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Nuclear News - 06/26/00
RANSAC Nuclear News, 26 June 2000


A. Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

    1. Clinton Clears Uranium Shipments, Associated Press (6/23/00)
B. Plutonium Disposition
    1. Plutonium Agreement Boosts Russian MOX Fuel Plant Scheme,Cogema (6/24/00)
C. Minatom
    1. Russia Negotiates Purchase Of Uranium From Kyrgyzstan,RFE/RL (6/23/00)
D. ABM, Missile Defense
    1. US, Russian Lawmakers Suggest Joint Missile Defense, RFE/RL(6/23/00)
    2. Politics Mixes With Strategy in Plan for Antimissile System,Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times (6/23/00)



A. Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

1.
Clinton Clears Uranium Shipments
        Associated Press
        June 23, 2000
        (for personal use only)

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton has moved to guarantee that moneypaid to Russia as part of a swords-to-plowshares uranium deal is not seizedby creditors, clearing the way for resumed shipments of processed Russianuranium to the United States.

The president issued an executive order Thursday protecting paymentsmade to Russia under the deal. Russia had been concerned that paymentswould be seized by creditors trying to collect a past unrelated debts fromRussia.

The order frees Russia to resume shipping low enriched uranium thathas been blended down after being taken from nuclear weapons stockpiles,so it can be used in U.S. commercial reactors.

Now that the uranium has been ruled off-limits by Clinton, ``we're expectingshipments to start again next week,'' said Elizabeth Stuckle, a spokeswomanfor the U.S. Enrichment Corp., which is the U.S. agent for the Russianuranium purchases.

The deal is a cornerstone of U.S. attempts to get Russia to disposeof nuclear weapons material so that it doesn't fall into the hands of terroristsor other rogue groups.

``We're telling Russia we will not allow the proceeds of this sale tobe attached to unrelated litigation, so you can resume shipments with confidence,''said White House spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Russia's minister of atomic energy notified Energy Secretary Bill Richardsonon May 5 that uranium shipments would be halted because of concerns thatthe proceeds would be seized as part of the unrelated litigation by a Swisscreditor.

Clinton said suspension of the uranium sales posed ``an unusual andextraordinary threat'' to U.S. national security because uranium that couldbe used for nuclear weapons is accumulating in Russia.

For the last few weeks, uranium has been held at a dock in St. Petersburgbecause of the uncertainty over the creditor's legal claims, Stuckle said.

The 20-year contract, worth about $11 billion, calls for Russia to exportmore than 500 tons of recycled uranium from scrapped weapons to the UnitedStates. So far, about 80 tons have been sent.
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B. Plutonium Disposition

1.
Plutonium Agreement Boosts Russian MOX Fuel Plant Scheme
        Cogema
        June 24, 2000
        (for personal use only)

French nuclear officials say long-standing plans to build a MOX fuelfabrication facility in Russia are making 'concrete' progress, in the wakeof this month's bilateral agreement between the US and Russia on the dispositionof 'excess' military plutonium.

Laurent Corbier, US-Russia business director for Cogema's nuclear fueland recycling branch, told a conference in Saint Petersburg this week thatinvestment plans for the MOX plant and associated facilities would be presentedfor consideration at next month's G8 summit in Japan.

He told the conference, organised by the Nuclear Society of Russia,that a joint Russian-French-German working group had confirmed 'preliminary'investment costs of 800 million US dollars for construction of the necessaryindustrial-scale facilities in Russia. The US said recently that the costof  the entire plutonium disposition programme was estimated at USD1.75 billion for Russia and USD 4 billion for the US programme (see Newsof 5th June).

Mr. Corbier said the trilateral co-operative effort between Russia,France and Germany, to evaluate the suitability of MOX technology for dispositionof weapons-grade plutonium, was now providing "very concrete and applicableresults". He added that present schedule estimates were "fully compatible"with plans to complete construction of the fabrication facilities by around2007 or 2008, with a view to loading MOX fuel in Russian reactors at arate of two tonnes of plutonium per year as of 2009 - in line with theparallel US construction schedule.

