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December 22, 2001
Bush unilaterally junks the ABM accord
It may be no accident that the Bush administration timed the release of the
Osama bin Laden videotape on December 13 to coincide with the announcement later
that day to unilaterally junk the once sacrosanct Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty,
the first abrogation of an arms control treaty since the end of World War II.
Of course, Bushs desire to withdraw from the arms accord and move forward
with his Star Wars scheme was an open secret. Signed in Moscow in May 1972,
for the past 30 years the ABM treaty has served as a hallmark of arms control
measures, limiting the development of a ballistic missile system that would
give one superpower a decisive nuclear advantage over the rest of the world.
But in the nonstop spasm of coverage of the war in Afghanistan, the media gave
the withdrawal scant attention, despite the fact that these nuclear machinations
may have much more dire consequences in the long run than the war on terror.
Indeed, the retreat from the ABM treaty is just the latest act of unilateral
intransigence by the Bush team.
In recent months, the United States has single-handedly brought negotiations
on the Biological Weapons Convention to a halt; refused to reconsider the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty and boycotted the CTBT review conference in New York; rejected
the International Criminal Court; walked away from the Convention on the Prohibition
of Landmines; eviscerated the U.N. conference on small arms; and thumbed its
nose at the Kyoto accord on global warming.
Even when Russian President Vladimir Putin ventured to the ranch in Crawford,
Texas for a back-slapping pow-wow with Bush in November, the emphasis of the
press coverage was on the cozy new relationship between the two leaders, eliding
Putins persistent warnings that any move by the United States to abrogate
the ABM treaty risked jump-starting a new nuclear arms race. Similar cautionary
missives have been regularly sent out by the other nuclear states, including
China, England and France. But the Bush team simply shrugs their shoulders at
international critics. With the early success of the war in Afghanistan, the
need to court a multinational coalition is over.
In the end, the Russian response was curiously muted when Bush finally made
the announcement that the United States would abandon the treaty. Why? A top
Bush official told the New York Times, Its not like Putin is going
home empty handed. The implication is that the pullback from the ABM treaty
is only the beginning of a move to unravel other arms agreements, such as START
II. Russia may now withdraw from the START II treaty, freeing itself from
the ban on the deployment of missiles with multiple warheads, Ret. Lt.
Gen. Vasily Lata, the former deputy chief of Russias Strategic Missile
Forces, told the Moscow Times. It would serve Russias security interests
Under START II, signed in 1993, both countries agreed to cut in half the 6,000
warheads each was allowed under START I. By abandoning START II, Russia could
transform its single-warhead Topol-M missiles into multiple warhead weapons,
packing three nukes into each missile.
Even though the trashing of the ABM treaty has been near the top of the Pentagons
agenda since his inauguration, Bush cloaked his move in language that invoked
the events of September 11. I have concluded that the ABM treaty hinders
our governments ability to develop ways to protect our people from future
terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks, he said. Typically, the president
refused to answer any questions from the press about the decision.
One would have thought that the September 11 attacks, where box-cutter knives
were used to transform commercial aircraft into flying bombs, would have ended
all talk about the efficacy of a missile defense systemno matter how many
billions are spent on itto counter threats from rogue nations
or terrorists. It is a measure of the current Bush allure that the
president has been able to move with barely a whisper of protest to defend against
a ballistic missile threat that doesnt exist.
On the very day the Bush administration announced its plans to pull out of
the ABM treaty, the Pentagon conducted another test of its Star Wars system.
It ended in spectacular failure, with an interceptor missile veering wildly
off-course before it was destroyed. Of course, each failureand there have
been manyis an excuse for yet another test and a new round of contracts
with defense firms. And here we arrive at the crux of the matter. At $60 billion,
Bushs scheme represents the biggest Pentagon gravy train to come along
in decades. And this administration has let it be known that it wont allow
any treaty, no matter how venerable, to stand in the way of that big a feast
at the public trough.