Missiles could still find targets

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The Independent Online
EXPERTS yesterday dismissed as 'nonsense' press reports that the agreement between Russia and the United States to reduce the readiness of their intercontinental ballistic missiles (IBMs) meant they would now be aimed 'nowhere' or in the middle of the oceans.

The IBMs' target co-ordinates are on disks that can be inserted swiftly. 'We're not saying the Russians and Americans will wipe these codes off,' said one expert. 'Maybe you might shift them from one disk to another. It's a question of alert states and access. The targets are all of equal status on the disk.'

Martin Navias, an expert on ballistic missiles, said: 'Without knowing the exact procedures one cannot comment authoritatively. But the aim-points are determined by computer codes and these can be reprogrammed very quickly. The agreement does not mean it will be significantly more difficult for the Americans and Russians to target each other.'

In addition to the US-Russian missile agreement, President Bill Clinton reassured the Russians about Nato's Partnership for Peace (PFP) initiative and a three-way pact was concluded with Ukraine, which undertook to return its nuclear missiles to Russia in exchange for security guarantees and hard cash. Senior US officials reiterated their opinion that this week's Nato summit had been a great success but warned: 'Now the difficult bit starts'.

Russia and Ukraine already appear to disagree on how much uranium Ukraine will get back from the dismantled warheads. In a separate agreement, Washington agreed to buy dollars 12bn (pounds 8bn) of Russian uranium over the next 20 years.

US officials stressed that the PFP was not intended to draw a new Iron Curtain somewhere east of the former one. There had been debate, they said, about whether East European states might be admitted earlier rather than later but said none of the 16 Nato countries had favoured early expansion of Nato.

One senior official said East European countries would still have to go through a transition process before joining Nato. They had to prove they would be 'producers and not just consumers of security'.

In practice, East European states would have representatives at Nato's Supreme Headquarters (Shape) at Mons in Belgium and plans are already laid for co-operation in military exercises. PFP candidates would, in effect, be Nato members but without the ultimate security guarantee that an attack on them would be regarded as an attack on Nato.

Ukraine inherited 46 SS-19 Stiletto missiles at two sites and 120 SS-24 Scalpels based in silos (they can also be mounted on railway wagons) from the Soviet Union. The Stilettos each carry six warheads, each equivalent to over half a million tons of TNT; the Scalpels have 10 warheads, each equivalent to 100,000 tons. Both missiles have a range of 10,000km, enabling them to reach targets in the US. These missiles alone gave Ukraine nearly 1,500 warheads in all.

It was always uncertain whether Ukraine could retarget the missiles or fire them at all. But there has been no doubt that Ukraine could use nearly 600 AS-15 air-launched cruise missiles, range 1,600km, 16 carried on each of 22 Bear bombers and 12 carried on each of 20 supersonic Blackjacks.

These missiles are also part of the three-way deal with Russia and the US, making the Ukrainian President, Leonid Kravchuk, the first leader in history voluntarily to give up a large nuclear arsenal, although doubts remain about whether parliament will agree.