The Impact of Missile Defense on
Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Treaties

The American missile defense plan would seriously damage the bilateral strategic arms control process and all existing non-proliferation mechanisms as well. One of the most likely short-term outcomes of the Bush administration's policy -nullification of the ABM Treaty- could trigger a hazardous domino effect. If the United States abandons the ABM Treaty, Russia might not implement START II. The 1988 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which prohibits deployment of all American and Russian land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,000 kilometres, might also unravel. Eroding the very fundaments of bilateral arms control might in turn  negativly affect a range of other international treaties like the NPT or CTBT.


Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

Current levels of Russian strategic nuclear forces would be sufficient to penetrate the limited potential NMD of 100 interceptors as proposed by the Clinton administration, but in the future, the size of the Russian strategic arsenal will significantly decline due to financial constraints. Russia possesses around 6,000 strategic warheads, 2,300 of which are kept on hair-trigger alert, 776 of those being  liquid-and solid-fueled ICBMs. In August 2000, the Russian Security Council decided to a lot more budget resources to conventional forces while making deep cuts in nuclear forces down to around 1,500 warheads. A Russian proposal to lower START III limits below 1,500 warheads was rejected by Washington in January 2000.

Progress on missile defense technology, in particular increasing the  capability to destroy Russian missiles during their initial flight (boost) phase, might create a situation in which 200 NMD interceptors would be sufficient to undermine Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. Moscow would be forced to introduce countermeasures to penetrate any future missile defense system and might maintain a larger arsenal than it can adequately support.

One option would be to to extend the operational lifetimes of some of Russia's older missiles such as the SS-18 and the SS-25, but without sufficient resources to ensure their security and reliability. Another option that is probably more attractive would be for Russia to equip its new Topol SS-27 ICBMs with multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), which can carry three independently targetable warheads mounted on each missile.

Both options would require Russiaís withdrawal from START II, which prohibits MIRV-ed ICBMs as well as heavy ICBMs such as the SS-18. President Putin has warned that if the U.S. abandons the ABM Treaty, Russia would not only withdraw from START II, but from the whole system of treaties on the limitation and control of strategic and conventional weapons. Altogether there are 80 bilateral agreements between the United States and Russia. 

More on strategic nuclear weapons in our
START Section

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

An American decision to deploy an NMD could push the NPT to its turning point. The United States would send an unambiguous message to the rest of the world of its lack of commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. Non-nuclear weapon states may decide that it is in their best interests to abandon the NPT, and states that have already nuclear weapon capabilities may implement programs to strengthen or expand their arsenals. Moreover, because nuclear modernization in states such as India might require explosive testing and production of additional fissile materials, the CTBT and progress towards a FMCT could be derailed. 

The 1970 NPT prohibits the five recognized nuclear states from transferring nuclear weapons or technology relevant to such weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. The non-nuclear weapon states in turn agree not to pursue nuclear weapon capabilities and to allow regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In addition, Article VI of the NPT obligates the nuclear weapon states to negotiate on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

This promise was reaffirmed at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference with a set of 'Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament' including the instatement of treaties that would ban nuclear testing and the production of fissile materials. The 2000 NPT Review Conference required the recognized nuclear weapon states to partake in an 'unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.' U.S. Congress Documents

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) 

The MTCR was founded in 1987 as an informal and voluntary agreement between Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is intended to restrict the transfer of certain types of ballistic missiles and related technology. The Guidelines and Equipment Technology Annex defines the purpose of the MTCR and provides overall guidance to members and other countries. The Annex Handbook is designed to assist in implementing export controls. The MTCR is a supplier regime, which means that its effectiveness depends on a near-monopoly on the technologies that it seeks to control. Export control policies are implemented according to national legislation, as the MTCR has no regulatory or enforcement capacitiy. As non-MTCR states become more sophisticated in developing missiles and components, the regime has over the last years approached countries outside the regime in order to engage them in a broader multilateral effort. The most recent exemples of this approach were the 2000 American-North Korean talks on the North Korean missile production and export programs. 


Plenary Meetings:

See also the State Department's Statement on the Draft International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, February 11, 2002 (in pdf)

Under a 1999 memorandum of understanding, the United States and Japan are cooperating in the U.S. Navy's Theater Wide missile defense program. This joint research project includes the transfer of interceptor technologies to Japan and raises the question of MTCR compliance. Although the missile defense system is aimed at shielding Japan from North Korean attack, it could also be easily deployed near Taiwan. China, which has objected to Japanese missile defense since the issue appeared, has agreed to follow the guidelines of the MTCR, but it is still reluctant to include the MTCR annexes in the Chinese export control law. As a result of the Japanese-American joint venture, Beijing may become even less willing to cooperate on nonproliferation efforts than it is today. Allegations of assistance to Iran's and Pakistanís missile and nuclear weapons programs are fostering doubts about Chinaís commitment to nonproliferation. 
Another international regime dealing with missile proliferation is the Russian proposal for a Global Control Regime (GCS), focusing on pre-launch notification and an ongoing consultative mechanism. The GCS includes a significant number of non-MTCR states, although Russia is also an active participant in the MTCR. Another forum is the UN governmental expert group established under General Assembly resolution 55/33a on missiles on November 2, 2000. The group started its work in late July/early August 2001.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated between January 1994 and August 1996 at the Conference of Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. The treaty bans all nuclear explosions, for nuclear weapons testing as well as for peaceful purposes. All five nuclear weapons states have halted their nuclear tests. The CTBT will enter into force after the 44 nuclear capable CD participants have ratified it. 30 CD members (including Russia) have already signed it, while the U.S. rejected treaty ratification in 1999. A special conference on the initiation of the CTBT reaffirmed the countries' commitments to refrain from nuclear tests. 


