National Policy Analysis Logo

 #261  

 August 1999




Recent Russian Military Aggression Underscores Need for Missile Defense System

by Jason Morrow

 

Recent instances of school violence have prompted some school administrators to institute "gun drills" in which students practice diving under desks to avoid flying lead. If reports that the Russian military is out of the control of the Russian government prove true, schools may want to reintroduce 1950s-style bomb drills as well.

Several times over the past few months, Russian military forces acted in ways that either contradicted statements made by the Russian government or were uncharacteristically hostile towards nations with which Russia presumably enjoys cordial relationships.

When NATO troops moved into Kosovo to occupy the airport in Pristina, they were surprised to find 200 Russian troops occupying the airport without NATO's consent. Contrary to statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the Russians had moved in ahead of schedule.1

One would think the Russians would have been eager to rectify this mistake by allowing NATO troops to occupy the airport. Instead, a tense military standoff ensued between British and Russian forces. Russian statements indicated confusion within the Kremlin, as President Boris Yeltsin tried to defuse the crisis. A settlement was reached after days of negotiations, but the mixed signals from the Russian government indicated that the Russian military might have been flexing its muscle without government authorization. British Defense Minister George Robertson acknowledged the action might have been the result of "enthusiasm of some of their military commanders to be involved."2

Weeks later, Russian strategic bombers flew within 60 miles of Iceland, putting them within striking distance of U.S. soil. Air Force fighter aircraft based in Iceland intercepted the bombers and escorted them away without incident. While such events were common during the Cold War, this was the first overflight in over a decade. The military exercise in which the aircraft were involved was also the largest Russian exercise since the Cold War. Significantly, the flights of Russian bombers over Norway and Iceland, both NATO members, occurred without any notification by the Russian government.3

The combination of such actions and the increasing willingness of the Russian government to take on the U.S. and NATO brings a disturbing possibility to mind: that the Russian military might be acting on its own, without government control.

Moscow's actions are eerily reminiscent of Cold War gamesmanship, and may be designed to appease hardliners within the military. A U.S. military attaché was declared persona non grata and expelled from Russia this June, and Russian leaders have hinted at possible arms sales to Syria.4 These events, following closely on the heels of military saber-rattling, suggest that the Kremlin is trying to save face in the eyes of its military leaders. It remains to be seen whether such posturing will be sufficient to keep military hardliners in check.

Even if Moscow can keep the military in line, these incidents portend a less amiable relationship with Russia for at least the near future. An uncontrolled, nationalistic Russian military could plunge us back into the depths of the Cold War.

It is imperative that President Clinton keep this in mind when negotiations on the future of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty begin later this year. This treaty, as ratified, essentially stops the U.S. from protecting its citizens from nuclear missile attack. Although Mr. Clinton has sought funding for missile defense research, reports indicate that the President's support is less than wholehearted. The Center for Security Policy, a Washington D.C. think-tank, reports that the State Department has secretly informed American embassies that no national missile defense will be deployed while Clinton is in office. 5

Why is Mr. Clinton dragging his feet on anti-missile defense? His major argument against building such a defense is that it would violate the ABM Treaty. But that shouldn't matter. The treaty was signed with the Soviet Union in 1972, and the Soviet Union no longer exists. International law experts say that a treaty between two nations becomes null and void when one of the two nations ceases to exist.6 While the Clinton Administration has taken a different view and claimed that Russia is a legal successor to the Soviet Union, confirmation of that view requires Senate approval if the ABM Treaty is to remain in force. As no approval has yet occurred, and is not likely, there is no legal reason for the U.S. to delay deployment of anti-ballistic missile defenses as soon as technologically possible.7

Terrorist or rogue state acquisition of nuclear missiles is a terrifying possibility. But Russian possession of such weapons is a terrifying reality. The possibility that the military is now calling the shots in Russia means that the U.S. cannot afford to wait any longer for anti-missile defense.




Footnotes:

1 Joe Carroll, "U.S. Plays Down Incident with Russian Jets," Irish Times, July 3, 1999.

2 Paul Beaver, Ian Traynor and Owen Boycott, "Russians Bar Way to Airport," The Guardian, June 14, 1999; Sharon LaFraniere, "Moscow Talks Set on Peacekeeping Tiff, Washington Post, July 5, 1999.

3 Dana Priest, "Russian Bombers make Iceland Foray," Washington Post, July 1, 1999.

4 Michael R. Gordon, "Russia Ousts U.S. Officer as Ties Sour Over Kosovo," New York Times, July 4, 1999; Sharon LaFraniere, "Russia, Syria Hint at Weapons Deal," Washington Post, July 7, 1999.

5 David Wastell, "U.S. to Step Up 'Star Wars' Defence System," Ottawa Citizen, May 30, 1999.

6 George Miron and Douglas J. Feith, "Memorandum of Law," The Center for Security Policy, January 22, 1999; David B. Rivkin Jr., Lee A. Casey and David R. Bartram, "The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the End of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty," The Heritage Foundation, June 15, 1998.

7 Thomas Moore, "Flouting the Constitution: Clinton's New ABM Treaty Lacks Senate Consent," Backgrounder, The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 1998.



# # #

Jason Morrow is a Research Associate of The National Center for Public Policy Research's National Defense Center. Comments may be sent to [email protected].




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