CHANGING POLITICS AND TECHNOLOGY IN VERIFICATION OF COMPLIANCE WITH ARMS CONTROL AGREEMENTS
Gloria Duffy, 1985
Gloria Duffy is President of Global Outlook in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Duffy is former Executive Director of the Plowshares Fund and a Fellow at the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control. Her many publications include the co-editorship of International Arms Control and the authorship of Compliance and the Future of Arms Control. Today Dr. Duffy shares some of her central views on the quest for peace.
Whiteley: Dr. Duffy, one part of your thinking about the problems of seeking a safer world has been to focus on the problems of verification and compliance. What have been the problems?
Duffy: I suppose one of the problems with verification has been that often arms control treaties, the ability to conclude arms control treaties have lagged behind or followed the availability of technology and procedures for verification; so verification has acted as a constraint on the ability to conclude new treaties. We’ve been limited by the limits in our verification capabilities.
Whiteley: Back in the 1960’s when the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty was under consideration, there was hope at the time for a comprehensive test ban. The latter never came about. What were the problems and obstacles then, and how have they changed?
Duffy: That was one of the first and most striking examples of the phenomenon that I referred to. There was a lot of sentiment at that time for a complete ban on nuclear testing. What we ended up with was a limited ban on testing, limiting tests in the atmosphere, but allowing tests underground. And one of the main reasons that it was not felt in this country that we could conclude a total test ban was the lack of effective means of verifying, down to a low level, tests of weapons underground. We could clearly buy aircraft and aerial photography and other verification means. We could see whether the Soviets were testing a weapon above ground, we could see the explosion, we could measure - sample the air to measure the amount of radioactivity in the air. But it wasn’t felt that the methods for detecting underground explosions were precise enough to, for instance, distinguish an underground nuclear explosion from an earthquake or from some other activity underground. Therefore, we could not be confident enough in Soviet compliance with a total test ban to go ahead and conclude it.
Whiteley: As a prelude to considering the current situation, I’d like you to go back to the early 1960’s and indicate how the means of verifying existing treaties has changed.
Duffy: Well, we’re speaking about this at a time when incredible changes are occurring in the types of verification measures that are possible. And I’m talking about mainly the types that are possible for political reasons, not for technical reasons. So if you include right up to the present moment then the advances have been major. We are now talking about a new treaty on intermediate nuclear range forces, intermediate range nuclear forces, which will include on-site inspection and other cooperative measures of verification that are unheard of in any past agreements. So over the lifetime of the arms control process, just in very recent times there have been some radical changes. There have been many other changes along the way, but we’ve never seen a leap such as we’re seeing in the case of this new treaty.
Whiteley: You’ve distinguished between the political possibilities for verifying treaties and the technical possibilities. I’d like you to take the technical possibilities first and indicate whether the Russians have to trust the United States and whether we have to trust them.
Duffy: Fundamentally, you don’t have to rely on trust. There are many technical means for detecting what the Soviets are doing. I think the consensus in the scientific community today is that we could have an underground nuclear test ban, that there are means today that are precise enough to detect seismic activity that could be mistaken for a nuclear test underground, and so that you could have a nuclear test limit down to a fraction of a kiloton, or even a total nuclear test ban on underground nuclear tests due to the technology which is available today. I think it’s clear that you could reduce strategic nuclear weapons greatly or completely, using verification measures that are now available, technical measures that are now available.
So there has been enormous progress in the types of technologies that are available for verification, more precise means of seismic detection, satellite photography which allows the U.S. to photograph Soviet military facilities pretty much at any time of day in most kinds of weather, infrared photography, photography that is able to penetrate cloud cover in some instances, that’s able to photograph at night. So there have been tremendous technical advances in all areas of verification.
Whiteley: You’re now moving from the technical domain to the political. What has been the record?
Duffy: As I said, there’s a great deal of ferment going on right now. Historically the Soviets have been very reticent to allow any American intrusion into their territory and really to cooperate with the U.S. in any way to help us verify what they’re doing, help us monitor what they’re doing. They have always considered
U.S. monitoring to have the potential for spying. They’ve been very concerned to keep a dividing line between what the U.S. is permitted to do, and can do through its national technical means of verification, and additional gathering of information that the United States might want to do might not be just absolutely relevant to verifying Soviet compliance with treaties, but might add to U.S. intelligence about the overall characteristics of Soviet military behavior and Soviet forces.
