Arbatov Alexey
The Peculiarities of the National Missile Defense
Publication Type:

ISSN 2542-0240 (Print)

DOI 10.23932/2542-0240-2018-11-6-6-20

The view of both Moscow and Washington on ballistic missile defense (BMD) for a long time rested on the principle, formulated in the late 1960s, which held that anti-missile systems for defense of the territories were destabilizing, therefore limiting them would strengthen strategic stability. Since that time the USSR and then Russia always adhered to this principle, while the US at times rejected it (i.e. the SDI program of the 1980s) and by now has finally given it up altogether. Meanwhile , the majority of the independent leading experts assess the chances of the existing US missile defense to tangibly affect Russia’s nuclear strike capability as extremely low. However, the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 seriously undermined political trust between Moscow and Washington. The unwillingness of the US to provide Russia with a legally binding commitment not to direct its BMD system against it (including technical constraints) contributes to the problem. In addition, the US missile defense system is being built as an open-ended system with no future restrictions on its expansion and improvement. Russia has responded to the creation of the US national missile defense system with the modernization of its strategic nuclear forces and initiation of its own Air-Space Defense (ASD) system. The difference of the concepts of the BMD system development in the United States and the ASD system in Russia lies in that the US system is intended to defend against limited attacks of intercontinental ballistic missiles against the North American continent or of medium-range missiles against the US allies in Europe and the Pacific region. The Russian ASD is a multilayered system designed to protect against a protracted air-space offensive by the US/NATO involving high-precision conventional weapons (including future hypersonic and space-based systems) and limited use of nuclear weapons. Although there has been a long break in a meaningful US-Russian dialogue on missile defense, it is still possible to reach some positive agreements. If the US and Russia resume negotiations on limitation and reduction of strategic offensive arms, it might open a window for a compromise on missile defense. Such a compromise can be based on an agreed threshold separating, on the one hand, missile defense systems that can significantly affect strategic stability by intercepting a large number of US or Russian ICBMs and SLBMs and, on the other hand – systems that will allow the US and Russia to protect their territories against attacks by third states or rogue regimes and would thus strengthen their mutual security. The first class of BMD systems would be subject to restrictions, while the second one would be given a green light. Moreover, in the second case there would reemerge an opportunity of the development of a joint defense systems of the two powers, which was declared in 2002 but never came true.


Keywords: missile defense | air-space defense | strategic stability | strategic arms limitation and reduction negotiations | crisis of the strategic arms control | foreign policy |

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