Originally created 02/11/99

U.S. says Russia's missile defense system deteriorating



WASHINGTON -- Russia's early warning defense against missile attack appears to be deteriorating and the United States says it is concerned.

However, the end of the Cold War has reduced any chance of Russia launching missiles based on a defective warning system, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Wednesday,

Also, he said the United States is following up an offer President Clinton made at the Moscow summit last September to exchange information on missile launches and early warning systems.

"We're pushing hard, and we need to have more discussion and response from the Russians," Rubin said.

The United States and the Soviet Union mounted early warning systems during the Cold War to guard against a surprise missile attack. This gave the two sides a chance to prepare for an attack and to retaliate if missiles were on their way.

A defective system would make it harder to sort out information and to decide what to do.

The Washington Post, in a report from Moscow on Wednesday, said Russia cannot replenish the array of satellites it needs to monitor U.S. missile silos and nuclear-armed submarines.

For several hours every day, the Post said, Russian military commanders cannot see any of the U.S. missile fields nor can they monitor the most dangerous threat to their own forces -- U.S. Trident submarines submerged in the world's oceans. The report quoted unidentified Russian and Western security analysts.

Asked about the article, Rubin said U.S. security interests kept him from discussing the capabilities of specific Russian systems.

But he said: "We are concerned about the potential deterioration of Russia's ballistic missile attack warning capabilities without referencing any specific systems."

On the other hand, Rubin said Russia's political and military leaders have said they believe there is a greatly reduced likelihood of a nuclear, or a large-scale conventional, attack.

"Therefore, we believe the idea that there are increased risks of a serious miscalculation overstates the current Russian launch posture, which is based on their assessment of whether there is a real chance of a nuclear or conventional attack," Rubin said.