Strategic Weapons: June 14, 2000

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MISSILE DEFENSE: THE RUSSIAN ALTERNATIVE: Russian President Putin, denouncing US plans for missile defenses as unilateral and therefore a threat to other nations, has proposed the construction of a joint missile defense system within the framework of the existing 1972 ABM Treaty. The Russian plan would utilize anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down ballistic missiles as they climb into space, when they are traveling relatively slowly. While theoretically possible, such a system would require the construction of a vast arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles (with extra fuel for range, dozens of satellites for targeting, and software changes to track ballistic missiles). It would also require basing such missiles at dozens of points, within a few hundred miles (or at most a thousand miles if an entirely new missile could be invented with that much range) of every missile launcher. This would be politically challenging, since many countries would depend upon anti-aircraft missile bases in other countries for defense. Europe, for example, might need to rely on Russian SAM bases to stop Iranian missiles. Just where the US would deploy such missiles that could cover the Russian missile fields is unclear. Virtually no one takes Putin's proposal seriously. Most dismiss it as a political move with no technology to back it up. It could further drive a wedge between the Europeans and the US. Putin is said to want numerous concessions on a host of issues (including the right to put multiple warheads back on his land-based missiles, something outlawed by START) as well as billions in aid in order to agree to changes in the ABM Treaty. If the US goes ahead without Russian agreement, Putin threatens to cancel every arms control treaty ever signed.--Stephen V Cole

 


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