The main steps involved in the programme will be:

· Construction of a conversion module, known as 'Chemox': Thisfacility is expected to be built at the existing Mayak site, and basedon an "optimal combination" of existing Western technology and speciallydeveloped and adapted dissolution processes. It will convert the metallicplutonium alloy into standard dioxide powder. Russia's Bochvar Institutehas already provided "very encouraging" experimental results for the process.

· Construction of a fuel fabrication module, known as 'Demox':This will fabricate MOX fuel for VVER-1000 power reactors and the BN- 600fast reactor.  The design is based on Cogema's industrially proven'A-Mimas' process for VER-1000 fuel fabrication and on the 'Coca' processfor BN-600 fuel production. Both processes will use existing equipmentfrom the now-defunct Hanau MOX fuel plant in Germany - subject to the grantingof export licences by the German government. Necessary modifications toRussian feed materials and fuel specifications will be assessed by Cogema,Siemens and the Bochvar Institute. Basic design and detailed costing workare being carried out in parallel.

· Modification of at least four Russian VVER-1000 power reactorsfor MOX fuel use: This has been studied by the Kurchatov Institute, theCEA and the GRS. They conclude that a "very limited" set of reactor modificationswould allow a 30% MOX core load without any effect on safety levels. Studiesshow clear similarities between VVER-1000 and Western PWR reactors. Theuse of MOX fuel in the VVER-1000s will require a full-scale test irradiationof three test assemblies in the Balakovo nuclear plant, starting in 2004.The project also involves several Russian research institutes and the Rosenergoatom nuclear power utility.

· Modification of the BN-600 fast breeder reactor for MOX fueluse: The use of a 25% MOX core load has been demonstrated as feasible withno significant modification to the reactor.
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C. Minatom

1.
Russia Negotiates Purchase Of Uranium From Kyrgyzstan
        RFE/RL
        June 23, 2000
        (for personal use only)

A delegation headed by Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamovheld talks in Bishkek on 22 June with Kyrgyz Premier Amangeldy Muralievon possible purchases of raw uranium and other precious metals, Interfaxreported. The delegation also visited the Djanar Electronics Plant in Bishkekand the Kara- Balta mining complex which extracts gold and raw uranium.Adamov also met with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topev, with whom he signedan agreement on cooperation to modernize Kyrgyzstan's border defenses,RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It is not clear whether that Russianassistance in strengthening Kyrgyzstan's borders is intended as part ortotal payment for the uranium.
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D. ABM, Missile Defense

1.
US, Russian Lawmakers Suggest Joint Missile Defense
        RFE/RL
        June 23, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Future consultations ripe for dialogue on development cooperation

Today members of both the U.S. Congress and Russian Duma suggested ajoint effort between the American and Russian governments to develop anddeploy a strategic missile defense system.

In an effort spearheaded by the Free Congress Foundation and the AmericanUniversity in Moscow to engage members of both lawmaking bodies in jointmissile defense discussions, the most recent fruit of their efforts wasthe receipt of statements from Duma Vice Speaker Boris Nemtsov and Rep.Curt Weldon (R-PA) supporting cooperation between the two nations on missiledefense.

Nemtsov heads the Union of Right Forces, recently merged with the YablokoParty; the two parties have been the leading pro-democracy and pro-westernpolitical groups in Russia.  Weldon is the Chairman of the House ArmedServices Committee's Research and Development Subcommittee and also headsthe Congress-Duma Study Group, an interparliamentary exchange program.

The statements come as the U.S. and Russia hold pre-scheduled defenseconsultations in Moscow June 25-26, providing the opportunity for the twonations to continue discussions on potential missile defense collaboration.

Other efforts by the Free Congress Foundation and the American Universityof Moscow to increase cooperation between the U.S. and Russia include:

*   a panel discussion June 9 about the prospects of the UnitedStates and Russia jointly developing a missile defense system.  Theparticipants included Sergei Rogov, Director of USA-Canada Institute ofthe Russian Academy of Sciences; Gen. Victor Yesin, Head of the MilitaryDepartment of the National Security Council; Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, Headof the Strategic Missile Defense Institute; Adm. Nikolai Konarev, RussianNavy Staff, and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA).

