Amid signs that the Kremlin once had “Potemkin village” nuclear missiles, the Soviets have told U.S. officials that about 200 of their medium-range missiles, earlier described as operational weapons, are really just training missiles, many of them filled with concrete.
In fact, one senior U.S. official said he suspects that many of the so-called dummy missiles were built to deceive U.S. spy satellites. He cited the large number of the dummies and the fact that most of them are replicas of old missiles as evidence that the bogus weapons were deployed to mislead American intelligence estimates.
The account of the “training missiles” was offered by the Soviets to explain a discrepancy between their initial count of 1,950 missiles and the 1,752 total contained in the new U.S.-Soviet treaty, the official said Wednesday.
As a potential source of controversy, the discrepancy was the first cloud in the summit’s otherwise clear skies. It emerged in the wake of growing criticism of the White House for keeping secret the treaty annex in which the missile details are contained. The incident could be ammunition for critics to attack the treaty during the Senate ratification process, and it could also cast doubt on the negotiations toward a long-range missile pact now under way.
Protocol Ban a ‘Shame’
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) called it a “shame that the American people will not be able to see the protocol” to the treaty, and Richard N. Perle, former assistant defense secretary and an arms control hard-liner, said that withholding the details indicates that work on the pact is not finished.
“I am puzzled as to why parts of this agreement are being kept secret, unless they haven’t finished their work or there are anomalies in the data. And that would concern me more than it would surprise me,” Perle said.
The Administration offered several explanations for keeping secret the 100-page annex, which gives the specific number and kinds of missiles to be destroyed and their locations.
One was that disclosure could be used by terrorists seeking to steal one. Another justification was that since about two-thirds of the sites are on territory of North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, those countries object to publication of the details that will draw unwanted attention to the U.S. facilities.
A final possible reason, according to an official, is that it would create a breach in the broad and sometimes troublesome U.S. policy of refusing to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any location, including those on warships. New Zealand has ruptured the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. (ANZUS) alliance because it cannot get U.S. assurance that visiting U.S. naval vessels are not carrying nuclear warheads, for example.
Nonetheless, Administration officials concede that the annex’s contents are likely to leak out anyway, and Moscow has pledged to make the document public in the near future.
The 200 “training” missiles were not the only surprise in the Soviet statistics that came with the final treaty. Equally striking was the large number of non-deployed, or stored, Soviet missiles, which the official admitted was “on the high side” of U.S. intelligence estimates.
The Administration and the intelligence community have accepted the Soviet explanation for the discrepancy in totals, the official said, noting that U.S. inspectors will be allowed to see the bogus missiles.
The discrepancy in the Soviet missile count arose because a few weeks ago, Soviet negotiators in Geneva said the treaty would eliminate more than 1,950 missiles on their side. But as the data came in, broken down by type of missile, the total only added up to 1,752.
The Soviet explanation, according to the senior official, was that the Soviets initially had counted the dummy missiles as non-deployed, or stored missiles.
“Now we are told that these are inert missiles, many filled with concrete,” he said.
“They also told us that they thought we had more missiles than we listed,” he added.
The reason for that Soviet error could be that “we try to make our training missiles as realistic as possible,” he said, and spy satellites might be unable to distinguish the false from the real weapons.
But the large number of training missiles now claimed by the Soviets indicated a “Potemkin-like approach,” he said, in which the Soviets deliberately set out to deceive U.S. satellites.
The reference is to the 18th-Century Russian field marshal, Grigory Potemkin, who built beautiful sham villages in the Crimea to impress the Russian court.
Soviet deception, including digging impact craters for missiles in a way to suggest greater accuracy than was achieved, has been widely alleged by conservatives.
More than half of the 200 dummy missiles replicate the aged SS-4 missile, the official said. This weapon was introduced in 1959, when the Soviets had relatively few missiles--a fact that heightens suspicion that they had a deception as well as a training role. The SS-4 was being replaced by the SS-20.
There were these other statistical surprises in the data:
- The Soviets had deployed fewer missiles in the longer-range category--those with a range of 600 to 3,000 miles--than the Pentagon claimed--405 SS-20s rather than 441 and 65 SS-4s rather than 112--which somewhat embarrassed U.S. officials.
One official explained that two years ago, the Soviets had announced that they were taking 36 SS-20s out of operational readiness, at a time when the Netherlands was voting on whether to accept U.S. missile deployments to compensate for the Soviet weapons. U.S. satellites confirmed the move, he said, but there was no evidence that the missiles were permanently out of action.
The United States did not publicly confirm the Soviet reduction, however, in part because it was considered useful to keep the threat level high at the time, the official admitted, to help maintain Dutch support for deployment of U.S. medium-range missiles.
The Soviets kept 112 SS-4s operational through midyear, the official said, and then began to “vigorously destroy” the weapons. U.S. estimates of Soviet strength are only issued once a year, in the winter, so the new totals had not been published.
Move to Downplay Difference
One possible reason why the Soviets suddenly destroyed so many weapons, he suggested, was that they did not want the ratio of destroyed Soviet to U.S. missiles to appear so great once the treaty was completed. The 2-to-1 ratio--1,752 Soviet missiles to 859 U.S. missiles--was in fact lower than predicted by Pentagon figures.
- The Soviets had more of the longer-range missiles in storage than expected--245 SS-20s and 105 SS-4s. They even had six SS-5s--older than the SS-4s--stored. The large number of SS-20s produced was within the “high side of the range” of production estimates by the intelligence community, the senior official said.
- The Soviets also had more of the shorter-range missiles--those of 300- to 600-mile ranges--deployed, and more of them in storage than expected. The detailed count was: deployed--220 SS-12/22s, as opposed to 120, and 167 SS-23s, as opposed to 20. For stored missiles, 506 SS-12/22s and 33 SS-23s.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a private anti-nuclear group, published most of the figures from the still-secret Memorandum of Understanding, after which U.S. officials confirmed most of the numbers.