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A few weeks ago the United States successfully tested an ABM system
by shooting down a missile with a missile. This remains an
extraordinary accomplishment. But this accomplishment needs to be put
into perspective. In March 1961 Russia successfully knocked down an
SS-4 Medium Range Ballistic Missile with a missile. More than a year
later Nikita Khrushchev boasted that Russia had an ABM that could “hit a
fly in space.”
The 1961 Russian test has been forgotten by most Americans. It is
high time we were reminded what happened. Russia’s ABM tests of the
early ’60s were extremely sophisticated. In fact, the Russians even
experimented with high altitude atomic explosions to see if nuclear
missiles could be used to stop nuclear missiles. The Russians learned
that x-ray radiation from a special type of hydrogen bomb, exploded at
altitudes above 80 kilometers, could fry critical components in an
incoming American warhead (up to 30 kilometers away). With this
approach the Russians didn’t need a system that could “hit a fly in
space.” To perfect their understanding of this type of defense, the
Russians conducted a hurried series of tests before the Nuclear
Test-Ban Treaty came into effect. From these experiments, which were
off to the United States by the Test-Ban Treaty of 1963, the Russians
learned how different kinds of radiation affected the performance of
radar, communications and missiles.
The importance of Russian and American research into ballistic
missile defense can be found in the increasing importance of ballistic
missiles as weapons of war. Since the 1950s, missile weapons have grown
in importance because of their tremendous speed, and because they can
now carry nuclear warheads from one side of the planet to the other. To
explain the situation in simple terms, the nuclear missile became the
most decisive weapon of our time. A country without nuclear missiles is
no match for a country with them.
The nuclear missile weapon brings together two different weapon
systems developed during World War II.
In 1945 the United States tested the first atomic bomb. Two of these
weapons were dropped on our wartime enemy, Japan. Over 140,000 Japanese
were killed, mostly civilians. A few days after the destruction of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered and World War II was
over. The first atomic war in history was won by the United States.
Before America tested its first atomic bomb, ballistic missiles were
developed by Hitler’s scientists and used against England. Under a
gifted team of experts which included Dr. Wernher von Braun, Germany
developed the Vengeance Weapon 2 — or V-2 rocket. The Nazi ballistic
missiles moved very fast. Once a V-2 missile was launched no fighter
could intercept it, no anti-aircraft gun could shoot it down. The Nazis
aimed most of these primitive and inaccurate V-2 rockets at London —
knowing it was easier to hit than a smaller target.
After Germany was defeated, some of the German scientists went to
work for Soviet Russia. Other German Scientists, like Wernher von
Braun, went to work for America. In 1949, under the guidance of Igor
Vasilyevich Kurchatov, Russia exploded its first atomic bomb and
America’s nuclear monopoly was at an end. A few years later Russia
exploded the first workable hydrogen bomb, several months ahead of the
United States. On Oct. 4, 1957, Russia flight-tested the world’s first
operational ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) when Sputnik was
launched into orbit. The satellite itself weighed 148 pounds. It was a
rude awakening for the United States. A missile that can put a
satellite into orbit might also deliver a nuclear payload to an American
city. America’s invulnerability to attack was at an end.
Whenever a new weapon appears a new idea of war arrives with it.
Around 1959 the Soviet Union formalized its nuclear war fighting
doctrine. According to former CIA analyst William F. Lee, the Soviet
Union sought to win a future nuclear war by creating offensive and
defensive nuclear forces that would limit damage to the Soviet Union
while delivering a decisive blow against the “main enemy” — America.
In other words, Russia was committed to developing a large arsenal of
intercontinental rockets along with missiles that could shoot down
ABM defense became a primary concern of Soviet military thinkers in
the early years of the Cold War. In 1954 seven Soviet marshals,
including the chief of the General Staff, Marshal V.D. Sokolovskiy,
recommended the development of ABM defenses for the USSR. According to
a top secret General Staff publication, “reliable antimissile defense
… is becoming one of the most important conditions for the successful
conduct of modern war.”
Russian nuclear war theory was developed under the guidance of
Sokolovskiy in the 1950s. A highly classified body of military
literature, known as the Ironbark papers, outlined how to fight and win
an atomic war. Included in these papers was a contribution by Col.
Gen. I. Podgorny, which outlined the decisive role ABM defenses would
play in a future world war. Later, in the 1960s, the unclassified
version of the Ironbark papers — entitled Soviet Military Strategy —
was published under the editorship of Sokolovskiy.
Unfortunately, the CIA dismissed the Ironbark papers as propaganda.
When Soviet Military Strategy was published and translated in the early
1960s, American analysts didn’t take its message seriously. “Nobody
would try to win a nuclear war,” CIA experts would say. The idea of
winning a mass destruction war was alien to the American mentality. But
for Russia, which had suffered the conventional equivalent of mass
destruction during World War II, such a war was obviously winnable.
