- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush urged President Clinton yesterday not to strike a lame-duck arms-control deal with Russia even as the likely Republican presidential nominee pledged to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal unilaterally.

Mr. Bush also said he would build a national missile defense system as soon as possible and extend the shield to "our friends and allies," including NATO countries and Israel.

"The administration is driving toward a hasty decision on a political timetable," said Mr. Bush in Washington, flanked by defense and foreign-policy luminaries. "No decision would be better than a flawed agreement that ties the hands of the next president and prevents America from defending itself."

President Clinton, eager to sign an arms-reduction pact to burnish his legacy, will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin June 2 to 4 in Moscow. Russian leaders have suggested reducing strategic nuclear warheads to 1,500 each, even lower than the level proposed in the START III pact.

The Russians' latest offer has alarmed top U.S. military officers, who told Congress yesterday they were uncomfortable with such deep cuts in America's nuclear arsenals. START II, which Russia ratified last month, calls for warheads to be reduced to between 3,000 to 3,500 each by 2007.

"If we wanted to depart from [proposed START III levels] … then we need to pause and do the necessary analysis" to assure U.S. security and deterrence would still be just as strong or stronger, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

The United States has 7,200 strategic nuclear warheads ready for immediate use, and Russia has 6,000.

Military and civilian leaders also are debating whether to link cuts in nuclear weapons to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which the administration needs to change to deploy a limited national missile defense. Russia opposes U.S. deployment of a missile shield; a member of the Russian parliament even warned Congress this month that it could lead to a "new kind of Cold War."

Mr. Bush said yesterday his administration would reassess U.S. security needs based on the nuclear threat from terrorists and rogue states, not on a "Cold War mentality" of two adversarial superpowers.

He said it should be possible to reduce the number of America's nuclear weapons "significantly further" than START II levels, although he would not suggest a number. Mr. Bush said he would implore Russia to follow America's lead but would reduce the U.S. arsenal even if Russia refuses.

"Hopefully they will," Mr. Bush said. "But if they don't, the level of nuclear readiness is going to meet our needs. I will never put our security at risk."

A spokesman for Vice President Al Gore called Mr. Bush's proposals "irresponsible."

"Mr. Bush's agenda … shows that he lacks the depth of experience to keep America safe and secure," said Douglas Hattaway.

"George W. Bush advocates a radical rewriting of the ABM Treaty, or more likely its abolition. He also proposes to throw aside work done to develop a feasible missile defense in favor of an approach that would require us to start all over again from scratch."

But Mr. Bush surrounded himself yesterday with a group of experts in defense and foreign affairs who support his proposal: retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz; former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; and Mr. Bush's top foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who served on the National Security Council under Mr. Bush's father, President Bush.

"We need to take a fresh look at the world," Gen. Powell said. "We can go down further [in nuclear weapons], I believe, with the proper political guidance given to our military leaders and with the kind of assessment that Governor Bush has called for … and he would assign to his secretary of defense."

Gen. Powell wouldn't say if he was interested in that Cabinet post, limiting his comments on politics to, "I look forward to the governor's election as president of the United States."

Mr. Kissinger, who negotiated the ABM Treaty, said he "strongly supports" Mr. Bush's proposal for a missile shield that ABM prohibits.

"Deliberate vulnerability, when the technology is available to avoid it, cannot be a strategic objective, cannot be a political objective, and cannot be a moral objective of any American president," said Mr. Kissinger.

Mr. Bush said he would extend a missile defense system to allies "whom I will consult as we develop our plans."

"I mean people in Europe, for example, but I also mean Israel," Mr. Bush said. "As to sharing information and technologies with the Russians, it depends on how Russia behaves."

He said the United States should own the technology, but he would "be willing to use it, if need be," to protect Taiwan as well.

The Pentagon has estimated the cost of missile defense at about $30 billion over 35 years, although serious doubts remain about the technology to make it work. Miss Rice acknowledged yesterday that nobody knows how much it would cost.

Mr. Bush said he would use some of the projected federal surplus over the next 10 years to deploy the anti-missile umbrella.

"We have a $4 trillion surplus," he said. "I intend to reserve over $2 trillion of that for Social Security [and] $1.3 trillion for tax cuts; the remainder would be available to meet priorities. The cost of an anti-ballistic-missile system is worth the cost to protect ourselves, to protect our allies."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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