The Soviet Wyoming Formula On Start Would Kill SDI

During the recent ministerial meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Union made a significant new move in its campaign to use arms control to kill the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program. The USSR professed a willingness to "de-link" completion of a Strategic Arms Reduction (START) Treaty from a new agreement establishing stringent new limitations on SDI.

In fact, far from "de-linking" START and SDI, the Soviet Union simply changed the terms of that linkage. The new linkage is actually even more restrictive on any future SDI deployment than was its previous position. Prior to Wyoming, the USSR had demanded that START be conditioned on U.S. agreement to a new accord that at least theoretically would permit deployment of SDI — but only after some period had elapsed and then only after negotiation between the two parties.

Now, in the aftermath of the ministerial discussions in the Tetons, the USSR is demanding that a side agreement be reached that would permit the Soviet Union to abandon the treaty reducing strategic arms should the United States choose to withdraw from or to violate the 1972 ABM Treaty in order to deploy significant defenses.

It is ironic — and most disturbing — that Moscow has been able to propagate the myth that its new gambit on SDI is evidence of significant negotiating flexibility with the help of American officials, as well as its own. For the following reasons, this ploy should be seen for what it is: a portentous move to restrict U.S. flexibility in deploying effective strategic defenses.

The Effect of The New Soviet Linkage

As a practical matter, the new Soviet posture is designed to make its agreement to — and future compliance with — a START agreement contingent upon a U.S. commitment never to deploy a strategic defense system prohibited by the ABM Treaty. What is more, the Soviets also seek by this device to retain a veto over U.S. development and testing incompatible with their own interpretation of the requirements of the ABM accord.

Were the Soviet gambit to be accepted by the United States, the effect would be to increase dramatically the political resistance to realizing the potential of the SDI program (i.e., the deployment of workable strategic defenses). In the future, deploying SDI would no longer require U.S. withdrawal from one treaty — a difficult enough task. Rather, it would entail the shredding of two arms control treaties, the ABM accord and START.

Why SDI Must Not Be Sacrificed to the START Treaty

The Bush Administration has warmly welcomed the purported Soviet "de-linking" of START from new limits on SDI. In so doing, it has acceded to a considerable degree to the USSR’s desire to walk away from the ongoing negotiations in the Defense and Space talks — negotiations focussing on a U.S. proposal to facilitate the transition from an offense-dominant strategic balance to one characterized by a mix of offensive and defensive systems.

Lest the Administration be tempted to go further and accept the new Soviet demand for still greater restraints on SDI as the price for START, it would be well advised to consider the following factors that argue against such a course of action:

1) START Reductions Will Create Incentives for Soviet Cheating

The START Treaty the Bush Administration is so anxious to complete will inevitably adversely affect the size, capabilities and resiliency of the U.S. strategic Triad. It will also require the United States to make substantial additional investments in its nuclear forces in order to give its smaller deterrent arsenal the redundancy and military effectiveness that it has at present.

Unfortunately, the problems with this agreement will not end there. Militarily significant Soviet violations can occur more quickly and with greater impact at lower levels of forces, creating powerful new incentives for such Soviet cheating. Moreover, detecting Soviet violations of the START Treaty will be vastly more difficult — and the investment required to try to do so much greater — than has been the case under previous arms control agreements. What is more, the U.S. margin for ensuring deterrence or responding to Soviet violations is greatly reduced at lower levels of strategic arms.

2) Permitting Mobile ICBMs in START Will Greatly Facilitate Soviet Cheating

By dropping in Wyoming its long-held insistence that mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles be totally banned under START, the United States has greatly facilitated Soviet cheating on that agreement. By exploiting the inherent unverifiability of mobile missiles — a reality that obliged the Reagan-Bush Administration to insist on a complete prohibition on all such missiles of intermediate-range in the INF Treaty — the Soviets can easily and covertly maintain far larger forces of their SS-24s and -25s than permitted under a strategic arms reduction accord.

3) SDI is an Indispensable Insurance Policy for START

The most effective means of reducing these risks — and of mitigating their strategic consequences — is for the United States to proceed with a phased deployment of an SDI system. In particular, such a deployment is a far more effective means of responding to the emergence of a large and untargetable Soviet mobile missile force than a protracted U.S. effort to deploy its own, counterpart rail- and road-mobile systems.

As Vice President Dan Quayle recently put it, "The more we reduce offensive weapons, the more we will need to rely on SDI to deter, or deal with, possible Soviet cheating or breakout….SDI is an insurance policy for START. It is insurance against breakout, against cheating, and against qualitative breakthroughs not prohibited by agreements."(1)

4) The United States Can No Longer Afford the Delusions Fostered by the ABM Treaty

The ABM Treaty, which has precluded U.S. deployments of strategic defenses against ballistic missiles and sharply restricted even research and development on such systems, has become of ever more dubious value to the United States:

Soviet Defensive Developments suggest that the USSR is moving in the direction of a nation-wide deployment of ABM defenses. These include steps that have, in important ways, proceeded notwithstanding — and in some occasions in violation of — the ABM Treaty. These developments extend well beyond the Krasnoyarsk radar, and would largely be unaffected should the Soviets implement their new, albeit heavily conditioned, decision(2) to dismantle that facility:

  • The Soviets have increasingly exploited the technological gray-areas between air defense and anti-ballistic missile defense. For example, their SA-12 missile, nominally an anti-aircraft missile, also has capability against tactical ballistic missiles. It could be used illegally to defend against submarine-launched, and possible even some land-based, intercontinental-range missiles.