*   an opinion piece published June 2 by The Washington Timesco-authored by Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich and AmericanUniversity of Moscow President Edward Lozansky on joint U.S.-Russian missiledefense.

*   a panel discussion May 2 between members of the U.S. Congressand the Russian Duma regarding the two nations' missile defense, interculturaland business opportunities.

STATEMENTS BY NEMTSOV, WELDON, WEYRICH AND LOZANSKY ARE ATTACHED.

Vice Speaker Boris Nemtsov:

"Russian democrats, who fought against the communist totalitarian systemfor freedom and democracy, who started market economic reforms, and whorecently united in the Union of the Right Forces, are deeply committedin the values which put western countries together: liberty, free market,human rights, and democracy," said Russian Duma Vice Speaker Boris Nemtsov. "Our representatives in the Parliament and in the Government are doingtheir best to carry into effect those fundamentals."

"Jealousy and distrust towards the western countries are still strongwithin influential political forces in Russia," warned Nemtsov.  "Itcould seriously complicate our mutual relationship.  Russian society,due to its communist past, hasn't reached yet the national consensus aboutthe basic fundamentals to which we are committed.  Hence we believethat cooperation between Russian and American scientists and politicianswould not only ensure the workability of the new defense system, but italso would improve mutual trust between the two countries, which itselfmakes the world safer."

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA):

"I welcome the Clinton-Gore Administration's reversal on cooperatingjointly with Russia on missile defense for our two countries," stated CongressmanCurt Weldon.  "Unfortunately, one can't help but wonder how much furtheralong the process would be if President Clinton had embraced this approachseven years ago."

"Many in Congress have been advocating cooperation with Russia for severalyears now, but have been ignored by the Clinton-Gore Administration," saidWeldon.  "Indeed, the President has undermined our efforts. When he took office in 1993, President Clinton abruptly cancelled the Ross-Mamedovtalks - discussions begun by Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin oncooperative missile defense between the United States and Russia. And it was President Clinton who cancelled the RAMOS program, a joint-cooperativemissile early warning system designed to help build confidence betweenour two countries.  So while I am optimistic about the potential fora new era in U.S.-Russian relations, I remain skeptical as to whether theClinton-Gore Administration is truly committed to this approach."

Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich:

"While the United States should never have to ask another nation ifit can protect American citizens from nuclear attack, it would be wiseto invite the only other nuclear superpower to join us in developing amissile defense system," said Free Congress Foundation President Paul M.Weyrich.  "Both the U.S. and Russia face the same threats from roguenations.  Our two nations would do well to work collectively to protectour peoples from these dangers."

American University of Moscow President Edward Lozansky "In 1991 whenCommunism collapsed, the United States had a unique historic opportunityto make Russia a strategic ally," said American University of Moscow PresidentEdward Lozansky. "Unfortunately, the leadership of both countries madea series of tragic mistakes which prevented this from happening. Now the idea of U.S.-Russian joint ballistic missile defense allows usonce again to try building our strategic partnership.  I believe thatwe should try to draw into this discussion not only governments but people,and most of all scientists in both countries, to discuss the feasibilityand implementation of this idea.
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2.
Politics Mixes With Strategy in Plan for Antimissile System
        Michael R. Gordon and StevenLee Myers
        New York Times
        June 23, 2000
        (for personal use only)

President Clinton's aides initially thought that they had the perfectplan for building a missile shield over the United States, a system thatwould guard against nuclear, biological and chemical threats without plungingthe United States into a bitter tug of war with the Russians.

To ease Moscow's concerns, the system would be built at Grand Forks,N.D., the only place where a limited defense could be deployed under anexception carved out in the Antiballistic Missile Treaty that the UnitedStates signed with the Soviet Union in 1972.

But then computer simulations demonstrated that the system could notcover the westernmost islands in the Aleutians. And while only severalthousand people lived on these remote reaches of Alaska, no one in theClinton administration was about to tell Senator Ted Stevens, the powerfulAlaska Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommitteeon Defense, that the world's most elaborate missile defense system wouldnot protect some of his constituents.

