- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

The administration's patience for bargaining with the Russians over an adjustment to the anachronistic Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty apparently came to a noble demise yesterday. The Associated Press reported that, according to U.S. government officials, President Bush will soon give Russia notice that Washington is withdrawing from the three-decade old treaty.
During his speech at the Citadel in South Carolina yesterday, Mr. Bush signaled his plan to scuttle the treaty and said, "we must move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty that was written in a different era, for a different enemy." He added that "America and our allies must not be bound to the past. We must be able to build the defenses we need against the enemies of the 21st century." Since the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration has successfully argued that the catastrophic loss of innocent lives in the American homeland has made the pursuit of national missile defense all the more urgent. The treaty is a major barrier to accomplishing that goal.
The successful anti-missile test conducted earlier this month in conformity with the ABM Treaty represented yet another important advance. But the restrictions of the treaty are clearly preventing the United States from conducting crucial anti-missile tests and taking other actions in the pursuit of national missile defense. These measures, which the ABM Treaty precludes, are indisputably necessary in order for the nation to deploy an effective shield at the earliest moment. A shield is needed to protect Americans from weapons of mass destruction by the same rogue states that now routinely harbor and support terrorists.
Interestingly, prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin's mid-November summit with Mr. Bush, the Russian president let it be known that there had been "movement toward a compromise" that would involve a mutual reduction of warheads and a modification of the ABM Treaty. "I'm very optimistic," Mr. Putin told U.S. news organizations in Moscow before departing for that summit, adding that Russia had come "to recognize the justified concerns of the United States."
Then a funny thing happened. Mr. Putin, a former KGB colonel, appeared to pull a bait-and-switch maneuver. He received a commitment from Mr. Bush, who unilaterally declared that the United States would slash its strategic nuclear warheads from 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200. Mr. Putin pocketed America's warhead reduction, but stiffed the United States.
After meeting this week in Moscow with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated the Russian position that the ABM Treaty still represented "the key element in the whole treaty system of providing strategic stability in the world." Thus, no progress was made regarding America's strategic priority, despite Mr. Bush's repeated and substantive diplomatic overtures.
The Bush administration demonstrated admirable patience and resolve in its efforts to court Moscow's approval of an adjustment to the ABM Treaty. But in the face of Mr. Putin's recalcitrance and perhaps duplicity the White House has taken the right step in withdrawing from the treaty. Mr. Putin reportedly assured Mr. Bush during their talks in Washington and Texas that U.S.-Russian relations would not suffer if the White House pulled out of the treaty. Clearly, Mr. Putin has left Mr. Bush little choice.

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