- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

The Moscow summit between President Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to achieve a breakthrough. No landmark treaty like the one achieved by Presidents Reagan and Bush was fulfilled. This was a photo-op summit.

On the last leg of his administration, Mr. Clinton is trying to make up for seven years of neglectful and reactive foreign policy. Every intervention that took place under his watch Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq was reactive. In Rwanda and East Timor, he left the job for the Europeans and the Australians, respectively. In Sierra Leone, he left it to the hopeless guardianship of the United Nations.

This is the first president that has been completely free from the burdens of the Cold War. It was the responsibility of this administration to create an effective global U.S. foreign policy, and above all to concentrate on central strategic concerns rather than the peripheral, where so much political capital has been spent. The policy toward Russia, which will be known as the "romantic" era of Mr. Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, did not advance U.S. national interest. The incomplete democracy and robber baron capitalism that exists in Russia today would have developed with or without U.S. stewardship. Historians of the future will certainly conclude that Mr. Clinton, one of the most popular U.S. presidents in the 20th century, forfeited his responsibility as commander in chief.

Now, at the last moment, the president is trying to rescue his "legacy" in foreign affairs. He is unlikely to succeed. Former Secretary of Defense Casper W. Weinberger has called this week's Clinton-Putin meeting in Moscow "a dangerous summit." Mr. Weinberger reminds us that summit meetings "are potential mine fields," and most communiques are agreed upon before the meetings. Mr. Weinberger is concerned that this summit will "turn into something far more substantive and risky (to borrow Al Gore's favorite word) for the U.S."

Why is it risky? Because the president's point man in the negotiations, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, a well-established Russofile, is devising a strategy of negotiations that will render the U.S. missile system ineffective. Mr. Weinberger writes that Mr. Talbott argues "that Russia shouldn't be worried, because we intend to build a system so ineffective that the Russians could easily overcome it."

The issue boils down to the question: Should we abandon the ABM treaty or should we amend it to accommodate Russia's aspirations. The ABM treaty is an anachronism. It goes back to 1972 during the height of the Cold War, and it no longer has strategic purpose or value. The Clinton compromise, according to Mr. Weinberger, is that "we will try to persuade Russia to amend the ABM treaty to let us build a small, useless missile defense that will appear ineffective even against 'rogue' states."

The administration's strategic concept of amending the ABM treaty to accommodate the Russians is faulty. Should the United States establish a missile-defense system against pipsqueak dictators that will disappear tomorrow in one way or another, however nasty and brutal, or should a U.S. missile-defense system be concerned with China's advancing nuclear program and with a Russia that is still the second most significant nuclear power in the world today?

The shrewd Mr. Putin and his advisers have already preempted the president before his arrival in Moscow. Mr. Putin has put forward an alternative missile-defense plan that will replace the U.S. plan for a nationwide shield to protect the United States. According to the New York Times' Michael Gordon, the Russian proposal "seems to resemble the plan known in the United States as 'boost-phase defense,' which has been proposed by a number of arms-control advocates." This is, indeed, a diplomatic surprise attack that will confuse the American team as it sits down to negotiate. Boost-phase defense is intended to protect the United States, Europe and Russia from rogue states. "Such a system would be of little use against the Russian nuclear force."

What is apparent is that the U.S. amendments to the ABM treaty are easily manipulated by Mr. Putin and his advisers. If the U.S. strategy is restricted to a missile defense against rogue states, then the Russians have very little to worry about in cases of international conflict such as Kosovo and could restrict U.S. security in Asia.

You cannot make a U.S. strategic doctrine subservient to outside powers. We need to pursue our national security regardless of what Russia does. A lame-duck president should not be in the position to dictate a fundamental U.S. strategic defense to the next president.

If the president seeks personal glory, he has already been awarded the Charlemagne Award in Aachen, Germany, as a statesman active in European unity. There are more to come, as the administration reaches its conclusion. The responsibility of a lame-duck president is to allow his successor, Republican or Democrat, to be free of last-minute inconclusive agreements that do not necessarily enhance U.S. global-security responsibilities.

It is for the next president and his national security team to design a thoughtful, effective and unflawed strategy toward America's major rivals and competitors: China and Russia.



Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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