Presidents Bush and Putin will be meeting at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas from November 13-15 at what has been billed as the Crawford Summit. One major purpose of this summit is to discuss reductions in nuclear arsenals. For a few years the Russians have been calling for reducing US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,500 or less strategic nuclear weapons. The US has said that it needs to evaluate its nuclear posture, and is now in the process of doing so.
President Bush has said that he wants to move forward with reductions in nuclear arsenals, but he has tried to tie these reductions to Russian agreement on amending the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to allow the US to conduct missile defense tests that are currently banned by the ABM Treaty. In other words, President Bush has been using reductions in nuclear arsenals as a bargaining chip to gain Russian assent to amending the ABM Treaty.
Perhaps it is not yet clear to President Bush that significant reductions in the Russian nuclear arsenal will make the US safer. In fact, leadership by the US and Russia to eliminate all nuclear weapons, as they are obligated to do in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would be strongly in the interests of both countries as well as the world at large.
Why is the US so eager to amend the ABM Treaty? I would suggest that there are three major reasons. First, the US wants to use theater missile defenses to protect its forward based forces throughout the world. This will give the United States greater degrees of freedom to use its military troops anywhere in the world without concern that US bases and troops will be vulnerable to missile attacks in response.
Second, the US wants to weaponize outer space and wants to be rid of Article V, Section 1 of the ABM Treaty in which each party to the treaty “undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based.” The US views missile defenses as a way to develop and test space based weaponry.
Third, amending the ABM Treaty will allow the US to transfer billions of taxpayer dollars to defense industries to develop, test and deploy missile defenses — defenses that have little potential for actually protecting Americans from either major threats such as terrorism or virtually non-existent threats such as missile attacks from so-called rogue states.
If the Russians do not go along with an amendment to the ABM Treaty, the Bush administration has already announced that it plans to withdraw from the treaty a treaty that Vladimir Putin as well as most of our allies throughout the world consider the cornerstone of strategic stability.
US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would be viewed throughout the world as a symbol of US arrogance and unilateralism. It would certainly have negative effects on our ability to hold together a coalition against terrorism, on future cooperative efforts with Russia and China, and on the prospects for nuclear disarmament.
*David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.