"Every computer run we ran showed that we could not get to the fourwesternmost islands of the Aleutians or two westernmost uninhabited inHawaii," a former administration official said. "The Pentagon charts hadred on Alaska and Hawaii, meaning we could not cover all parts of thosestates."

Those red spots, and a complex debate among government lawyers overhow to interpret the treaty, killed the Grand Forks option. Soon planswere approved to put 100 missile interceptors and a new battle-managementradar in Alaska, raising the projected cost by $2 billion. The administrationbegan pushing to amend the ABM treaty, and Washington found itself enmeshedin a debate that has soured relations with Russia, unnerved America's alliesin Europe and provoked fears of a new arms race in Asia.

The administration has long argued that its plan to build a limitedmissile defense was a response to emerging missile threats from countrieslike North Korea, Iran and Iraq. But a reconstruction of the decision-makinginvolved in the plan shows that as with the decision to protect the AleutianIslands, both the administration and its Republican rivals have long beenmotivated by domestic political calculations as well as by strategic concerns.

A major aim of the administration plan has been to protect Mr. Clinton-- and more important, Vice President Al Gore, the presumed Democraticpresidential candidate -- against Republican charges that the Democratshave been soft on defense, according to administration officials and lawmakers.

The administration's initial antimissile plan was forged in negotiationswith Congressional leaders as the White House sought to defuse the missiledefense issue before the 1996 presidential election.

This year, Mr. Gore and Governor George W. Bush of Texas have both calledfor some version of a missile shield even before crucial tests of the technology,and before American intelligence experts had completed an assessment ofhow Russia, China, North Korea and other nations would be likely to respondto such a system.

As American diplomats have been sent around the world to discuss theworries of the Russians, Chinese and Western Europeans, they are tryingto make the best case for an American decision that appears to be all butmade.

Mr. Clinton may defer the deployment decision to a successor, but thereseems to be too much political momentum behind the idea of an antimissilesystem for the United States to abandon it now. While there is still intensedebate among scientists about the feasibility of the administration's plan,the guiding assumption in the Pentagon is that sooner or later the technologycan work.

Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, insists thatpolitical considerations have played no role in the decision and that theadministration is tackling a complex and thankless issue.

"Our proposal is based on our analysis of the emerging threat and ourcommitment to maintain the core of the ABM treaty, which contributes tostability and to the efforts of the U.S. and Russia to control the processof reducing nuclear weapons," Mr. Berger said.

But veterans of Washington's bare-knuckled battles over arms controlsay politics has played an enormous role in the debate over whether todeploy such a system. In their view, it is politics that is stampedingthe United States into a decision.

"Russian, China and the NATO allies have become virtual bystanders inthis debate," said Thomas Graham Jr., an arms control specialist who servedas Mr. Clinton's special ambassador on proliferation issues. "The realfight is being waged in Washington, and it is much more about politicsthan the threat."

The Politics: Stealing Thunder of Republicans

How support for a missile defense system became a political litmus testof is a tale of raw partisan politics, bitter fights over secret intelligencereports and an evolving missile threat.

Missile defense seemed to be little more than a footnote to historywhenMr. Clinton took office in 1992. The Soviet Union had collapsed andseemingly with it President Ronald Reagan's bold dream of a "Star Wars"defense against ballistic missiles.

With the encouragement of the military, the Clinton administration reorganizedthe Pentagon's research on antimissile systems, giving priority to systemsfor protecting American troops from attack by short-range and medium-rangerockets and playing down defenses to protect the United States.

But as Mr. Clinton prepared for the 1996 re-election campaign, the politicsof missile defense intensified. Republicans, after winning control of theHouse in the 1994 election, pressed to revive a version of Mr. Reagan'sproposal.

Faced with that challenge, Mr. Clinton used one of his time-tested tactics:He stole the Republicans' thunder by co-opting their position.

