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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defusing Star Wars Worries

Last week, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher discussed the eastward expansion of NATO with Russian officials, but there was little progress -- East and West seem to be just as entrenched as when Andrei Gromyko was foreign minister. But a day before Christopher's arrival in Moscow, a delegation from the U.S. Pentagon, headed by Deputy Defense Minister Ashton Carter, brought some real good news on anti-ballistic defense weapons control. Russia and the United States may not, after all, be sliding into a new Cold War, especially if Clinton and Yeltsin get re-elected.

In a briefing for the Russian State Duma and Defense Ministry, Carter disclosed that a recent CIA survey dismissed any threats of ballistic missiles being launched against the United States from "rough states" such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea "in the foreseeable future." A high-level Pentagon official, who asked not to be named, told me last week that the CIA report stipulates a minimum 15-years "no-threat" period. Any threat of an accidental or unauthorized intercontinental ballistic launch is also dismissed as highly unlikely by the CIA.

This high-ranking Pentagon official also said the ballistic threat against the United States by rough states is being invoked by conservative Republicans as "a ploy" to force a major rewriting or a scrapping of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). The main aim is to develop a nationwide anti-ballistic defense system directed not against North Korea or Libya but Russia. " The same folks who actively supported Star Wars in the 1980s are now pressing for a major reassessment of ABM," he said. But the Pentagon and the Clinton administration are for full ABM compliance.

Conservative Republican pundits who also happened to be in Moscow recently confirm that such a CIA survey exists. I was told the prediction that there will be no threats for 15 years, which basically removes all excuses for any major ABM reassessments -- other than a desire to resume a full-scale U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear arms race -- infuriated many influential Republicans in Washington.

They were especially angry that the CIA report permitted the Clinton administration to announce a change in funding of so-called Theater Missile Defenses. Funding has been shifted from the high-altitude land-based and the high-altitude sea-based theater defense programs -- which, from the point of view of the Russian military, may be in violation of the ABM Treaty -- to a less ambiguous and less provocative program of developing an enhanced Patriot rocket. This new Patriot is in total compliance with the strictest interpretation of the ABM Treaty and of no real concern to Moscow. The Americans also plan to begin a six-year research and development program for the creation of a limited system of anti-ballistic defenses within the guidelines of ABM, which resembles those of Moscow. In the next century, such a limited anti-ballistic system could be deployed within three years after a decision is made to go ahead, in case the CIA is mistaken and some rough states develop a missile capable of threatening the United States.

Meanwhile the Russians already have developed a new anti-ballistic defense system for Moscow to replace outdated equipment. But in September 1994, the Defense Ministry postponed deployment indefinitely. The rockets and nuclear warheads that have already been produced are being stockpiled in case the threat of nuclear war increases.

Carter tried to convince Duma deputies and the Russian Defense Ministry that the threat of revising the ABM Treaty has been eliminated and that obstacles to ratifying the START II Treaty have been overcome. The Russian military's response was cautiously positive. The Russian Defense Ministry and general staff are currently the only true supporters of START II left in Moscow, even if they sometimes also consider some minor changes or clarifications. The Russian military chiefs believe that keeping and implementing START II will be more beneficial than scrapping it. In any event, it was the Russian generals who negotiated and finalized START II.

But until the Duma ratifies START II, the Clinton administration has decided to keep the present U.S. nuclear strategic arms levels and not to implement START II. As with many other important issues, disarmament will be postponed until the presidential election season ends.

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security affairs editor for Segodnya.