    U.S. concerns about this possibility are exacerbated by the Soviet Union’s pattern of testing ABM and air defense components concurrently — behavior the United States believes may amount to yet another violation of the treaty.


  • The Soviet Union has been developing for years ABM systems believed capable, thanks to their inherent mobility, of being deployed to sites around the Soviet Union in a matter of months. Such systems could reduce dramatically the warning time the United States might have of Soviet breakout from the treaty. In 1988, the Soviets established unequivocally the transportability of the components of two such systems — the Pawn Shop and Flat Twin ABM radars — by moving them from legal sites to a prohibited location. In so doing, Moscow committed an unequivocal breach of the ABM Treaty.

  • Reload capabilities of the Moscow ABM system also give rise to what President Reagan in December 1987 called a "serious concern." Such reload capabilities significantly expand the usefulness of the 100-launcher ABM system that the Soviets are permitted under the Treaty.

    It must be assumed, moreover, that — as the Soviets engage in a major upgrade of the ABM system at Moscow — they are producing sufficient numbers of interceptors and other equipment to support a larger ABM deployment than allowed by the Treaty. Indeed, the fact that one such interceptor, the SH-08, has previously been associated with the mobile ABM-X-3 system heightens concerns about the likelihood of a rapid and widespread deployment.


  • The Soviets are in the process of completing a network of radars like that at Krasnoyarsk. Such a network is an essential ingredient for a traditional territorial defense system. It is also the most time-consuming one to acquire. The inherent capability of these radars could permit them to contribute significantly to a Soviet territorial defense capability — even though they are nominally deployed in a legal fashion.

  • Such ABM-related activities take on even greater strategic significance against the back-drop of a wide array of other Soviet defensive measures. Massive investments in air defenses, anti-satellite weapons (including lasers), deeply buried leadership shelters, civil defenses and a variety of means applied to enhancing the survivability of offensive forces (e.g., hardening, concealment, mobility, deception, etc.) all attest to the Soviet Union’s abiding commitment to reduce the vulnerability of its most valuable assets to nuclear attack. These other strategic defenses work synergistically with the USSR’s ABM program and would enhance the effectiveness of even a relatively modest capability against ballistic missiles.


Unchecked Growth in Soviet Offensive Forces has accompanied the USSR’s continuing investment in strategic defenses. Such growth has occurred despite the mistaken assumption that underpinned the U.S. approach to the negotiation of the ABM Treaty, namely that limits on defenses would enable the two sides rapidly to reach agreements sharply reducing offensive arms. In fact, the agreement’s signature ushered in a period of nearly two decades of uninterrupted quantitative and qualitative improvements in Soviet strategic arms. Among other measures, the number of Soviet strategic nuclear weapons has increased four-fold since 1972.

Predictions to the contrary notwithstanding, under the ABM Treaty, the viability of U.S. land-based strategic forces has not been enhanced; neither has the stability of the strategic balance been improved. To the contrary, both have worsened dramatically. U.S. strategic forces — like the nation they are supposed to protect — have become more, not less, vulnerable with the Treaty’s inhibition of American defenses.

It is Time to Jettison the Offense-Only Regime Dictated by the ABM Treaty

In short, the United States must bring its arms control commitments into line with its national security requirements. For too long, America has remained undefended even as the premises of the ABM Treaty proved erroneous and the security it was supposed to provide failed to materialize.

Should the Bush Administration now enter into a START agreement without taking steps to insure against Soviet cheating on its terms, to correct the adverse effects of the ABM Treaty on the strategic balance and to protect against the prospect of growing third-country ballistic missile threats, the cumulative effect could be to seriously undermine U.S. security. Indeed, far from creating a situation in which SDI would become unnecessary, START will greatly increase the need for effective strategic defenses. Consequently, the United States should firmly rebuff the latest Soviet negotiating gambit.

Required: U.S. Linkage Between A Commitment to Deploy SDI and START

The Bush Administration, instead, should at once convey to the Soviets the United States’ own version of linkage — one that makes unmistakable the U.S. right to proceed with development and deployment of effective strategic defenses. Such linkage should also make clear the Administration’s determination to exercise that right so as to put into place an SDI system at the earliest possible time.

Only by adopting such a policy can President Bush honestly contend that he has thwarted Soviet efforts to kill SDI. Like Ronald Reagan before him, he must make express his determination to defend the United States and to resist Soviet blackmail and other gambits designed to preclude that step.

Interestingly, the Bush Administration may have no choice but to follow this approach. As the full picture of START — its unverifiability, the costs associated with its implementation and the strategic risks it entails — begins to emerge, a significant proportion of the U.S. Senate is going to be unwilling to consent to its ratification without an insurance policy. That proportion could well prove to equate to the number needed to block ratification.

Under these circumstances, both for compelling security reasons and in order to avoid a politically embarrassing reverse down the road, President Bush must do more than pay lip service to the deployment of strategic defenses. He must, in particular, resist the temptation either to accede to any form of Soviet linkage that would kill the U.S. SDI program or to rely on creative ambiguity to protect it. Instead, the President must establish a new and constructive linkage: A START agreement requires SDI; no SDI, no START Treaty.

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1. Vice President Dan Quayle, "SDI and Its Enemies: The Greatest Obstacles Are Ideological, Not Technical," Policy Review, Fall 1989, p. 2.

2. In the U.S.-Soviet Joint Statement of 23 September 1989, the Soviets linked their "decision" on Krasnoyarsk to "the goal of strengthening the ABM Treaty regime" (i.e., precisely the anti-SDI gambit described above) and "stressed again the necessity of removing its concerns about the U.S. radar stations in Greenland and Great Britain (emphasis added)."

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