In 1995, seeking to hammer out a bipartisan compromise, the White Houseopened negotiations with four Senate leaders: Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat;Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan; John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican;and William S. Cohen, the Maine Republican whom Mr. Clinton later appointedsecretary of defense.

The administration promised to develop the technology for an antimissilesystem within three years. That would put the United States in positionactually to deploy an antimissile system within a second three-year periodif new missile threats emerged, or so the White House argued. Hence, theplan became known as "three plus three."

"We sort of created the Pentagon program," Senator Levin said in aninterview. "We tried to encapsulate where we were going on development."

There was another important assumption behind the strategy: The firstphase of any missile defense would be based at Grand Forks, consistentwith the ABM treaty. That would enable Washington to avoid a diplomaticrupture with the Kremlin.

In the end, Senate Republicans signed off on the deal, but their morehard-line colleagues in the House balked, and the effort to forge a bipartisanconsensus on missile defense fell apart.

Still, Mr. Clinton had signaled that he was prepared to consider a limitedmissile defense to blunt his Republican critics, and conservative Republicanshad indicated that they were prepared to one-up the Democrats by pushingfor a more ambitious system.

"It was both a classic example of how the Congress could drive the defensedebate and an example of Clinton's 'New Democrat' approach to defense,"said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment forInternational Peace. "Clinton was able to say that he was all for missiledefense and put the tough decisions off to the future."

The Intelligence: A Second Review Sounds the Alarm

As it turned out, missile defense was not a big issue during Mr. Clinton'sre-election fight; Bob Dole, his Republican challenger, barely mentionedit.

But it did not take long before the debate re-emerged. This time intelligencewas the battleground.

The administration had drawn comfort from a 1995 National IntelligenceEstimate, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, that concludedthat nations like North Korea would need at least 15 years to develop amissile that could strike the continental United States.

Republican lawmakers, however, objected to the implication that therewas no need to speed development of a missile shield, and they set outto challenge it.

Their first attempt failed. To review the intelligence report, theyestablished a panel whose chairman was Robert M. Gates, the director ofcentral intelligence during the Bush administration. But its 1996 reportbasically supported the view of American intelligence experts.

Two years later, however, the Republicans tried again. This time Congressset up a panel headed by Donald Rumsfeld, who was defense secretary underPresident Gerald R. Ford and was at Governor Bush's side recently whenhe unveiled his plan to build a more expansive missile defense system ifelected this fall.

Three of the nine members of the commission were picked by Democrats,including Richard Garwin, a renowned physicist who is a Republican butis known for his fierce independence. Mr. Garwin recalled in an interviewthat while Mr. Rumsfeld conducted the review in a fair-minded manner, thepanel's mandate was carefully drafted to boost the case for antimissiledefenses.

"The charge was cooked," Mr. Garwin said. "We were not asked what wherethe most likely ways in which the U.S. might be attacked and how they comparedto an ICBM. We were only asked to study the long-range missile threat.Nor did they ask us what to do about it. If they asked us about that, wewould never have reached agreement in six months."

The scope of the commission's mandate was particularly important becauseAmerican intelligence has concluded that there is a greater risk that afoe would try to sneak a nuclear bomb or biological weapons into the UnitedStates than attack it with a long-range missile.

The Rumsfeld panel report was published in July 1998, and soon becameone of the most influential documents in modern American military planning.India and Pakistan had recently exploded nuclear bombs, catching the UnitedStates by surprise. It was a period when military experts were particularlyanxious about both the quality of United States intelligence and thirdworld threats.

In a sharp critique, the Rumsfeld panel concluded that American intelligenceofficials had been far too relaxed about missile threats and noted thatthere were shortcuts that could be used to develop such a weapon.

For instance, time-consuming Russian or American-style test programscould be eliminated and a crude, inaccurate missile could be developedto lob a nuclear weapon or a biological warhead at the United States.

"This is not a distant threat," the panel said.

Stung by the criticism, American intelligence later revised its intelligenceestimate, reflecting many of the Rumsfeld panel's arguments.

The North Koreans: A Missile Test Surprises the U.S.