So the Soviets have been - and also for some reasons that have to do with just their historic distrust of the United States, historic lack of interest in having other people in other countries looking over their shoulder internally, their desire for control of information in their own society. They’ve been very reluctant to agree to any measures that would allow - that would go beyond national technical means of information to let U.S. inspectors into their territory to keep their - keep certain weapons in place while U.S. satellites pass over so that we can specifically see what we need to see. And that has been a barrier all the way along to arms control agreements that had more secure means of verification attached to them. That’s changing now. Part of the Soviet new thinking about security is - probably the most extreme example of Soviet new thinking about security is the distance they’ve been willing to come in being more open about verification.
Whiteley: A specialty of yours has been the issue of complying with existing treaties. This is obviously very germane to the question of entering into new treaties. What’s the record been? Do the Soviets think that the United States has a good compliance record?
Duffy: The Soviet Union has not ever complained that the U.S. has cheated on arms control agreements until the United States has complained that the Soviets have cheated on arms control agreements. When the United States has complained, as we have occasionally done all through the 1960’s and the 1970’s, when we’ve complained privately to the Soviets that they’re doing something that we don’t think agrees with what they’ve committed themselves to do in a treaty, the Soviets will often respond with a tit for tat complaint against the United States. You say we’re doing this; well, what about what you’re doing over here. If you’re going to nit-pick about what we’re doing, we’re going to nit-pick about what you’re doing. And for years that type of interplay went on privately between the
U.S. and the Soviet Union, not terribly often, but every now and then.
We’d accuse the Soviets of releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere that crossed Soviet borders into other countries in contravention of the Soviet promise in the Limited Test Ban Treaty not to do this. And the Soviets would turn around and accuse us of building shelters over our Minuteman silos at certain bases in the United States which prevented them from seeing, they said, what type of missiles were in those silos, and from monitoring what kinds of parts and missile components went in and out of the silo, which is one way they say they know what type of missile is in that silo. There had been frequently a tit for tat of this type privately.
Whiteley: There was a mechanism set up as part of the SALT regime known as the ‘Standing Consultative Commission’ which was the vehicle for these kinds of dialogues. How has it worked?
Duffy: As you rightly say, it was in the Standing Consultative Commission that these charges back and forth were often made. However, until the 1980’s there was not a single case where the U.S. or the Soviet Union brought a complaint to the Standing Consultative Commission that the issue was not resolved by the Commission. Many people have many different thoughts about that. Some people would say that in the 1980’s - and the Standing Consultative Commission has been paralyzed; many issues have been brought to it during the 1980’s. It really has not been able to resolve a single one of them. It has come to only one agreement in the 1980’s, but that was an agreement the terms of which were already worked out during the Carter Administration.
Whiteley: In your judgment, and this is clearly a judgment on which there will be other points of view, are the problems ones due to the problems brought to it, or are they political in nature?
Duffy: Well, some people would say that Soviet behavior has been much worse in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, therefore, the type of problems that the SCC has confronted are much more serious and don’t have such easy solutions. And in fact, you know, the only unreversed instance of Soviet cheating on a treaty has occurred during this period of time and has been raised in the Standing Consultative Commission, and is still today a matter of extreme dispute between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. So there is - I think it’s much exaggerated, it has been much exaggerated that the Soviet Union has simply cheated greatly. There has in fact been one instance of Soviet violation of an arms control treaty.
Whiteley: What is that issue and what should your fellow citizens learn from it?
