Updating radars violates treaty. Analyst says US is `nibbling' at ABM treaty
Washington — Planned modernization of the United States early-warning radars in Greenland and England would violate important parts of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, claims a nuclear-arms analyst who has studied the subject in depth. This charge is ironic in that US officials have long said a new Soviet radar going up near the town of Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, is an ABM infringement.
``While it is true that the Soviets continue to violate the ABM treaty with their radar at Krasnoyarsk, a similar, and equally blatant, US violation cannot force the Soviets into compliance,'' writes Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear-policy analyst at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a report on the ABM pact.
At issue is a modern type of radar known as ``phased-array.'' Such radars have fixed faces, instead of mechanically rotating antennas, and aim their beams with quick-reacting electronics. They can track many more objects more quickly than older types, and are used by both superpowers to provide early warning of nuclear-missile attack.
Phased-array radars are so capable that, located deep inside a nation's territory and aimed toward space, they could track incoming nuclear warheads and form the control center for an anti-missile defense. Thus the ABM treaty, which prohibits such defenses in general, also specifically states that new early-warning radars must be on the edge of a nation's territory, and aimed outward.
Krasnoyarsk is deep in the heart of the Soviet Union. This inland siting alone makes the radar an ABM violation, points out Mr. Schwartz.
US radars at Fylingdales Moor, England, and Thule Air Base, Greenland, are not yet of the phased-array type. They are old Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radars built in the late 1950s. In their current state they are exempt from ABM treaty restrictions, as they existed when the pact was signed.
But the Pentagon plans to scrap the current equipment at these locations in favor of large phased-array systems. Officials say such a move is merely modification, and thus consistent with ABM. Schwartz claims these are whole new radars whose deployment is proscribed by the pact, as they are not on the US coast.
``Not even by the furthest stretch of the imagination is Greenland the edge of US territory,'' he says, adding that another section of the treaty prohibits deployment of ABM systems or their components outside of national territory. By mutual superpower consent, phased-array radars are considered possible ABM components, and so the modernization of the Thule and Fylingdales radar would break this provision, Schwartz says.
Of course, a radar in Greenland might not help the US build a missile defense in America, which is the real point of the ABM treaty. But Schwartz says that such ``nibbling'' at treaty provisions creates ``potentially insurmountable obstacles'' to arms control progress.