If the Republicans had based their crusade for missile defense on theRumsfeld report alone, however, they might still be fighting an uphillbattle. But just a month after the report came out, on Aug. 31, 1998, theygained additional ammunition when the North Koreans sent a satellite hurtlingtoward space on a Taepo Dong-1 missile.

For days, the North Koreans insisted that the satellite was broadcasting"immortal revolutionary hymns" in honor of their late leader, Kim Il Sung,and his son, Kim Jong Il. Only later would it become clear that the satellitehad never gone into orbit and had fallen into the Pacific Ocean.

"They said it was up there broadcasting music, but we never found themusic," a Defense Department official said.

The Taepo Dong-1 was not the most sophisticated system. Its first twostages consisted of relatively primitive systems: a liquid-fueled Scudand a liquid-fueled No Dong missile.

But it was the third stage that surprised the United States. It consistedof a small solid-fueled motor designed to thrust the satellite into space.The use of the third stage reflected an important milestone in North Korea'sattempt to develop an intercontinental-range missile.

"That they were doing this at all suggests they were farther along thanthe intelligence community had anticipated they would be," Walter B. Slocombe,the under secretary of defense for policy, said in an interview. "It wouldbe as if you were watching a diver who you think can only do a simple onesomersault, and she tries a three-and-half reverse, but screws up the halfpart. The fact she tried it at all indicates she is better than you thoughtshe was, and the fact she got most of the way through indicates she isa lot farther along than you thought she was."

Even so, American intelligence says the North Korean missile has considerablelimitations: It is not powerful enough to carry a nuclear warhead to theUnited States, though it could carry a lighter biological warhead. Noris it particularly accurate.

"It would be very inaccurate, so inaccurate that if aimed at Honoluluit would probably land in the water," said a senior American official whois familiar with intelligence on the missile. "If it was aimed at Alaska,it would probably hit land mass but might not land anywhere near a city."

More recently, American intelligence has concluded that the North Koreanshave abandoned work on that missile in favor of the Taepo Dong-2, a two-stagemissile that uses a cluster of No Dong engines as a first stage and a NoDong missile as a second stage. The Taepo Dong-2 has never been flight-tested,a vital step in developing a missile, and cannot be test-launched undera accord that the United States has negotiated with North Korea. The NorthKoreans, however, have continued work on the program.

If North Korea did conduct a flight test and built another Taepo Dong-2,it might have a rudimentary long-range missile in a matter of months, accordingto American intelligence officials. While such a missile could delivera nuclear-size payload to Alaska and Hawaii, it could not reach the continentalUnited States unless the North Koreans added a third stage. But a thirdstage would make it less accurate, American officials say.

Even if North Korea did violate the test ban and developed an effectiveintercontinental-range missile, it would have enough nuclear material onlyfor two warheads at most, according to United States intelligence, comparedwith more than 6,000 missile warheads for the United States.

The missile threat from other nations is more distant, and Americanspecialists are divided over whether Iran can field an intercontinental-rangeballistic missile by 2010. As for Iraq, American intelligence experts cannotagree on whether it can could develop a long-range ballistic missile by2015.

Because the United States' overwhelming military might has deterredNorth Korea in the past, some senior American officials say there is noreason to think that Pyongyang would act irrationally in the future andthreaten the world's sole remaining superpower with a missile strike.

"North Korea has not used its artillery against Seoul for decades, andit could do a real number on it," a senior American official said. "Ithas not used its Scud missiles against the rest of South Korea. It hasnot used its No Dong missiles against Japan. So you have to argue theyhave been deterred."

Still, in making their case for a missile defense, advocates say evena rudimentary ability to deliver a biological or nuclear warhead mightgive North Korea a weapon it might brandish to try to prevent Washingtonfrom coming to the aid of South Korea or Japan in a future conflict. Althoughdeterrence has worked in the past, the proponents argue, there is no guaranteethat it will in the future. And if the United States has the money andtechnology to develop a missile defense, it should do so, they insist.

