- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

In his syndicated column in yesterday's New York Times, William Safire offers an ominous assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the signal successes he has achieved since President Bush started looking "into his soul" and declared that he "trusts" his Kremlin counterpart.
Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, as alarming as the Safire critique is now concerning, for example, Russia's machinations, at U.S. and Western expense, on NATO, Chechnya, oil prices, weapons sales to Iraq and other state-sponsors of terrorism, etc. the record could become even more damning if Secretary of State Powell has his way.
Bill Safire rightly worries that the "new relationship" being forged at President Bush's behest between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance will translate into Moscow having access to NATO's military secrets and an effective veto over its conduct of operations. He notes that Mr. Putin's ruthless repression of the Chechens has now been legitimated as just another front in the global war on Islamist terrorism.
Mr. Safire wonders about Russian double-dealing on oil prices, too. He notes that Moscow at first declined to go along with production cutbacks sought by OPEC, but has recently signaled a willingness to make more-than-token reductions in supply so as to jack up the price per barrel.
And he observes that, while the Kremlin was only too happy to have us attack its enemies in Afghanistan, Moscow will want no part of our doing the same in Iraq or other Russian client-states.
These concerns are hardly unjustified. If press reports are correct, however, the gravity of their implications may be greatly compounded by Secretary of State Colin Powell during his personal diplomatic mission to Moscow this week.
According to The Washington Post, Mr. Powell told reporters en route to Russia that "a deal between the United States and Russia to sharply reduce nuclear weapons is 'just about done,' and the two countries are now looking for ways to verify that they abide by the proposed limits."
Specifically, they are "focusing on how to apply verification measures included in the earlier START I and START II arms control treaties to the new limits proposed for offensive weapons."
In other words, President Bush risks having a unilateral decision to reduce American strategic nuclear forces by two-thirds over the next decade morphed by his secretary of state into a binding bilateral agreement, replete with verification mechanisms carried forward from earlier arms control treaties.
This would be a very bad idea on several grounds. First of all, the number of strategic arms President Bush has decided to retain a decade from now 1,700-2,200 weapons may prove inadequate to future targeting requirements. One of the distinct advantages of making that decision as a matter of unilateral U.S. discretion is that it could relatively easily be revised down the road. That is not the case with understandings formalized by accords (treaties, executive agreements, etc.) between countries.
Second, the START I and II verification measures are predicated on elaborate and artificial counting rules. For instance, a given long-range missile may have fewer warheads aboard it than the number it can carry but, in the interest of arms control monitoring, a larger number is automatically assigned to each missile of that type. Should such rules now be applied to the president's projected force levels something explicitly rejected in their formulation and adoption the practical effect would be that the United States could field still fewer weapons than even he thought necessary.
Finally, and most troubling, Mr. Powell's efforts to get a "deal" on strategic arms violates a fundamental principle of the president's approach to Russia: The Cold War is over. The State Department's preference for arms control agreements with the Kremlin replete with arrangements for verifying each others' compliance with such accords amounts to a direct repudiation of Mr. Bush's concept of a new post-Cold War era. The affront would only be compounded were Mr. Powell to sign onto another "deal" that would perpetuate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty but somehow allow the U.S. greater latitude to conduct missile defense tests it prohibits.
In the world President Bush has envisioned, massive American nuclear reductions are possible. U.S.-Russian cooperation on intelligence, counterterrorism, drug enforcement and maybe even missile defense are imaginable (if debatable). Who knows, in such an environment, it might actually be possible to "trust" Russia with access to NATO's innermost councils, to maintain stable energy prices, to end its dangerous ties with rogue states, etc.
If, on the other hand, what is really going on here is a State Department-abetted, Russian gambit to make the most of changed circumstances so as to pursue the Kremlin's abiding agenda weakening the United States and improving Russia's relative power, then the indictment served up by Bill Safire will be but a foretaste of what is to come.
Mr. Bush can't have it both ways. Either his administration will put the Cold War and its relics, like negotiated offensive arms control accords and the ABM Treaty behind it and insist on a genuinely different relationship with Russia and, for that matter, a different Russia.
Or he will find himself getting the worst of both worlds: in effect rewarding his "friend," Vladimir Putin, for persisting in behavior antithetical to vital U.S. security and other interests.

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

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