New Agreement on Missile Monitoring Facility Has Elements of Old Plan

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week agreed to a joint missile-launch monitoring facility, but their new agreement is based on an old plan.

The original proposal dates to President Bill Clinton, who first discussed it with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and later settled on a plan with Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin.

The new proposal is more ambitious, though. Originally conceived a decade ago as a facility that would monitor launches by the United States and Russia and any missiles aimed at the two countries by others nations, the new facility would attempt to monitor missile launches around the globe.

But first, it has to be finalized. And last time, the proposal -- for a facility to be known as the Joint Data Exchange Center -- lost momentum and fizzled.

Still, the plans got fairly detailed, right down to a potential location: the site of an old Russian school in Moscow. Sitting side-by-side, U.S. and Russian technicians would receive data from their own country's early-warning systems. They would notify each other within minutes when they detected ballistic missile launches -- whether from land or water -- or space-launch vehicles headed toward either country.

Data were also to be exchanged on third-country launches, but only those that appeared to pose a direct threat to either Russia or the United States and thus could lead to misinterpretation as to who launched them. One interesting element was that while the information would be exchanged between the two countries, "the sources of the data shall not be specified," according to the agreement.

There were to be 16 Americans and 17 Russians working in crews to provide round-the-clock coverage, with an additional 60 people assigned for security and maintenance. Russian and American supervisors would share management of the operations. No "country symbols" would be displayed on the exterior walls of the facility, and although only Russian would be used outside the building, English and Russian signs would be displayed within the facility. The plan was to begin operations in 2001, but time and events overtook the project. Initially, with the arrival of a new president, George W. Bush, it was red tape. Later, it was shelved as the Bush administration lost interest and Moscow became concerned about the proposal to station U.S. missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic. In 2007, Putin suggested to Bush that there be two facilities: one in Moscow, the other in Brussels. But it all came to naught.

During the campaign, President Obama talked favorably about resurrecting the joint center.

At the same time, Rose Gottemoeller, then an Obama adviser, co-authored a July 2008 article in Arms Control Today, saying the Clinton-Putin agreement "remains intact . . . and the center could be rapidly established as a venue for confidence building on missile defenses."

Today, Gottemoeller, now Obama's chief negotiator with the Russians, may be the one to make it a reality.

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