- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

Outdated treaties a problem for conversion of subs

The Times' Dec. 28 report concerning proposals to convert four Trident ballistic-missile submarines into conventional land-attack subs notes that the cost of any such initiative would be greatly increased by a strict interpretation of strategic arms-control agreements ("Future of subs becomes a fight," Dec. 28). Because the 18 Tridents currently in the fleet are counted against a ceiling of allowable nuclear weapons, the four boats being considered for conversion would either have to undergo costly modifications or continue to be counted against nuclear totals under the START II treaty even after they are transformed into conventionally armed warships. The perverse result is that the treaty actually discourages conversion of strategic systems to nonnuclear missions.

Something tells me this is not the kind of outcome the treaty's authors originally had in mind. But the distorting effect of Cold War arms-control agreements on U.S. military strategy in the post-Cold War period is becoming an increasingly common problem. Plans to protect the nation against nuclear-missile attack by North Korea's Stalinist government are impeded by Russian insistence that defensive systems would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Proposals to use Israeli cruise missiles in the Kosovo operation were rejected because of an apparent conflict with the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. And now conversion of Tridents to nonnuclear missions is placed in jeopardy by the terms of the START II agreement.

In each case, sensible responses to emerging military requirements are being prevented by applying the terms of obsolete arms-control conventions to circumstances their framers did not anticipate. The burden that imposes on U.S. military planners will continue to grow, because the Russian government has discovered the treaties' requirements can be usefully manipulated to compensate for its flagging investment in military capabilities.

For example, there is little evidence that Russia has the resources or the will to deploy a new generation of offensive nuclear weapons if the United States proceeds with plans to build homeland defenses. In fact, U.S. intelligence estimates indicate the Russians may have fewer than 1,000 usable strategic warheads left by 2010 due to neglect of their nuclear forces. That's a fraction of the number of warheads the Russians would be allowed under START II, assuming the Duma ever gets around to ratifying the treaty.

As things stand today, Russian leaders can invoke the ABM Treaty to assure that the United States won't be able stop an attack by even the most primitive nuclear force. It isn't their problem that strict enforcement of the ABM Treaty will leave America vulnerable to attack by any number of emerging nuclear powers. In fact, continued U.S. adherence to the treaty's terms will probably be Russia's greatest source of strategic leverage for many years to come.

It's time to rethink the entire framework of assumptions underpinning Cold War arms-control agreements. Many of those assumptions are historical and unprovable. They belong to an era that has now slipped into history. To suggest that the United States can't defend itself against nuclear attack, or convert its ballistic-missile subs to conventional missions, because of anachronistic agreements entered into with a country that no longer exists isn't just foolish. It's very dangerous.

LOREN B. THOMPSON

Chief operating officer

Lexington Institute

Arlington

Rail system around the Beltway would ease gridlock

Regarding "Gridlock studies 'going around in circles,' " (Dec. 30), gridlock studies need not go in circles were politics not involved. The question as to whether more roads inspire more drivers was answered years ago. This is just another way of stating what economists call "Say's Law" that supply creates its own demand an economic truism. Were this not true, General Motors would never have criminally conspired to put Washington's trolley company out of business (a federal jury convicted General Motors in 1949) so that we would all purchase more GM automobiles or use buses made by General Motors.

After all, the trolley system which guide books to the District often called the finest rail system in America made us independent of cars and made the District one of the cleanest cities in America. This was a great threat to GM's growth. It is obvious that an expanded rail or monorail system will end gridlock because it has the capacity to carry so many more people than a road. Gridlock will ease when we build a second Capital Beltway by ringing the District with a rail or monorail system covering all surrounding jurisdictions (since most commuting today is from edge city to edge city around the District). I find it funny that in the 1920s my mom could catch a trolley car in Fairfax and ride to the District. Today, instead of being able to catch a trolley or monorail in Leesburg or farther out, I must ride a bus from Fairfax to the Metro in Vienna and then go almost to the District just to get to Alexandria.

The real question is: What economic dislocations are being caused by the politico-economic cartel that is refusing to rebuild our GM-destroyed mass transit system? Urban planners have pointed out that one effect is that the old neighborhoods we love were all created by trolley car end lines, and that modern neighborhoods are just people living in isolation, having communion only by car. So our increasing isolation is one effect. In any case, the problem is not complex and difficult, it is only the economic and sociological effects that are complex and difficult. To put the issue in its most militant form: Shall we say that the rise in crime and decline of our public schools is due to the demolition of our trolley system?

PEYTON L. MONCURE

Fairfax

King contradicted himself by disregarding injunction

I admire Paul Greenberg's politically wise and morally perceptive columns that appear in The Washington Times, but, sadly, I must take exception to one sentence in his Jan. 2 commentary, "The unmentionable." In it, he places Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham, Ala., jail in the same "higher ground" category as Lincoln's second inaugural and Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience.

As a civil rights activist working with Bayard Rustin during World War II, I naturally applaud King's nonviolence and his great contribution to equal rights, but he was not without flaws. His insistence on disobeying the court injunction prohibiting a planned march on Birmingham City Hall in 1963, may have been one.

Consider the facts. The authorities' motives for issuing the injunction against the march may have been mixed, but their fear that the Saturday noontime demonstration would tie up traffic and incite violence was legitimate.

Without sacrificing principle, King could have simply obeyed the injunction and requested another day and time for the march. If he were again denied a permit, he then could have taken the matter to the courts. Instead, King denounced the injunction a neutral legal safeguard as "illegal" before it was tested in the courts and went ahead with the march. He (along with hundreds of other protesters) was arrested under the only legal recourse available to the authorities.

King justified his disobedience in an angry letter from Birmingham jail to "Fellow Clergymen," some of whom, equally committed to justice, had questioned his tactics. King asserted that "the Negro's great stumbling block" was not "the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate … more devoted to 'order' than to justice." Acknowledging he had a "moral responsibility to obey just laws," King nevertheless lashed out against the injunction, violating his own stated respect for legitimate laws.

King was lionized by influential religious and political leaders, who also brushed aside the legal, constitutional and, indeed, moral issues, apparently unaware that his flouting of the injunction would encourage unjustifiable civil disobedience, even violence.

King's failure to acknowledge the moral constraints on civil disobedience under these circumstances was a flaw.

ERNEST W. LEFEVER

Chevy Chase

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