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Russia fears the Vardo radar

Inge Sellevåg
Bergens Tidende June 27, 1998

The new radar in Vardo can harm Russian security according to the Ministry of Defense in Moscow. Russian national security researchers claim that the radar is a possible violation of the ABM Treaty.

- Norway recently has made a new contribution to the already difficult situation that has developed in Europa in connection with the NATO eastward expansion, the Russian defense ministry's newspaper «The Red Star» (Kraznaya Zvezda) wrote 28 May in an article about the Vardo radar titled «Do we need this Globus ?»

- The radar will hardly lead to increased mutual confidence and stability in the northern region, the newspaper added. The article stressed that Norway has a been a long-time good Russian neighbour and linked the radar issue to the Norwegian King Harald's visit to Russia in May : «In this connection one should wish that one in Norway would pay attention to the fact that a new tracking station in Vardo can be used to harm Russian security».

Pentagon behind

Globus II is deployed in accordance with the interests of Pentagon, the Russian defense ministry claims. The radar can give the US early warning of missile launches and give exact data about the Russian strategic ballistic missiles starting from Plesetsk test site, the Barents Sea and other oceans.

- The tracking station will be used to form signatur cataloges of the Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles early in their trajectory with the intention of choosing targets in the passive part of their flight. This is confirmed by the sounding rockets launch program at Svalbard and Andoya, «The Red Star» writes.

The news paper joke about the official story that the radar is to observe space debris : «There is little indicating that collecting information about garbage in space is a problem for Norway to worry about».

Treaty violation

- Russian national security researchers brought up the Vardo radar at a round table conference in Nyborg, Denmark early this week, Jacub Godzimirski at the Norwegian foreign policy institute (NUPI) said. The conference was held in connection with a meeting in the Baltic Sea cooperation.

The Russian researchers claimed that the Vardo radar is a possible violation of the ABM treaty and linked the radar issue to the big strategic picture. - Russia today emphasize very strongly the nuclear balance because of Russia's inferiority in conventional forces. The Vardo radar can according to the researchers monitor their important strategic forces in the north, Godzimirski said.

The «Red Star» article refers to the article VI of the ABM treaty which prohibits the United States and Russia the deployment of radars for early warning of strategic ballistic missile attack outside their respective national territory. The article also prohibits the transfer of ABM systems and their components to other states and deployment of systems outside their territory.


- The Vardo radar is yet another example that the US does more or less whatever it wants in ABM development, paying little attention to Russian concerns or to the spirit of the ABM Treaty, the Russian researcher Pavel Podvig said to Bergens Tidende.

- The radar is not deployed explicitely as an early warning radar and therefore is not a clear violation of the treaty. But Globus II certaintly can be used as an early warning radar and integrated into a missile defense system. I think it's also important to mention that the radar is not YET an ABM-radar as defined by the ABM treaty. It could become an ABM radar if tested in an ABM role, Podvig said.

He added that Russia certainly has been treated somewhat humilitaty. - The US and Norway could at least have informed Russia officially about the Vardo deployment, Podvig said.

No comment

No official Russian protest agains the Vardo radar has been forwarded. The Russian embassy in Oslo sent a list of questions to the Norwegian defense ministry after the first newspaper articles about the radar. There also was a low-level meeting between the embassy and the ministry.

- We received the answers late May and sent them to Moscow for analysis. The embassy has no technical expertise to comment on the answers and I don't want to say anything official about the radar issue, because of the relationship between our two countries, the Russian ambassor Julij Kvitsinkskij said to Bergens Tidende.

Unfortunate role

The Russian parliament (the duma) has long delayed ratification of the START II treaty, linking START II to the fate of the ABM treaty.

- Russia is nervous about the ABM-treaty because its capability to build more offensive weapons is quite limited. The Start II treaty limits them even further by banning multiple-warhead missiles and the United States could theoretically achieve superiority over Russia by deploying missile defense, Podvig said.

It cannot be excluded, he added, that opponents of START II ratification in the duma will use the Vardo radar issue. - Norway could in this case play an unfortunate role in the the further arms reductions discussions, Podvig said.

Cuba parallell

- At the very least, this deployment has the potential to be quite provocative and it raises questions about US complicance with the spirit of the ABM treaty. Were Russia to deploy a similar system in, say Cuba, I have no doubt that the United States would raise serious questions about it, researcher Stephen Schwartz of the Brookings Institution commented.

- Unfortunately the issue is not as clear-cut as the mid-1980s replacement of the old mechanical BMEWS radars at Thule and Fylingdales with new phased-array radars, Schwarz added : - «Deployment of the Have Stare radar to Vardo for spacetracking or intelligence purposes would not violate the ABM treaty, although these activities do have some potential for supporting an ABM systems. If the radar were deployed explicitely for early warning purposes, it would violate the treaty, as it would if it were made part of an ABM system».

- The fact that the radar, as modified for space surveillance, «will retain its original design features and their inherent potential to support other missions» demonstrates the difficulty of demarcating firm lines between what is permitted and what is illegal.

- In short, while there does not appear to be anything untoward about the deployment to Vardo, the United States (and Norway) should be sensitive to the compliance issues it creates, Schwarz said.

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