- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Desperately seeking a foreign-policy legacy, Bill Clinton has cast his eyes on the big-stakes games of nuclear arms control and Chinese diplomacy. Notwithstanding all the failures which mark that legacy to date, the potential for fiasco has never been greater.

Responding to the Russian Duma's belated ratification last week of the START II nuclear-arms-reduction treaty, Mr. Clinton made it clear he intends to negotiate a grand bargain with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. "Now we and Russia can and must seize this opportunity to intensify our discussions on both START III and the [Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)] treaty," Mr. Clinton declared, "so we can take further concrete steps this year to strengthen the security of the United States and Russia and indeed the whole world."

The outline for a Clinton-Putin grand bargain is clear. Mr. Clinton has been urging Russia to change the ABM treaty to permit each side to deploy a highly restricted "national missile defense" system. What Mr. Clinton has in mind is an expensive and belated land-based system in Alaska that would be much inferior to a cheaper, more effective, sea-based system, which could later be supplemented by other layers, both land- and space-based.

Russia has balked at changing the ABM treaty. Indeed, Mr. Putin has issued a thinly veiled threat to withdraw Russia from every arms-control agreement involving both strategic nuclear weapons and conventional weapons if the United States, per the ABM treaty, "exercis[ed] its national sovereignty" by "withdraw[ing] from this treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests."

In a world inhabited by virulently anti-American rogue states certain to join both the nuclear and the intercontinental ballistic missile clubs in the foreseeable future, America's "supreme interests" are indisputably "jeopardized." Mr. Clinton's "bargain" is to obtain permission from Mr. Putin to let the United States deploy a vastly inferior, extremely limited ABM system. In exchange, the United States would unwisely agree to eviscerating reductions in its invulnerable submarine-launched warheads, which are already scheduled to be reduced by 50 percent in START II. It would be a lose-lose deal for America, which doesn't need Mr. Putin's permission to protect itself.

On the Chinese-diplomacy front, Mr. Clinton is also harming U.S. strategic interests. He has just told Taiwan that the administration will not approve the sale of four destroyers equipped with the Aegis battle-management system that Taiwan desperately needs to defend itself from Communist China, Mr. Clinton's increasingly belligerent and bellicose "strategic partner." It is the Aegis system, of course, that would be the backbone for the much preferred sea-based ABM system. Thus, refusing to sell Aegis technology to our Taiwanese allies constitutes a double blow against U.S. security.

Mr. Clinton should not do any more damage to this country's interests than he already has. America does not need Russia's permission to protect itself, and China does not wield veto power over arms sales to our friends. Giving in on either point would add to Mr. Clinton's legacy all right, but only in ways that he, and the Americans he represents, would come to regret.

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