- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

The good news emerging yesterday from the U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow was the failure of President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin to strike a bad deal for America. If the legacy-obsessed U.S. president had his way, the two sides would have agreed to modifications of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that, for all practical purposes, would have prevented the United States from deploying a truly effective missile defense. Even a limited ballistic missile attack from any of several rogue states feverishly attempting to develop or acquire advanced missile technology in order to threaten the United States with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons might succeed.

The failure to seal a bad deal was not for lack of effort on Mr. Clinton's part. For weeks, senior U.S. officials, including national security adviser Sandy Berger and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, had traveled to Moscow to beg Mr. Putin's permission to amend ever-so-slightly the 1972 ABM Treaty to allow the United States to deploy a relatively inferior land-based anti-missile system in Alaska.

The land-based system would be so ineffective, Mr. Putin was assured, that it would pose no threat to Russia's nuclear forces, which, despite its impoverished state, Russia continues to modernize and deploy. "Our intention," Mr. Talbott declared in Moscow before the summit began, "is to keep the ABM Treaty very much part of the foundation of international arms control. We don't want to see the ABM Treaty violated. We don't want to see it weakened. We want to see it strengthened."

Mr. Talbott and Mr. Clinton's idea of "strengthening" the ABM Treaty is to continue to leave the United States exposed to a ballistic missile attack that could deliver weapons of mass destruction to the American mainland. Known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, this policy is a relic of the Cold War that Mr. Clinton continues to embrace, believing it is better to avenge lives than to save them.

Indeed, Mr. Clinton has long opposed missile defense. In 1993, his first year in office, he canceled President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, which envisioned a multilayered, partly space-based defensive shield, and dramatically reduced spending on space-based research. Also in 1993, Mr. Clinton canceled President Bush's Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, a missile-defense deployment plan to protect both U.S. territory and U.S. troops overseas. In 1995, the Clinton-Gore administration issued a National Intelligence Estimate projecting a 15-year period before the United States would face a ballistic missile threat.

In July 1998, however, the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, known as the Rumsfeld commission, issued a unanimous report, concluding completely contrary to the administration's self-serving 1995 intelligence estimate that "the U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment" by rogue states of ballistic missiles that could threaten U.S. territory. It's also worth noting that the Rumsfeld commission further concluded that Russia, whose permission Mr. Clinton seeks to deploy a useless, ineffective missile defense, "poses a threat to the U.S. as a major exporter of enabling technologies, including ballistic-missile technologies, to countries hostile to the United States. In particular," the Rumsfeld commission concluded, "Russian assistance has greatly accelerated Iran's ballistic missile program."

Following the release of the Rumsfeld commission's report, bipartisan congressional enthusiasm for deploying a national missile defense system as soon as possible also greatly accelerated. Bowing to both public and political pressure and hoping to protect the political fortunes of Vice President Al Gore, the administration signed legislation last year committing the nation to "deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system." To be truly effective, however, such a system would be, by definition, incompatible with the restrictions of the ABM Treaty, including the relatively minor amendments the administration is imploring Russia, an active missile-technology proliferator, to approve.

A bad agreement to amend the ABM Treaty would be worse than no agreement because it would, for all practical purposes, ratify the prohibition of effective missile defense. The United States should be moving in the opposite direction, whether Messrs. Putin and Clinton like it or not.

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