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A Russian View.
Interview with Alexei Arbatov on ABM Treaty

August 14, 2001, 2002

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Rumsfeld's Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, said his country is looking for what he called "managed deterrence not based on fear." Both sides have committed to continued talks on offensive and defensive weapons.

We get more on the Russian view now from Alexei Arbatov. He is the deputy chairman of the defense committee of the Russian Duma, and a member of the Yabloko Party, the leading Democratic Opposition Party in Russia. He has been meeting with administration officials and addressing arms control groups in Washington. Welcome to the program.


ABM's importance


RAY SUAREZ: Well, Russian leaders have endorsed the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of stability in the relationship between Russia and the United States. Why has it been so important to Russia?



ALEXEI ARBATOV: Because it has been always presumed and still is presumed that stringent limits on defensive weapons make it easier to reduce offensive weapons. And Russia is now planning to go very far in reducing Russian strategic nuclear forces. Against this background, preserving limits on defensive systems, looks to Russia as a necessary pre-condition to preserve stable deterrence.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you just heard President Bush a moment ago in our report talk about how for him and for his administration the ABM Treaty is part of a past that is no longer influencing today's events. If the administration goes forward with the development of missile defense, what is the threat to the Russians? What are they afraid of?

ALEXEI ARBATOV: Russians are afraid that this defensive system may eliminate Russian strategic deterrent capability with respect to the United States. At the same time, American strategic forces would remain a very powerful deterrent capability against Russia. It's not what politicians proclaim which matters for strategic deterrence. It's what they do that matters. And Russian proposals to jointly cut strategic offensive forces to low numbers, to cut them by 80 percent, have met with great reluctance on the part of the United States.

They're saying that they are conducting a review. Already many months have passed. And it's not clear whether the United States would agree to deep reductions of the strategic offensive systems. If they do, then we might really believe that Americans want to do away with nuclear deterrence, but before that, nuclear deterrence will remain a reality, whatever politicians say in their official statements.


Creating strategic deterrence

RAY SUAREZ: But the man who is conducting that review, Secretary Rumsfeld, said during his visit to Moscow, "I don't go to bed at night thinking that there's going to be an attack on the United States from Russia. If we want to deter attacks it's not from this particular state anymore." How does that figure into Russia's thinking? You're also not pointing your weapons as at many American targets either.

ALEXEI ARBATOV: We do not believe that Russia is going to attack the United States or vice versa. However, as long as we retain many thousands of nuclear weapons in our arsenals and presently we have many thousands, both of us, it's clear that they are targeted at each other because in the whole of the rest world there are not so many targets for those weapons. As long as they are targeted, they create this reality of strategic deterrence.

The only way to do away with it is to physically reduce those weapons to very low numbers. Otherwise declarations that deterrence is no longer valid are not taken in Russia with great trust. It looks very suspicious to Russia because declaring that nuclear deterrence is no longer valid on the one hand and refusing to go down in very deep reduction of strategic offensive forces is not compatible. And that makes Russians suspicious about American claims that their defenses will not be directed against Russia.

RAY SUAREZ: Does Russia have the feeling that it's being, in effect, told what the situation is going to be? Are these consultations that are now going on at this high level or negotiations?

ALEXEI ARBATOV: Certainly those are not negotiations because both parties do not trade for a compromise. They are not discussing mutual concessions. Moreover, American side is emphasizing that it doesn't want negotiations with Russia. That looks all that more suspicious. I would say even that American desire to have limited defenses against rogue states is not so troubling for Russia as American rejection of the notion of negotiations. We are not enemies any longer but we still are not allies. In the nearest future we probably will not be formal allies, so we need negotiations to resolve such issues as ballistic missile defenses.

I think that many experts and strategists in Russia would agree with amending the ABM Treaty so that the United States could test some new defensive systems and eventually, if need be, deploy them at the larger scale than presently permitted by the ABM Treaty. However, what is of great concern to us is that the United States are not willing to negotiate that, they are not willing to discuss amendments. They say that they do not want any negotiations. They are trying to persuade Russia that throwing away ABM Treaty is fine. That is not agreeable to Russia.


A binary question?

RAY SUAREZ: Is this a question of missile defense or no missile defense, strictly a binary question? Or could you imagine a system that could be developed that would meet some of these Russian concerns, that would be more limited in scope in such a way that wouldn't threaten your country?

ALEXEI ARBATOV: Yes, I can imagine that. I think that it's not such a complicated problem compared to the problems that we have been resolving during the 30 years of negotiating strategic arms control. I believe that it is quite possible to retain the ABM Treaty as a framework but to provide amendments that would permit limited defenses against rogue states or accidental launch of a ballistic missile.

RAY SUAREZ: Have there already been discussions among your colleagues in the Duma about how you will react, what you will do if the United States unilaterally either broaches or simply walks away from this treaty?


ALEXEI ARBATOV: Yes, there were many discussions to the point. Certainly Russia would not consider itself bound by the terms of Start I and Start II treaties. That means that Russia most probably would put multiple warheads on its ICBMs, which presently Russia is not doing.

RAY SUAREZ: And just to remind us, Start I and Start II has limited the number of warheads deployed?

ALEXEI ARBATOV: Start II has banned totally multiple warheads on land-based missiles. And land-based missiles with multiple war heads which are called MIRV war heads were always the bulk and the backbone of Soviet and Russian strategic deterrent forces.

So Russia made a great sacrifice in agreeing to START II, sacrificing the most important, the most powerful element of its strategic deterrent. But that was linked to validity of the ABM Treaty, to preserving in the future validity of the ABM Treaty. Now if the ABM Treaty is unilaterally abrogated by the United States, Russia would certainly go for MIRVing its ICBMs.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, thanks a lot for joining us, Alexei Arbatov.


GWEN IFILL: We'll get the American point of view Thursday, in a Newsmaker interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

See also:
ABM Treaty

the original at

pbs.org, August 14, 2001

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