- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The relationship between the United States and Russia, which began to improve after the fall of the Soviet Union, has seriously deteriorated in recent years. One of the most controversial issues in this process has been the fate of the nuclear arsenal of both countries. The recent ratification of the START-II Treaty by the Russian Duma is suggestive of a new turnaround, with the relations between the two countries once again moving forward, particularly in the sphere of weapons of mass destruction. We believe that it is time now to shovel away other obstacles in the path of better relations between Russia and the United States and of a safer future for the whole world.
One of the remaining sources of conflicts between the two countries is the intended development and deployment of a ballistic missile defense system by the United States. While the American side is resolved to construct this shield against possible nuclear threats, Russia fiercely opposes any such plans, justifying its position by considerations of national security. From the legal point of view, Russia appeals to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 that unequivocally prohibits the construction of such a defense system.
There is little doubt that the United States needs the proposed missile defense system, given the growing nuclear threat from certain politically extremist or unstable countries. There are, however, two possible variants in dealing with Russia's opposition to these plans. One would be just to ignore the protests of Russia and of other countries and build the system regardless. Such an approach, although apparently simple and straightforward, would almost certainly lead to a serious deterioration in the relationship with Russia. The present American policy encourages Russia to keep all its nuclear arsenal (about 3000 missiles) on alert as a way to ensure its viability even with a strong defense system in place in the United States. At the same time, the envisioned American defense system would be able to offset only a tiny fraction of this force.
Not only would Russia be disappointed and alienated by a unilateral American missile defense system, but it would be pushed to join with other nuclear countries in a balancing alliance against America and would have to is already beginning to support their argument that they should also expand their nuclear arsenals to counteract the American ABM system. America's interest is just the opposite: that Russia should stick together with America as the only two nuclear superpowers, managing their relationship jointly; and while a few other nuclear countries have been allowed to exist, none of them should be allowed to compete seriously with America or Russia. And all the nuclear countries, in turn, should stick together to prevent further proliferation. This three-tiered system has been the reality for the last 40 years.
America and Russia have a vital interest in keeping it the reality, so that the world order will remain manageable and countries like China can continue to be deterred from territorial aggression. If they join together for missile defense and if they begin to integrate their nuclear arsenals, they will be able to maintain the unchallengeable superiority of their top tier for a long time to come. If, however, they break apart on nuclear questions, and Russia is pushed into other nuclear alliances in order to maintain its own status in the top tier, the result will be to elevate the other powers from the second tier toward the first tier, with disastrous consequences for American security and for Russian security as well.
A different and, in our view, better way to deal with this problem would be to involve Russia in the development of the missile defense system. We believe that this can be achieved by a politics of cooperation, not only between the governments, but also between the people of the two countries. It is no secret now that serious doubts exist in the American military and among many researchers about the effectiveness of the system which is about to be constructed. It is also well-known that, despite all the difficulties of the last 10 years, Russia's scientific potential, especially in the area of pioneering research in physics (such as laser technologies which can be used in missile defenses), is among the greatest in the world.
Hence we believe that cooperation between Russian and American scientists, with appropriate financial support from the American side, would not only ensure the workability of the new defense system, but also, by certifying that this system would not pose a threat to the national security of Russia, would improve mutual trust between the two countries. The American side would benefit from the contribution of Russian scientists, instead of losing by having them sell military technologies to third countries. In its turn, Russia would get financial support for designing and, perhaps, deploying its own missile defense system. Part of this aid can come from the funds now being spent on reconstructing its nuclear arsenal.
What is needed today is a willingness to discuss the issue, and an initiative from the American side aimed not only at politicians in Moscow but at wider circles of the Russian public as well. It is important to work not only with politicians, who are often reluctant to discuss politically challenging moves, but with the public, whose support is essential to make any plan viable.
The U.S. Congress should examine this question and invite the Russian side to cooperate. Russia has made its move to better relations with the United States. Now the United States should do the same.

Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation and Edward Lozansky is president of the American University of Moscow.

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