- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

In announcing his bold decision last week that the United States would exercise its treaty-sanctioned right to withdraw from the anachronistic 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, President George W. Bush fulfilled one of his most important campaign promises. In a major presidential campaign speech delivered more than two years ago at the Citadel, then-Gov. Bush promised, "If Russia refuses changes [in the ABM Treaty] we propose, we will give prompt notice, under the provisions of the [ABM] treaty, that we can no longer be a party to it." After spending the better part of his first year in office unsuccessfully seeking Russian acquiescence to a robust American anti-missile testing program, Mr. Bush demonstrated that one of his most far-reaching campaign commitments was no idle threat. In doing so, Mr. Bush has now removed the principal impediment to the fulfillment of another major commitment he made at the Citadel in September 1999. "At the earliest possible date," Mr. Bush promised then, "my administration will deploy anti-ballistic systems, both theater and national, to guard against attack and blackmail."

It seemed only fitting that two days before Mr. Bush formally announced the United States' intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, he appeared once again at the Citadel, explaining why such a decision was necessary. "We must protect Americans and our friends against all forms of terror, including the terror that could arrive on a missile," Mr. Bush declared, adding, "We must be able to build the defenses we need against the enemies of the 21st century." With the ABM Treaty soon heading for the ash heap of history where it will join one of its signatories, the Soviet Union the very real prospect now exists that a rudimentary land-based national missile-defense system can be in place as early as 2004. Of equal importance is the certainty that the Pentagon will now proceed with tests involving many of the most promising anti-missile technologies, including space-based and sea-based systems. Those tests were prohibited by restrictions in the ABM Treaty.

Contrary to what many critics of national missile defense had been predicting, the reaction by Russian President Vladimir Putin to America's decision to withdraw was subdued in the extreme. Indeed, while Mr. Putin characterized Mr. Bush's decision as "mistaken," the Russian president, who had long maintained that the ABM Treaty represented the "cornerstone of strategic stability," used the occasion to announce that Russia would reduce its strategic nuclear warheads from 6,000 to a level between 1,500 and 2,200. This would essentially match the range of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads that Mr. Bush earlier announced for the U.S. arsenal.

The reactions of Democrats and European allies were far more intense than Mr. Putin's. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden Jr., who was last heard on Oct. 22 pronouncing his knucklehead view that the U.S. military risked being considered a "high-tech bully" for its then-two-week-old bombing campaign in Afghanistan, called the withdrawal "a serious mistake" because the treaty "has helped keep the peace for the last 30 years." That no doubt included the 1980s, during which the Soviet Union's construction of the infamous Krasnoyarsk radar had placed it in blatant violation of the ABM Treaty, a point even Al Gore privately conceded at the time and subsequent Russian leaders acknowledged. Evidently unaware that a major plank of Mr. Bush's presidential campaign was his commitment to scuttle the ABM Treaty's restrictions, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle complained that Congress was not consulted. Strobe Talbott, the No. 2 official in the Clinton State Department, (who had earlier written an entire book "Deadly Gambits" that was 100 percent wrong on arms-control issues involving both intermediate and strategic weapons) complained that the Bush administration evidently did not believe that "bilateral negotiated agreements between the United States and Russia" were "still useful." In contrast, Mr. Talbott emphasized, "The Clinton administration thought they were very useful." Well, Mr. Talbot, that's why the nation has elections.

The reaction of the German government was as unhelpful as it was expected. "Now Washington seems to want to pursue its national interest in a more narrowly defined way, doing what it wants and forcing others to adapt," a German official told the New York Times. That attitude recalls the views of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1983, when it overwhelmingly voted to reject the deployment of intermediate-range American ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles on West German soil. Fortunately, the SPD was not in power then. The missiles were, of course, deployed. And completely contrary to what Mr. Talbott and the SPD argued at the time, the deployment did in fact lead to the Soviet Union's unqualified acceptance four years later of President Reagan's long-standing "zero option." No thanks to Mr. Talbott and the SPD, this led to the removal of more than 400 intermediate-range Soviet missiles, each bearing multiple warheads targeted on Western Europe.

With the ABM Treaty, rightly regarded by Mr. Bush as a "relic of the Cold War," no longer impeding America's efforts to defend itself against a ballistic-missile attack, a major step has been taken toward the realization of Mr. Reagan's dream that American lives can one day be saved rather than avenged.

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