Duffy: The one I’m talking about is a Soviet radar that’s in Siberia, and the ABM Treaty says that neither side shall build radars of this type except if they’re on the periphery of the country’s national territory and oriented outward. And that provision was designed to prevent either side from incorporating this type of radars in an anti-ballistic missile system. But if they’re located on the periphery and oriented outward, they don’t give radar coverage of the territory of each country and are not thought to be as useful for anti-ballistic missile purposes. The Soviet Union has built one of these radars called ‘large phased array radars’ several hundred kilometers inside the borders of the Soviet Union, and oriented facing across over 3000 kilometers of Northeastern Siberia. So it’s not on the periphery and it’s not oriented outward. The radars limited by the ABM Treaty are radars for early warning. Now the Soviet Union says that this is not an early warning radar even though it’s identical to all of their other early warning radars. It’s the same radar. They say this is a radar for space tracking, for tracking space objects, not for early warning of launch of ballistic missiles coming into the Soviet Union. And the ABM Treaty has loophole which permits space tracking radars and radars for national technical means of verification to be located, if the country desires, internally in the country, not on the periphery and located outward.
Whiteley: Given the fact that the phased array radar is an important issue under the ABM Treaty, and the Soviet Union has claims about our radars and we have a major claim about one of their radars, how do you think about the problem from the point of your specialized knowledge?
Duffy: The way I think about it is really to think about it in a very different way. It’s very simplistic to think about, you know, are they cheating, are we cheating. There have been forty charges in the 1980’s of cheating between the two countries; eighteen by the U.S. against the Soviets, and twenty-two by the Soviets against the U.S. because they like to play a little one one-upmanship on the numbers. I believe that these charges don’t represent any change in whether the U.S. and the Soviet Union are basically complying with the terms of agreements. The nature of agreements is that you cannot negotiate a perfect agreement between adversaries that is going to endure without dispute over time, in the face of changing technology and a changing political environment. Disputes are in the nature of arms control agreements.
What I think has happened in the last seven years is an inability of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to work jointly to resolve the inevitable disputes that arise about interpreting what the meaning of treaties is. And that’s precisely the case with the Krasnoyarsk radar. Do the Soviets have a legitimate case that it’s a space tracking radar or don’t they? And that’s true of all the other thirty-nine charges too. Most of them, the Krasnoyarsk radar is the most dubious claim that a country is making that it has the right to do something, but all the other instances are much more gray than that. And it’s necessary for the two countries to work together to update and interpret and agree on the interpretation of the meaning of treaties. That’s why you have all these charges.
Whiteley: Why, after decades of resisting on-site inspection, did the Soviets invite to their phased array radar a delegation of American Congressmen and scientists with television cameras and still cameras to record much of that site?
Duffy: I think here it’s mainly because Mikhail Gorbachev is a very different kind of person. He wants very seriously to obtain serious arms control agreements with the U.S., and he understands the importance of verification in the U.S., and the barrier the closedness of the Soviet leadership has been about their military affairs. He understands that that has been a barrier to arms control. To a certain extent he’s playing a PR game. He knows that it looks good in the U.S. media when the headlines say American Congressmen visit Soviet radar, say it’s not a threat because it’s old technology, and so forth. That really doesn’t relate to the question of whether it’s a violation or not. Nothing that those Congressmen found out changed one iota where that radar is and the direction in which it’s oriented. It’s still there and it’s still where it was and oriented in the way that it is. So the questions still exist.
So at one level Gorbachev understands that just being more open like this, even if it doesn’t resolve the problem, creates a better impression in the United States. But I think beneath that level he understands that in order to get arms control agreements with the U.S. the Soviet Union is genuinely going to have to give, and genuinely allow the types of procedures that he’s agreed to in the INF Treaty - on-site inspection - because there is low confidence in the U.S. about Soviet compliance with treaties. And he’s willing to do that, he’s willing to really go the extra step as he was in the INF Treaty.
Whiteley: Will it undermine the security of the United States to have a delegation, indeed a permanent presence, of Soviet inspectors able to enter our defense plants and weapons assembly areas?
Duffy: I think it’s going to be a very interesting episode in the history of U.S./Soviet relations. I think the U.S. is going to make every effort to contain those specialists to just the tasks that they’re suppose to be doing. I think that if the U.S. and the Soviet Union do exchange inspectors like that, it means that the nature of the U.S./Soviet relationship is going to be fundamentally different, where knowledge about each others’ military facilities, especially ones that are dealt with in a treaty and relate to a treaty, is not regarded as a threat. I think it’s thinking in the old way that anything the Soviets know about our military facilities decreases our security, and anything we know about theirs decreases theirs, I think there is a change in thinking going on to where it’s understood on both sides that we have to let the other side know about our facilities in order to get an agreement in order to reduce nuclear weapons. And we are in fact, it’s making real what has been the lip service paid to the idea that security is mutual, and that each side has to give up something in order to make agreements work and to cut the danger of a nuclear war by cutting nuclear weapons.
