Fall 1998 Update

Missile defense

In “Star Wars Redux” (Issues, Winter 1994-95), I discussed U.S. plans to develop and deploy highly capable defenses against theater (or tactical) ballistic missiles with ranges up to 3,500 kilometers. I argued that large-scale deployment of theater missile defense (TMD) systems could eventually undermine the confidence that the United States and Russia have in the effectiveness of their strategic nuclear retaliatory forces. I also argued that in the mid-term, TMD deployments could interfere with negotiations to further reduce nuclear arsenals.

In September 1997, after four years of negotiations in Geneva, the United States and Russia established a “demarcation” line between TMD systems, which are not limited by the 1972 ABM Treaty, and national missile defense (NMD) systems, which are restricted by the treaty to 100 interceptors for each side. Although Russia sought explicit constraints on the capabilities of TMD systems, the two countries did not set any direct limitations on TMD interceptor performance [the limits are only on the range (3,500 kilometers) and speed (5 kilometers per second) of target vehicles] or impose any other restrictions on TMD development or deployment. The sides did agree, however, to ban space-based interceptor missiles and space-based components based on other physical principles (such as lasers) that are capable of substituting for interceptor missiles. The United States and Russia left to each side the responsibility for determining whether its own higher-velocity TMD systems (with interceptor speeds over three kilometers per second) actually comply with the ABM Treaty. As more sophisticated TMD components are developed, this approach has the potential to generate serious disagreements over critical TMD issues, including air-based laser weapons and space-based tracking and battle-management sensors.

As thorny as the TMD issue has been during the past four years, it apparently was only the prelude to a renewed, more fundamental debate in Congress over whether to deploy an NMD. The Republican-controlled Congress supports an NMD as well as unfettered TMD deployments. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration has found itself squeezed between protecting the ABM Treaty and preserving the nuclear arms reduction process with Moscow on the one hand and managing the constant pressure from a conservative Congress for a firm commitment to missile defenses on the other.

Moscow has made it abundantly clear that it considers the ABM Treaty to be the key to continuing strategic nuclear arms reductions, that it opposes any large-scale NMD deployment, and that it considers the question of TMD deployments far from settled. Congress, on the other hand, believes that the United States should make a commitment now to an NMD; renegotiate or, if necessary, scrap the ABM Treaty to permit a large-scale NMD deployment; and refuse in any way to restrict TMD performance, deployment, or architecture. The future of missile defense may reach a crucial milestone this fall when Congress takes up a bill, already introduced in the House, declaring that “it is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense.”

The Clinton administration has tried to accommodate these conflicting pressures by adopting a so-called “3+3” policy for NMD. This policy calls for continued R&D on NMD until 2000, at which time, if the threat warrants, a deployment decision could be made with the expectation that an NMD system would begin operation three years later. If, however, the threat assessment in 2000 does not justify a deployment decision, then R&D would continue, along with the capability to deploy within three years after a decision is made.

On TMD, the administration adamantly maintains that it has not negotiated a “dumbing down” of U.S. capabilities. Nonetheless, sensing that Senate opposition to limits on TMD can be overcome only by arguing that some understanding on TMD testing is the price for Russian agreement to eliminate multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles and significantly reduce its strategic nuclear forces, the administration has linked its submission to Congress of the TMD agreements to Russian ratification of the START II Treaty. If, however, the Russian Duma fails to ratify the START II agreements later this fall after President Clinton’s September summit in Moscow, the entire nuclear arms reduction process could collapse under the pressure from Congress for extensive and costly TMD and NMD deployments.

Jack Mendelsohn

International Scientific Cooperation

In August 1991, we traveled to Mexico to meet with policymakers and scientists about the establishment of a United States-Mexico science foundation devoted to supporting joint research on problems of mutual interest. We encountered enthusiasm and vision at every level, including an informal commitment by the Minister of Finance to match any U.S. contribution up to $20 million. At about this time, our article “Fiscal Alchemy: Transforming Debt into Research” (Issues, Fall 1991) sought to highlight three issues: 1) the pressing need for scientific partnerships between the United States and industrializing nations, 2) the mechanism of bilateral or multilateral foundations for funding such partnerships, and 3) the device of debt swaps for allowing debtor nations with limited foreign currency reserves to act as full partners in joint research ventures. We returned from our visit to Mexico flush with optimism about moving forward on all three fronts.

Results, overall, have been disappointing. We had hoped that the debt-for-science concept would be adopted by philanthropic organizations and universities as a way to leverage the most bang for the research buck. This has not taken place. The complexity of negotiating debt swaps and the changing dynamics of the international economy may be inhibiting factors. But much more significant, in our view, is a general unwillingness in this nation to pursue substantive international scientific cooperation with industrializing and developing nations.

Although the National Science Foundation and other agencies do fund U.S. scientists conducting research in the industrializing and developing world, this work does not support broader partnerships aimed at shared goals. Such partnerships can foster the local technological capacities that underlie economic growth and environmental stewardship; we also view them as key to successfully addressing a range of mutual problems, including transborder pollution, emerging diseases, and global climate change. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of attention to this approach at all levels of the administration; most important, the State Department continues to view scientific cooperation as a question of nothing more than diplomatic process.

Incredibly, through 1995 (the latest year for which data are available) the United States has negotiated more than 800 bilateral and multilateral science and technology agreements (up from 668 in 1991), even though virtually none of these are backed by funding commitments. Nor is there any coordination among agencies regarding goals, implementation, redundancy, or follow-up. A report by the RAND Corporation, “International Cooperation in Research and Development,” found little correlation between international agreements and actual research projects. Moreover, although there are few indications that these agreements have led to significant scientific partnerships with industrializing and developing nations, there is plenty of evidence that they support a healthy bureaucratic infrastructure, including, for example, international science and technology offices at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Department of State, Department of Commerce, and all the technological agencies. We cannot help but think that a portion of the funds devoted to negotiating new agreements and maintaining existing ones might be better spent on cooperative science.

One bright spot in this picture has been the United States-Mexico Foundation for Science, which is off to a promising start despite restricted financial resources. Although Congress approved an appropriation of up to $20 million in 1991, to date the administration has been willing to contribute only $3.8 million to the foundation. Mexico has matched this amount and remains willing to match significantly higher U.S. contributions, which we hope will be forthcoming in the next year. Some additional funds have come from philanthropic organizations. At this early stage, the foundation is focusing especially on issues of water and health in the U.S.-Mexico border region, as well as joint technological workshops and graduate student fellowships. (For more information, see the foundation’s Web site at www.fumec.org.mx.) We remain convinced that the foundation is an important prototype for scientific partnership in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent community of nations.

George E. Brown, Jr.

Daniel Sarewitz

Michael Quear

Cite this Article

Issues, . “Fall 1998 Update.” Issues in Science and Technology 15, no. 1 (Fall 1998).

Vol. XV, No. 1, Fall 1998