Missile defenses have been a source of contention in US-Russian relations since
the beginning of the strategic dialogue between the United States and the Soviet
Union. Almost every nuclear arms reduction treaty has involved tough
negotiations over the extent to which missile defenses would be permitted for
each side and this year, the New START treaty ratification process made clear
that missile defenses will remain a primary source of contention during future
rounds of disarmament negotiations. The US Congress is not willing to accept
constraints on missile defense capabilities and the Russians do not want any
significant increase in US strategic missile defense capacity. The issue seems
zero-sum, but there is a way to move beyond these positions—a way
that has been much discussed but, so far, little pursued.
The differences between the two positions can be reconciled through a series of
gradual steps leading toward US-Russian cooperation on missile defenses. The
brief history of missile defenses presented in this article highlights the
urgent need for bilateral cooperation that could build trust that the two
nations’ missile defense systems not only would not destabilize the
strategic balance, but would serve common purposes. Such missile defense
architectures would provide the insurance necessary for both sides to move to
very low numbers of nuclear weapons and eventually to zero. In conclusion, the
authors offer specific ideas about how tangible progress can be made toward
cooperation within a few years.
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