Abolition 2000 – Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Moving Beyond Missile Defense and Space Weapons

The Moving Beyond Missile Defense and Space Weapons Working Group reports on developments in missile technology and deployment, and the implications for security and nuclear disarmament. This includes evaluating, and possibly developing, draft agreements on missile control.

The Working Group received funding in 2016, from a grant to Abolition 2000, to review review existing proposals to control or ban missiles, missile defenses, and space weapons, and to protect space for peaceful purposes. The working group will report to Abolition 2000 by mid 2017 on action or strategy to support proposals which might be feasible and which could make a difference to policy and practice.




Nuclear disarmament activity in the post-Cold War period has focused mainly on reductions in the number of nuclear weapons and on preventing the modernization of bombs and warheads, along with the infrastructure needed to design and manufacture them.   This approach was grounded in an implicit assumption – that because the most powerful states, also  possessors of over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, no longer were adversaries, we were on a path to eventual abolition.

The post-Cold War period, in which there could be optimism about eliminating nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future, is unfortunately receding into the past.  We face a new era of great power competition, this time with more nuclear-armed states.  Further, in the interim, there has been significant developments in strategically relevant weapons systems, many of them driven by U.S. wars and by the responses of countries that see themselves as potential U.S. adversaries. Remote sensing, targeting, and accuracy have been improved in ways that make delivery of non-nuclear weapons at long range via missiles feasible to strike a variety of targets that previously only could be destroyed via missiles with a nuclear warhead.  The power, accuracy, and numbers of standoff weapons (including additional varieties of powered, non-ballistic missiles) deliverable by stealthy platforms possessed or in development by the most powerful militaries have expanded significantly.  The number of countries with significant indigenous long-range missile capabilities has increased. The sensing and communications systems used to target many of these weapons depend on satellites, and more countries have also deployed military systems in space. These are just a few of the reasons, along with the new and more dangerous geopolitical moment, why it is important to be focusing our attention on delivery systems and missile defenses, together with the broader development of military space technologies that both facilitate the development of more capable long-range missile systems and that create the conditions for a new arms race in space.

The madness of the missiles and the weapons races was limited mostly to the two superpowers.  As the madness was becoming apparent in 1972, shortly after the NPT came into force, the US and the USSR signed the landmark ABM treaty to limit, not missiles, but missile defense systems that could be deployed by each of them.

Although missiles were not banned, the ABM treaty resulted in arresting the missile race as both sides recognized the futility of building more missiles in a situation where mutual destruction became a certainty. The arms control treaties in the ensuing years reduced both the number of nuclear warheads and the delivery vehicles that included missiles and bombers. As the Cold War was ending in 1987, the two countries also signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that eliminated all ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 km and 5500 km.

The U.S. withdrew unilaterally from the ABM treaty in 2002 and since then it ramped up its missile defense program and started aggressively marketing the Patriot and THAAD systems to the Middle East, Japan, South Korea, and NATO countries.

While the primary role of the satellites during the Cold War was reconnaissance, the Gulf War saw the use of real-time imagery and satellite communications as part of warfighting by the US. Later on the use of GPS to guide missiles and bombs became a routine part of U.S. war fighting. The pattern continued with the introduction of both reconnaissance and combat drones that are operated remotely via satellite communications.

This overt militarization of space has not gone unchallenged as many other countries are expanding their military capabilities in space in addition to the US – China, Russia, Europe, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, and North Korea. Adding fuel to the fire, the U.S. also started programs that would make warfare in space a reality.

Russia repeatedly warned to no avail that the U.S. withdrawal form the ABM Treaty would have severe consequences for nuclear arms reduction. Bilateral nuclear arms reduction talks between Russia and the US have come to a standstill. Other issues such as NATO expansion and the confrontation over Ukraine and Syria have contributed to Russia’s decision to stop bilateral talks with the US, but the US plan to install missile defense interceptors in former Soviet territory and on ships in the Baltic Sea has been the most significant of all. As it expands its military space activities and pursues R&D in space weapons, US blocks any consideration of the PAROS proposals submitted to the CD by Russia and China.

The situation is undoubtedly more complex than the immediate post-Cold War period because there are more actors with missiles and space capabilities, but in reality it is the U.S. that is responsible for the escalation while other countries respond. There is a huge asymmetry in the capabilities of most countries when compared with the U.S.

In this moment, new efforts to prohibit space weapons and further development of long-range missiles and advanced payload re-entry systems (both nuclear and conventional) are urgently needed. This project would consider what kinds of initiatives by global disarmament forces, such as model treaties or negotiating frameworks, might help to decrease the dangers of new rounds of arms racing and confrontation among nuclear-armed states, and to move the world forward along a path where nuclear disarmament can be something more substantial than a distant and aspirational goal.

Objectives and Milestones of the Project

Phase-1: (June 2016 – November 2016) 6 months

After we receive the go-ahead, the objective would be to appoint a Coordinator and expand the group to include a few other representative viewpoints from Russia, China, Japan, India and, if possible, from Iran.

The next task would be to review the existing literature and past proposals to ban missiles, missile defenses, and space weapons, the PAROS draft treaty, in particular.

The third and the most important is to develop an analysis in order to understand the complexity of the interlocking nature of the issues encompassing nuclear weapons, missile and missile defenses, and military use of space. The analysis should also help identify the salient issues upon which a campaign could be launched.

Milestone 1: Draft Analysis and Preliminary findings. Presentation at the Abolition 2000 meeting in Berlin in October 2016 and the month after.

Phase 2: (December 2016 –  August 2017) 9 months

Building on the analysis above and feedback from the Berlin meeting we will issue a draft report, which will be widely circulated for comments. (December 2016 – February 2017) 3 months

Milestone 2: Issue Draft Report: March, 2017

Incorporate comments as appropriate and write the final report including recommendations for the next steps. (March 2017 – May 2017) 3 months.

Milestone 3: Issue Final Report,  June 2017

Milestone 4: Publish hard copy: July/August 2017