Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

The US kept silent about ABM Treaty problem

by Inge Sellevag

This paper was published in Bergens Tidende (June 7, 2000). We thank the author for his kind permission to publish the article at the START Web site.

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The United States knew already in 1997 that forward-deploying X-band radars like the new Vardo radar is a problem in relation to the ABM Treaty. Norwegian authorities was not informed about this. US representatives told Norway that the radar was no problem in relation to existing arms control agreements.

The US Air Force in the spring of 1996 asked the American research institution Rand Corporation to review the Air Force proposal for a national missile defense architecture, called the Minuteman Option, which included X-band radars for precision tracking and target discrimination.

The study was published in April 1997 and called the deployment of X-band radars at the US west and east coasts as then planned, a potential "show stopper" because of arms control treaty implications. Rand suggested that the suggested adding an electronic scanning feature to the X-bands which would give them a limited early warning capability. Early warning radars were according to a US compliance report not prohibited by the ABM Treaty.

Grey area

An X-band radar used for space surveillance can also be useful in a ballistic missile defense system. The new Vardo radar therefore inevitably falls into a grey area in relation to the ABM Treaty, said Rand expert Daniel Gonzales to Bergens Tidende.

Gonzales in 1999 published a report titled "The Changing Role of the US Military in Space" where he wrote that " the fielding of multiple accurate long-range X-band radars could be viewed as a violation of the ABM treaty". "On the other hand", he added, "X-band radars designed for debris monitoring could provide a ballistic missile mid-course tracking capability that would be useful in a National Missile Defense system".

Space surveillance

- The Northern Norway probably puts the radar in a good position for the space surveillance mission, especially for detecting satellites in highly-inclined polar sun-synchronous orbits. I would assume that would be an important reason why the radar was moved to Norway, said Gonzales.

- Norwegian authorities claims that the Vardo radar only will do space surveillance ?

- I have no reason to doubt that. But there is a potential overlapping capability between space surveillance radars and radars that you can use in a ballistic missile defense system. Because of the very physics of an X-band radar the deployment inevitably creates a problem in relations to Russia. The problem has to be worked out in some diplomatic form or there may be a technical fix I am not aware of which the Russians could accept, said Daniel Gonzales.

Questions asked

- We asked our American partners if the deployment of the radar to Norway raised any problem in relation to the ABM Treaty. They answered that such a problem did not exist, said Tom Rykken, head of the Vardo radar project in the Norwegian intelligence agency.

Asked if this implies that the US did not inform Norway about the ABM problem he answered :

- I will not go into details about what he have asked the Americans about to get the problem confirmed or denied. Also I will not comment on the Rand material which Bergens Tidende presents. To do this I would have to reveal classified information, said Tom Rykken.

The government duped ?

- Either the Norwegian government has been duped by the United States or Norway has known all along that the radar could be part of a US national missile defense system, said Stephen Schwartz, editor of the Bulletin of Atom Scientists to Bergens Tidende.

It is naive to think that the radar with its inherent capabilities will never be used in missile defense. US officials have told their Norwegian counterparts what they want to hear and the Norwegian officials have decided not to pursue the missile defense question too aggressively. It will not surprise to me if the US-Norwegian agreement about the Vardo deployment on closer scrutiny starts to fall apart, said Schwartz.

Facts about the Vardo radar

A US radar called Have Stare has been deployed to Vardo, Norway with the new name Globus II as a dedicated space surveillance sensor. The deployment is a cooperation between the Norwegian intelligence agency and the Air Force Space Command. Have Stare is a one-of-a-kind high resolution tracking and imaging X-band dish radar. Initial operations at the Vardo is scheduled for the third quarter of 2001 and the radar will become fully operational in late 2002.

Bergens Tidende, 2000

See also:

START Web Site Special Section: ABM Treaty Modification: Should Russia Agree?

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