"The threat is that nations with aggressive ambitions could come tobelieve that because of their missile capability, we could be deterredfrom intervening in their region," said Barry M. Blechman, a member ofthe Rumsfeld panel and chairman of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington-basedresearch organization. "That is the whole reason for defense."

With the White House seeking to protect its right flank during the electionyear, however, the complex debate over deterrence has received relativelyshort shrift.

"Eighty percent of my colleagues in the Congress are not really payingattention," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat. "Theythink they need to be for some kind of defense, but they don't really knowanything about it. We have not really had a debate."

The Site: From the Dakotas North to Alaska

Eager to demonstrate a new seriousness on missile defense, the administrationmoved into high gear last year. It developed a new goal: The United Statesshould be able to build a limited antimissile defense by late 2005.

Officially, Mr. Clinton insisted that he had not yet decided whetherto build a limited defense. He says his decision will depend on the antimissiletechnology that is to be tested on July 7 and on evaluations of the threatand the implications for arms control. He may defer a decision about deployingthe system, but there is virtually no chance that he will decide a missiledefense is unnecessary.

Even as it moved forward on the issue, however, the White House wantedto avoid a diplomatic confrontation with Moscow. The hope was that theinitial phase of a missile defense might be deployed at Grand Forks, whichwas the only American site permitted for such a defense under the ABM treaty.

But that hope was dashed when Republicans insisted that even a limitedsystem had to protect all 50 states, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff madethis a military requirement.

No matter how hard they tried, American military experts could not coverall of the United States from Grand Forks.

The Western Aleutians and some uninhabited islands in Hawaii were outsidethe sphere of coverage. The White House pressed the Pentagon to re-examinethe problem, but it only seemed to get worse. That was a huge politicalobstacle since Senator Stevens headed the Appropriations Subcommittee onDefense and Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii was the ranking Democraton the panel.

Another problem was how to interpret the ABM treaty with the Russians.

While Reagan administration lawyers had ruled that a "thin defense"at Grand Forks would not violate the treaty, now lawyers in the State Departmentwere insisting that a nationwide defense would run afoul of the accord.

Faced with these obstacles, the Clinton administration scrapped itsGrand Forks plan in early 1999, and resigned itself to deploying 100 interceptorsin central Alaska and erecting a powerful battle-management radar on Shemya,a remote island in the Aleutians. That would entail difficult negotiationswith Moscow.

And unlike the situation in 1996, it became difficult for Mr. Clintonto endorse the idea of missile defense while putting off tough decisionsuntil after the next election. In the winter of 1998, an earnest Air Forcelieutenant colonel who worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave severalnational security aides at White House a dose of bad news: The administrationwas running out of time.

To meet the administration's goal of deploying the first phase of itssystem by 2005, the colonel explained, Mr. Clinton would have to give thefinal go-ahead for some of work by November 2000, on the eve of the presidentialelection.

The briefing struck the White House like a thunderclap. The administrationhad thought that it could balance politics, diplomacy and security by simplyexploring the idea of a limited defense. Now, after years of maneuvering,it was boxed into a corner.

The administration had not yet carried out crucial tests of the system.It did not have the latest intelligence on how China, Russia and NorthKorea might respond. Nor had it prepared its European allies or the Russiansfor such a dramatic change in defense policy.

But it could wait no longer. It would have to open negotiations withthe Russians and conduct them during an American election campaign.

Recently, to provide Mr. Clinton with more flexibility, administrationlawyers came up with a ruling that some initial work could be done withoutviolating the treaty. But arms control supporters have criticized thismove, and the Russians are opposed.

Despite all the headaches, it is not clear that the administration'splan will even provide the political benefits the White House had hopedfor. While its defense plan is too much for the Russians, Republicans areassailing it as too limited.

Looking back on the debate, Senator Biden said the administration haderred by trying to steal the missile defense issue from Republicans. That,he said, has simply prompted the Republicans to propose an even granderdefense and committed the Democrats to a premature decision on the issue.

"I told Berger he had made a big mistake," he recalls telling the nationalsecurity adviser. "If you think 'thin defense' plays well politically,well guess what, thick plays better."
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