Whiteley: Having studied the compliance problems of the SALT era, what do you see the compliance problems to be of the INF era?
Duffy: I see them as related in some ways. I don’t feel - I feel that the verification measures for the new treaty are excellent, especially including on-site inspection. But I see, once again, it’s not possible to negotiate a treaty that has no ambiguity. This treaty is better than most. One of the problems with treaties in the past is that they’ve contained only partial limits on a certain class of weapons. Back to the case of the Krasnoyarsk radar, there’s large phased array radar that’s used for space tracking, there’s a large phased array radar that’s used for early warning; one is prohibited, one isn’t. They’re exactly the same. How do you tell the difference between them? So if you’ve made a partial limit, you limit one type, one use of a technology but not another use of the technology; or a certain number of weapons, but not others of those same type of weapons. That allows for a lot of ambiguity. It allows for both sides to sort of stretch and say you know, well, this is one of those radars that’s permitted. It’s not one of the ones that’s restricted.
When you have an agreement that is eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons, the task of verification and interpretation of what the treaty means is simpler and more clear. No intermediate range missiles are permitted, period. Anywhere. So it’s not a difficulty of distinguishing whether the SS-20’s that the Soviets have deployed in Asia are permitted, or whether they’re able to move those missiles into the European Soviet Union where they wouldn’t be permitted.
So in a certain way this treaty makes the task simpler, but I still believe based on the history of the last fifteen years that there will be ambiguities. The SS-20 - I’ll give you a specific example - the SS-20’s are launched from mobile launchers. The SS-24, which is a permitted Soviet intercontinental range missile, is also launched from a mobile launcher that looks very similar to the launcher for the SS-20 which is going to be totally banned by the INF Treaty. So one of the sticking points in the final stages of the negotiation has been how can you make sure that the Soviets aren’t hiding the prohibited SS-20 in the mobile launcher for the permitted SS-25 since they’re still permitted to keep all their SS-25’s. That sort of thing will raise ambiguities. I believe that the lesson of the past years when we’ve had a very polarized dispute about whose cheating and whose not cheating is that you’ve got to have a functioning process for resolving these disputes and interpreting the ambiguities that are going to come up.
Whiteley: One of the legacies of the Reykjavik Summit is the statements by leaders of both superpowers that it’s possible to cut the arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons by 50%. What do you see the compliance problems to be with that treaty?
Duffy: It has the same problem that we were just talking about, and that is if you make a partial cut in a certain type of weapon you have the problem of distinguishing, are the ones that you see through your verification means, the ones that are permitted or are they ones that are prohibited. So such an agreement has to be negotiated very carefully.
Whiteley: I’d like you to return to a theme that’s recurrent in your writings and that’s the role of changing technology in compliance and verification. The ABM Treaty is over fifteen years old, there are issues of changing technology with that. What are the issues going to be with the next generation of treaties?
Duffy: One problem that’s often talked about is the problem of detecting weapons which are smaller, more easily concealed: Weapons like cruise missiles that can be placed in the holds of ships or in the bomb bays of aircrafts. Developing measures to detect whether those smaller, more easily hidden weapons are present and in what numbers, and determining whether limits in treaties on them are being abided by. I’d say that that’s a problem. But I’d really see the next period of time in terms of opportunities rather than problems. There are new weapons technologies developing. I think it’s possible to develop the technical means for verifying them, but beyond that I think a new day is really dawning in the ability of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to jointly work out measures, more political measures, more cooperative measures, to verify compliance with any treaties that might cover the new technology. So I don’t see technological improvements as the main thing to look for in the time ahead; I see the important thing as being a continuation of the trend towards political cooperation by the two sides towards more cooperative means of verification. The type of verification measures that I think will give Americans a much greater degree of confidence that the Soviets are standing up to their promises that they’ve made in arms control treaties.
Whiteley: Dr. Duffy, thank you for sharing with us today your insights into the way to a more peaceful world in the nuclear age.