Following the January 2002 session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Undersecretary of State Bolton said the Bush administration has no plans to resume nuclear testing, although it is opposed to the CTBT. Bolton also said that a decision has been made in the Nuclear Posture Review to upgrade the American nuclear testing infrastructure: "If the strategic circumstances in the world changed dramatically ... we'd be in a better position in terms of our testing and research infrastructure than we are now."

Other Treaties

Outer Space Treaty

The United Nations unanimously adopted  a resolution in 1963 calling for all states to refrain from introducing weapons of mass destruction into outer space. Research of space-based laser weapons for missile defense raised concerns about treaty compliance, as well the recent  plan by the US to deny  the use of space to other countries. 

Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space Negotiations 

Since 1985 the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has set up negotiations on concerns which could include the use of anti-satellite weapons, the militarization of outer space,  the use of force in outer space, and the use of space as an ABM location. Building a layered missile defense including space components could severely affect the negotiations. 

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)

Russia, as the leading successor state of the former Soviet Union, has occasionally warned that in the case of the U.S. abandonment of the ABM Treaty Russia would not only withdraw from START II, but also from the INF. This treaty provided for the elimination of all  intermediate long and short range nuclear forces of the United States and the Soviet Union. Both states had fullfilled the requirements of the treaty by mid-1991. The INF Treaty was the first arms control agreement leading to the complete elimination of an entire class of missiles as it places a permanent ban on the deployment of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. 

Agreement on Notifications of ICBM and SLBM Launches

In the late 1980s, the United States proposed to the Soviet Union to conclude an agreement calling for advance notification of ICBM and SLBM launches. On May 31, 1988, in Moscow, the Agreement on Notifications of ICBM and SLBM Launches was signed that provides for notification, no less than 24 hours in advance, of the planned date, launch area, and area of impact for any launch of an ICBM or SLBM.

Research Reports
  • Emerging Technologies and Their Impact on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Science and Technology Committee Special Report, October 2001 (pdf)

  • Missile Proliferation and Defences: Problems and Prospects, CNS Occasional Papers, July 2001 (pdf)
    Contains a group of papers prepared for a seminar held by the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies in March 2001. The papers come from a mixture of academic observers and goverment officials active in the proliferation field. The workshop discussed proliferation and the impact of the MTCR and the United States' development of missile defenses and its impact on the ABM Treaty. 

  • Who's for a Nuclear Free-For-All? Acronym Institute, June 2001
    Describes a scenario that follows after the U.S. withdraws from the ABM Treaty. The abrogation causes international arms control and security regimes to collapse, with the world degenerating into a scenario where someone launches a first- strike and America still has not managed to develop a working missile defense system.

  • How Effective is the Missile Technology Control Regime? Richard Speier, Proliferation Brief, April 12, 2001 

  • International Perspectives on Missile Proliferation and Defenses, Scott Parrish, (ed.), CNS Occasional Papers, March 2001 (pdf)
    Volume offering an overview over the national perceptions on the missile defense and proliferation issue, based on a research workshop held in December 2000.

  • Global Control System: Too Comprehensive? Alexander Pikayev, CEIP, 2001
    The international missile non-proliferation regime is inadaequate, as demonstrated by the 1998 missile launches by North Korea and Iran. The Global Control System has the potential to be a better mechanism permitting the effective involvement of MTCR non-member states in international missile nonproliferation efforts. 

  • National Missile Defense: Troubling Implications for Nonproliferation, Stephen LaMontagne, Council for a Livable World Education Fund, November 2000 (pdf only)
    NMD threatens to both aggravate the greatest existing threats to U.S. national security and shake the foundations of arms control. Russia and China may adjust their nuclear deployments, resulting in increased threats of accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear-armed missiles. NMD could also precipitate a new of nuclear buildups in India and Pakistan. 

  • Proliferation Challenges and Nonproliferation Opportunities for New Administrations, Michael Barletta (ed.), CNS Occasional Papers, October 2000 (pdf)
    Discussion papers prepared for the Monterey Nonproliferation Strategy Group workshop July 12-14, 2000. Wide-ranging set of contributions to the assessment of emerging threats, review of fundamental assumptions and the outlining of policy measures to combat proliferation and strenghten international nonproliferation norms and institutions.

  • Time for a Missile Freeze: Options for International Control of Ballistic Missiles, Jürgen Scheffran, HSFK, Raketenabwehrforschung International, Bulletin No. 20, Autumn 2000 (also pdf)

  • Ballistic Missile Defense and the Missile Technology Control Regime, Li Bin, Peking University, June 24, 2000
    The American-Japanese joint research project on theater missile defense poses a serious problem in the compliance of the MTCR. It adds to Chinase concerns over missile defense and military buildup in Japan. The U.S. and Japan should provide more transparency so that China can review the project according to the MTCR criteria. 

  • Nonproliferation Regimes At Risk, Michael Barletta and Amy Sands (eds.), CNS Occasional Papers, November 1999 (pdf only)