Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement (1988)

Summary

Bilateral agreement between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. requiring each nation to notify the other party, "no less than twenty-four hours in advance, of the planned date, launch area, and area of impact for any launch of a strategic ballistic missile." The treaty entered into force on May 31, 1988.

Narrative

The Agreement on Notifications of ICBM and SLBM Launches, signed during the 1988 Moscow Summit, reflects the continuing interest of the United States and the Soviet Union in reducing the risk of nuclear war as a result of misinterpretation, miscalculation, or accident.

A number of earlier U.S.-Soviet agreements address advance notification of some, but not all, strategic ballistic missile launches.

  • The 1971 "Accidents Measures" Agreement requires each Party to notify the other in advance of any planned missile launches if such launches will extend beyond its national territory in the direction of the other Party.
  • The 1972 "Incidents at Sea" Agreement provides for advance notice, through Notices to Airmen and Mariners of actions on the high seas which represent a hazard to navigation or aircraft in flight. Planned ballistic missile launches which will take place in international waters represent such a hazard, and, under the "Incidents at Sea" Agreement, notification must be provided. The Notices to Airmen and Mariners, however, consist of warnings which announce "closure areas" due to a hazard to navigation or aircraft in flight; they need not identify the nature of the hazard.
  • Article XVI of the SALT II Treaty, which was never ratified, would have obligated each Party to notify the other well in advance before conducting multiple ICBM launches, or single ICBM launches planned to extend beyond its national territory. There was no obligation, however, to notify single launches not intended to extend beyond national territory. There were also no provisions in the SALT II Treaty for the notification of SLBM launches.

None of these earlier agreements, therefore, provided total coverage of all strategic ballistic missile (ICBM and SLBM) launches. In 1982, President Reagan proposed a number of new confidence-building measures for discussion at the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START). Among these was a proposal for prior notification of all launches of ICBMs and SLBMs. During the course of the START negotiations, both sides drafted similar launch notification procedures which were incorporated into the joint draft of the START agreement text.

In May 1988, the United States proposed to the Soviets that, as a confidence-building measure, the sides conclude a separate agreement calling for advance notification of ICBM and SLBM launches. The Soviets agreed, and on May 31, 1988, in Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze signed the Agreement on Notifications of ICBM and SLBM Launches. The Agreement provides for notification, no less than 24 hours in advance, of the planned date, launch area, and area of impact for any launch of an ICBM or SLBM. The Agreement also provides that these notifications be provided through the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers. The Agreement entered into force on the date it was signed.

The U.S.-Soviet Joint Statement issued following the Moscow Summit included the following statement:

The agreement between the United States and the USSR on notifications of launches of Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles, signed during the Moscow summit, is a practical new step, reflecting the desire of the sides to reduce the risk of outbreak of nuclear war, in particular as a result of misinterpretation, miscalculation, or accident.

Afterwards, the START I Treaty was signed in 1991. This Treaty contains an obligation to notify any flight test of an ICBM or SLBM, including those used to launch objects into the upper atmosphere or space. In addition to the requirements under the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement (i.e., that the notifying Party provide planned launch date, launch area, and reentry impact area), the START I Treaty requires that the notifying Party must also specify the telemetry broadcast frequencies to be used, modulation types and information as to whether the flight test is to employ encapsulation or encryption.

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