Some of Russia’s largest cities were gutted by the Nazis, who killed
nearly 30 million Soviets in the war. Russian military and political
leaders saw nothing inconceivable in a nuclear war of mass destruction.
After all, they had already won the greatest mass
destruction war yet waged.
William F. Lee was one of the few CIA analysts who took Russian
nuclear war theory seriously. And Lee was one of the few people at the
CIA who accurately predicted the development of Russia’s nuclear
forces. As Lee documents in his book, “The ABM Treaty Charade,” the
National Intelligence Estimates of the U.S. intelligence community were
consistently wrong about the Soviet Union’s commitment to nuclear
superiority throughout the 1960s and 70s. While the United States
adopted the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) under the
auspices of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the Russians developed
their forces around the idea of a surprise attack against America’s
nuclear arsenal and command headquarters. While the Russians
concentrated on building ballistic missile defenses, blast shelters and
more accurate ICBMs, McNamara instructed our missile experts to make our
weapons less accurate, so that we would not be tempted to launch a first
strike against Soviet military targets.
McNamara’s strategy was simple. We only needed to blow up Russia’s
largest cities. That would be enough to deter a nuclear war. At the
same time, McNamara was against the building of ABM defenses for
America. Even though President Johnson decided to go ahead with an ABM
program, McNamara maneuvered to stop the building of a defensive shield
for America. His doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction would not work
if the United States could avoid destruction in a war. The only way to
prevent war, he argued, was to make it too terrible for either side to
After McNamara, came Henry Kissinger and the signing of the ABM
Treaty — which restricted the building of ABM systems. But as Lee
documents in his book, the Russians never kept the ABM Treaty. They
were committed to acquiring a national ABM defense and a decisive
advantage in nuclear missile weapons. While American policymakers
looked at the ABM Treaty as a way to halt the arms race, Russia looked
at the treaty as a way of catching up with a militarily superior United
States. In fact, during the 1960s the U.S. had developed a
sophisticated ABM prototype in the NIKE-X system, but the U.S. never
deployed this technology. The Russians, on the other hand, took full
advantage of our stupidity by copying NIKE-X and deploying their own
version — called the Gazelle — around Moscow in 1989.
Soviet leaders believed that McNamara’s doctrine of Mutual Assured
Destruction was immoral. Offensive weapons were the problem, argued
Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin at a meeting with President Johnson.
Defensive weapons were a necessity, he said, for protecting innocent
The Kremlin’s contempt for America’s political leaders reveals itself
in Russia’s non-compliance with the ABM and the SALT I Treaties.
Whatever the “stupid Americans” do, Russia will defend its people.
Russia will be ready when the next war begins. Russia will survive and
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan asked William R Graham to serve as
the chairman of the president’s General Advisory Committee on Arms
Control and Disarmament. This was a committee that oversaw the Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency. According to Graham, the General
Advisory Committee met with Reagan, who asked them to review the history
of past Russian compliance with the arms control treaties. According to
Graham, the committee sought assistance from the U.S. intelligence
community and the State Department, but these institutions were totally
uncooperative. Nonetheless, after a year of research the panel came up
with a classified report which concluded that the Russians routinely
engaged in a systematic pattern of treaty violations.
“The ABM Treaty Charade,” by William F. Lee, is an important book
that deserves to be read by all Americans. The book relates the history
of ABM research in America and Russia, and it goes into the gory details
of Russian cheating. According to Lee the Russians have a vast hidden
stockpile of ICBMs and nuclear bombs as well. This hidden arsenal was
never accounted for after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian
leaders, he suggests, are continuing to deceive us. Lee also shows that
Russia has thousands of interceptor missiles with 18 battle management
radars. We do not know how effective this system is, but national ABM
defense is a reality for Russia. The United States has no defense
As America moves toward developing its own ABM defense, we must not
believe those ignorant voices which talk about how destabilizing it will
be if America has a defensive system. Some of our politicians will
point to the ABM Treaty. But the ABM Treaty is not being kept by
Russia. According to William Lee, who also worked for the Defense
Intelligence Agency, “Given the relatively small number of U.S. missile
and bomber warheads likely to survive a Russian preemptive strike under
START II, if Russia can maintain its Triad of strategic offensive and
defensive forces, it will become the preeminent nuclear superpower.”
Lee has meticulously documented the Russian ABM violations, and his
evidence should satisfy all reasonable skeptics. As for his
qualifications, Lee served as a Soviet and economic analyst at the CIA
from 1951 until 1964. He also worked at the Stanford Research Institute
(SRI) where he headed the interdisciplinary threat analysis teams that
forecasted Soviet and Chinese armament developments. Lee joined the
Defense Intelligence Agency in 1981 where he worked as an analyst until
his retirement in 1992.
For those interested in Lee’s book, it can be acquired by calling the
Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies at (202) 371-2700.