Fri, 18 May 2001

U.S. must listen to international concerns on NMD

By Hazairin Pohan

NEW YORK (JP): The recent announcement of the much-awaited arms control policy by the President of the sole superpower in facing the challenges of the 21st century should not surprise anyone, for the United States has been pursuing the development of a national missile defense (NMD) system since the 1980s, despite strong reactions from the international community.

The speech by President George W. Bush at the National Defense University on May 1 removed any lingering doubts about the determination of the U.S. to develop NMD for the purported goal of protecting U.S. security interests against ballistic missile attacks by potential adversaries.

This requires the U.S. abandon the 1972 U.S.-Russia bilateral treaty on the Limitation of Antiballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), recognized during the last 30 years as "the cornerstone for maintaining global peace and security and strategic stability".

Bush's speech has created global reactions from friend and foe alike. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a careful statement reflecting the sentiments (and frustrations) shared by many member states that instead of abandoning the ABM Treaty "there is a need to consolidate and build upon existing disarmament and nonproliferation agreements".

Annan called on the nuclear powers to engage in negotiations toward legally binding agreements that "are both verifiable and irreversible". He clearly referred to UN General Assembly Resolution 55/33B on the Preservation of and Compliance with the Treaty on the Limitation of Antiballistic Missile Systems, which was supported by a large majority of member states, while the U.S. was among the few dissenters.

The ramifications of its opposition are indeed wide-ranging for global security, especially for the Asia-Pacific region and for multilateral arms control negotiations.

If the U.S. is to proceed with the development of such a system, the ABM Treaty will have to be abrogated because it does not permit deployment at more than one site that is not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) shield or the national capital.

Its unilateral repudiation will call into question the integrity of other arms control treaties, especially the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and it would complicate UN efforts to further reduce, limit and eliminate these weapons.

Proponents of missile defense have argued that because of the possible acquisition of long-range missiles by "rogue states" of the developing world, it has become necessary to develop new defense strategies and measures. Such a scenario lacks credibility as such states do not have the capability to attack the U.S. with nuclear armed ICBMs. Seasoned observers of the arms control scene have speculated that NMD is directed at Russia and/or China, the only countries with such capability.

Russia is apprehensive that the limited defense the U.S. is planning is just the first phase of a larger system that will eventually counter Russia's strategic forces. A solely American defense force could be used to gain a strategic advantage and further entrench its dominance by devaluing the nuclear arsenals of Russia. For these reasons, Moscow has stated its opposition to NMD, and in effect, to any changes in the ABM Treaty.

From China's viewpoint, it cannot allow its limited retaliatory capabilities -- approximately 20 nuclear warheads -- to be neutralized or even vitiated by the U.S. plans for NMD. China would be alienated from arms control negotiations, provoking an increase in its defense force modernization and the legitimacy of space-based activities for military purposes would be questioned.

Hence, China has vowed to take steps in acquiring retaliatory capabilities. Its options could include a significant increase in its nuclear warheads and the development of a technology to confuse, frustrate or destroy NMD. These potential developments will have an unsettling impact on the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

It is the ballistic missile testing in various parts of Asia in recent times that has led to increased regional and international concern. The acquisition of these capabilities of various ranges in South and Northeast Asia and their deployment by the nuclear weapon states has become an issue of preeminent concern to Indonesia, given their potential to hit major cities and population centers.

Because of its strategic location, Indonesia cannot be isolated from missile attacks which do not recognize national or geographic boundaries. Regrettably, the trends in Asia point to a greater emphasis on acquiring shorter-range missiles of 500 kilometers and intermediate-range missiles of 1,500 kilometers to 1,800 kilometers.

However, Indonesia has decided to refrain from acquiring or manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. The government has instead opted for constructive contribution in multilateral disarmament that has led to treaties and other instruments of cooperation.

Such an approach to security is the very antithesis of missiles. Its policy is also based on cooperative security programs. Cooperative threat reduction efforts can progressively reduce the impetus to develop missiles.

The countries involved need to begin a genuine dialog on the highly controversial issue of NMD which reflects their differing concepts of national interests and security strategies. A contentious and negative outcome will have a profound impact on regional and global security. However, one thing will be clear -- the political, strategic and technological factors and astronomical costs involved will militate against the development and deployment of NMD.

A number of lesser known antimissile weapons can substitute for NMD. These include theater missile defense systems to protect troops and bases in relatively small regions of conflicts. Some already under development can be expanded to protect large areas.

A more constructive plan of action under the multilateral auspices of the UN should first of all call for the implementation, in good faith, of the commitments undertaken in various disarmament treaties.

These commitments should include negotiations for the transformation of the Missile Control Technology Regime for the winding down of missile programs and for clarifying the issues involved in dual-use technologies. This in turn must facilitate legitimate nonmilitary uses; for deep cuts leading to nuclear disarmament with a time frame, and for early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty accompanied by self-imposed restraints on laboratory-simulated weapon tests.

Negotiations would also include a treaty against the use of fissile materials for weapons purposes; the ratification of Protocols that established nuclear weapon-free-zones; and unconditional security guarantees to the nonnuclear weapon states in an international convention.

An overwhelming majority of the UN member states support these long pending measures. The international community has now an unprecedented opportunity to finally seek a responsible outcome that would safeguard the interests of all nations.

The writer is head of disarmament and international security affairs at Indonesia's New York permanent representative office at the United Nations. The above views are personal.