- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

''To assure the viability and effectiveness of the [1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)] Treaty, each party undertakes not to transfer to other states, and not to deploy outside its national territory, ABM systems or their components limited by this treaty." Article IX of the ABM Treaty

Wednesday, on the margins of meetings with European allied leaders and enroute to his weekend summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin, Mr. Clinton blithely added further to the incoherence of his policy toward missile defense.

In the face of withering criticism from allies and potential adversaries alike of his putative determination to decide on initiating a deployment of a "national" anti-missile system prior to his departure from office, the president declared that he thought it would be "unethical" not to "make available" U.S. defensive technology to "other civilized nations who might or might not be nuclear powers but were completely in harness with us on a non-proliferation regime."

Set aside for the moment what the definition of "civilized nations" might be in the infamous Clinton lexicon, and his acknowledged proclivity for "fudging" findings about the systematic contribution to global proliferation being made by nations "in the non-proliferation regime" like China and Russia. If the ABM Treaty is the "cornerstone of strategic stability" that Bill Clinton and Al Gore insist it remains, such sharing of missile defense technology would be, if not banned outright, then so limited as to negate its value to the recipient nations.

This is, of course, hardly the only problem with the Clinton approach. Article I of the ABM Treaty committed each of the Parties that is, the United States and the late Soviet Union "not to deploy ABM systems for a defense of the territory of its country and not to provide a base for such a defense." Yet, the White House insists (incredibly) that the "national" missile defense system the president is considering deploying would provide protection to all 50 states.

Mr. Clinton seems to think that, if the Russians are amenable and so far, at least, they appear to be anything but this circle could be squared by some minor tinkering with a few of the other provisions of this treaty. The truth of the matter is that to make a treaty that was designed to preclude all national missile defenses into one that permits even a "limited" one would require a wholesale rewrite of that accord.

More importantly, if President Clinton is serious about sharing the "benefit" of U.S. anti-missile "protection" with America's allies to say nothing of "every country that is part of a responsible international arms control and non-proliferation regime" the obvious way to accomplish this is by using sea-based missile defense systems, not the fixed, ground-based and highly expensive version the administration has under consideration for deployment in Alaska.

As it happens, the wisdom of adapting Navy Aegis fleet air defense ships for this purpose has been increasingly recognized by influential Democrats. Former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown and Bill Perry, former CIA Director John Deutch and even Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware have recently espoused this idea. In so doing, they appear to have embraced an approach for acquiring effective missile defenses long advanced by a blue-ribbon commission on missile defense sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and by most leading Republicans including Gov. George W. Bush, who has noted the role modified Aegis ships could play in defending allies like Taiwan, as well as Americans here at home.

Best of all, a new analysis by Mr. Clinton's own Defense Department has reportedly confirmed these judgments. According to a report in last Saturday's edition of The Washington Post, the Pentagon believes "sea-based national missile defenses could be built with existing technology and would add both flexibility and firepower to the land-based system proposed by President Clinton."

Once again, the impediment turns out to be the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Its Article V commits the two parties "not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based."

The Russians are no fools. They understand every bit as well as sentient Americans the utility of an approach to global missile defense that can thanks to the prior $50 billion-plus investment in the Navy's air defense infrastructure begin defending U.S. forces and friends overseas and the territory of the American people far more quickly and flexibly and at less cost than any ground-based system.

To the extent the United States will continue to allow the Kremlin to exercise a veto over American decisions concerning the nature, location and capabilities of American missile defenses and with whom their benefits and/or technology are shared, the Russians will do so. This American policy is all the more absurd insofar as the ABM Treaty clearly ceased to be legally binding when the Soviet Union went out of business.

The Russians will take full advantage of the fact President Clinton is going to Moscow, to coin a phrase, not to bury the ABM Treaty but to praise it or, in the words of Strobe Talbott (the friend-of-Bill and chief ideologist who serves as the de facto secretary of state for Russia and arms control), to "strengthen" it. Translation: Clinton and Co. intend to recommit this nation not to pursue sea-based or other sensible approaches to global missile defense.

Clearly, a different approach is required. Renegotiating, to say nothing of "strengthening," the obsolete ABM Treaty is neither in the interest of the United States nor its friends and allies. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore should not only release, but read, the report on the value and feasibility of sea-based that The Post reports "top civilian officials at the Pentagon" are deliberately withholding from Congress. That way, each of us could appreciate the opportunity to provide near-term, cost-effective missile defenses that could extend "protection" against missile attack to all "civilized" nations, including this one but only if the Cold War ABM Treaty is relegated to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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