It does not address the already existing ballistic missile arsenals, and ignores the asymmetry between “haves” and “have nots”. Various shorter-range missiles are already deployed in developing countries, and the MTCR has no specific verification and enforcement mechanisms.

To improve the present control regime, a few countries had made preliminary proposals within the limits of the MTCR. Some governmental levels are now considering options for a stronger missile non-proliferation regime as an alternative to missile defense. Russia proposed a Global Control System for the Non-Proliferation of Missiles and Missile Technology (GCS) that should be taken seriously as a means to increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding. Nations would be required to provide notification of missile or space-launch vehicle (SLV) test-launches. To discourage proliferation, the GCS would offer security incentives and assistance in the peaceful uses of space. If the current missile owners would however be allowed to keep their missile arsenals, then the effectiveness of a pure non-proliferation regime would be limited.

The only way to deal with asymmetries between countries would be the creation of an international norm against ballistic missiles that would leave the same rights to any country. In March 2000, ballistic missiles experts from several countries examined options of a multilateral approach to more effective ballistic missile control, international monitoring, and early warning. There is a need to defend and expand the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. To prevent instabilities and accidents, risk-reduction and confidence-building measures could be taken, such as de-alerting, improved ballistic missile early warning and launch notification. The concept of no-first use could be extended to ballistic missiles. The monitoring and surveillance of missile and space-related activities and the exchange of technical data would be the key to building a verification system of missile control.

Since the link between space and missile control is crucial, multilateral space regulations need to be negotiated, and the use of space should be restricted for commercial rather than military uses. Steps in this direction would be the establishment of a Canberra-style commission on “Cooperative Security in Space,” expert meetings on space surveillance and regulations, and the involvement of the commercial space business.

Canada could play a lead role in elaborating a multilateral action plain on ballistic missiles, including key NATO countries, as well as Russia and China in multilateral cooperation. For the long-term success of a missile control regime it would be important to “de-rogue” relations with countries such as North Korea and Iran and better understand their reasons for pursuing their missile programs. Recent political developments in these two countries have been rather positive in this respect (to mention the North-South Korean summit), increasing the chances for a new missile control regime that would reduce the demand for ballistic missiles.

International organizations would play an important role in facilitating such a process. Potential fora to discuss and negotiate multilateral missile control would be a conference of the MTCR member states and the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. Alternatively, an international conference of the crucial countries with ballistic missile capabilities could be considered.

According to the Ottawa expert group report, the long-term goals include “demilitarization, the elimination of non-civilian ballistic missiles, and the elimination of nuclear weapons.” A model for the elimination of ballistic missiles is the ZBM (Zero Ballistic Missile) regime, which was developed and discussed by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in 1992. Such a regime would aim at the complete elimination of offensive ballistic missiles and combine unilateral declarations with regional and global multilateral agreements. The ZBM proposal suggested a step-by-step approach, including bilateral cuts between the USA and Russia, ballistic missile-free zones, an international Missile Conference, the creation of an International Agency for Ballistic Missile Disarmament, and finally agreement on the varying schedules to zero ballistic missile capability. To implement ballistic missile elimination, the FAS proposal presented a complete draft treaty. Such a Ballistic Missile Convention would aim for the global non-proliferation and elimination of offensive ballistic missiles, in conjunction with conventions on the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction.

While global missile disarmament would be a longer-term perspective, the need for action is now. The best way to prevent an arms race and buy more time for political initiatives would be a moratorium on the further development, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles. Such a “missile freeze” would be like a break in the arms race, during which countries could consider and negotiate the next steps without time pressure. A key element would be a ballistic missile flight test ban which would preclude the testing of new missiles and reduce the change of accidental or intentional war. To address concerns about asymmetries and discrimination, a test ban moratorium would have a contemporary character and would need to be accompanied by negotiations on missile reductions. To minimize incentives for missile development, the missile freeze should be extended to missile defense systems. Regional security initiatives, including the whole range of delivery systems, could help to overcome asymmetries.

A crucial aspect of missile control would be verification. Most important would be measures to prevent the transformation of space launch technology into ballistic missiles. Despite their inherent similarity, differences in the basing mode, the testing procedures, the payload, flight trajectory, guidance systems and reentry could be used as indicators to distinguish between space launchers and ballistic missiles. During testing, production and deployment, national technical means of verification (sensors, intelligence) would focus on observable rocket characteristics (number, size, range, payload, deployment mode, launch preparations, flight trajectory). Most visible is the infrastructure, which includes production facilities, development programs and test ranges, tracking and communication facilities, missile containers and missile-carrying vehicles. A ballistic missile flight test ban would be not very difficult to verify since missile launches are visible from early warning satellites and ground- or air-based radars.

To limit the risk of using space launchers for ballistic missile development, technical means of verification need to be combined with measures of cooperative verification and confidence building. Most important would be inspections, using non-intrusive devices and techniques, to detect reliably evidence of non-compliance and help provide assurance that no military ballistic missiles are being developed under a civilian space program. A safeguards system for space launchers could place some of the “most critical” items under supervision by an international organization. International cooperation in civilian space programs would be also important in containing the use of space technology for missile development.

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