[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]


Bush Pushes On in Post-ABM World

June 14, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Thirty years after taking effect as a bulwark of Cold War deterrence, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty expired Thursday, freeing the United States to pursue aggressively its goal of a multibillion-dollar defense system against enemy missiles.

U.S. President George W. Bush planned to seize the opportunity, with the Pentagon set to break ground on Friday at Fort Greely, Alaska, on the previously prohibited construction of six underground silos for missile interceptors.

The Pentagon was also pressing ahead with existing programs, saying it would conduct a sea-based test on Thursday in which the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS Erie would try to shoot down a missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kuauai, Hawaii.

Bush would mark the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty by issuing a statement Thursday calling for an aggressive U.S. effort to develop missile defenses against so-called rogue nations and new post-Sept. 11 threats, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. "The president is committed to deploying a missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces from the growing risks of terrorist nations or terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction," Fleischer said Thursday.

Despite this activity, it remains a matter of debate whether effective U.S. defensive systems against missiles launched by extremists and "rogue" states could ever be deployed.

"The president, to his great credit, has created the conditions under which we can do what he said he was determined to do back when he ran for office -- deploy missile defense," said national security analyst Frank Gaffney, a conservative Republican and leading missile defense advocate. But missile defense critic Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace countered: "The president is not any time this decade going to be able to deploy an effective system that will alter the regional or global military balance. ... Nothing materially is going to change."

Adding to critics' concerns, the administration decided to classify as secret details of targets and countermeasures to be used in future missile defense flight tests, thus making it harder to evaluate the system's progress, according to published reports. A small group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives made a last minute stab at preserving the ABM pact, which for most of three decades was regarded a cornerstone of nuclear arms control but which Bush derided as a Cold War relic.

They filed a lawsuit on Tuesday saying Bush failed to consult Congress before ordering a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty. Fleischer said the lawsuit was "highly likely heading toward dismissal," saying the president had the right to end treaties as long as their termination was in accordance with the treaty's provisions. In general the ABM's demise looked likely to pass with little of the outrage and none of the dire consequences missile defense critics had long predicted.

Russia, China and America's European allies initially protested Bush's decision, announced last Dec. 13, to pull out of the ABM Treaty in six months.

But their opposition has now been muted, if not turned into outright support, and there is talk of Europeans and Russians participating in lucrative missile defense-related contracts.

Cirincione said opposition to Bush's policy faded away because few states were willing to cross the United States when it was determined to do something, when it was at war against terrorism and when the country most affected by the ABM decision -- Russia -- eventually acquiesced.

The ABM Treaty was signed by President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on May 26, 1972, in Moscow and entered into force the following October. It prohibited the two nations from putting into place systems capable of defending their entire territories from intercontinental ballistic missile attacks.

It also banned development, testing or deployment of mobile land-based, sea-based, air-based or space-based anti-ballistic missile systems. Buoyed by four successful missile tests in a row, senior Pentagon officials have said they are on schedule to open a rudimentary missile shield in Alaska by the fall of 2004. While the Pentagon claims new interceptors planned for that location will be for testing purposes, officials also say they could be used to shoot down enemy missiles in an emergency.

But Philip Coyle, the Pentagon's former director of weapons testing, said expectations for developing the ground-based mid-course program, which involves striking down a missile with a missile midway through its flight, are wildly optimistic.

Some 20 developmental tests, each costing $100 million, will be needed before the program moves to the next step -- realistic operational testing, he wrote in The Washington Post on Tuesday. "It may be the end of this decade before such testing with 'real-world' decoys can begin," said Coyle.

John Rhinelander, legal adviser to the U.S. delegation that negotiated the ABM Treaty, called the Alaska project a "Potemkin Village ... a face without substance."

See also:

ABM Treaty

Reuters , June 14, 2002

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]