- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

In the first encounter between the Bush administration and the Russian government headed by President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in a 90-minute, one-on-one discussion in Cairo. At this stage in the relationship, given the need for the United States to decide soon what forms of ballistic-missile defenses will be deployed, the most important issues of immediate concern to both nations relate to arms control. One deeply hopes that Mr. Powell impressed upon Mr. Ivanov in a "very frank" manner that Russia would not have a veto over the missile-defense systems the United States will be deploying.

At this point, Russia still has not come to terms with America's right to defend itself from dangers posed by several rogue states, including North Korea, Iran and Iraq, all of whom are making significant progress developing ballistic missiles that one day in the not-too-distant future will threaten the United States with biological, chemical and/or nuclear warheads. Indeed, in the days immediately preceding the Cairo meeting, Mr. Putin and other Russian officials engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity that confirmed Russia's adamant opposition to any U.S. missile-defense system that would run afoul of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

In a Feb. 19 Moscow meeting between Mr. Putin and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, Mr. Putin unveiled Russia's plan for a mobile, land-based antimissile system developed by both Russia and NATO and aimed at thwarting short- and medium-range missiles threatening Europe. While such so-called "theater" missile-defense systems have great merit and surely deserve to be considered, they most assuredly cannot be seen as an alternative to the long-range, "strategic" systems that will be required in order to provide national missile defense of the United States against threats from long-range attacks.

In the meeting with Lord Robertson, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev also called for "skilled experts" to convene to determine if Europe was threatened by missile attacks from rogue nations. As it happens, those "skilled experts" have already met more than three years ago in the United States. In July 1998, the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, known as the Rumsfeld commission, issued a unanimous report, concluding 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. Moreover, the Rumsfeld commission, which was headed by the new U.S. secretary of defense, also concluded that Russia "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."

To Mr. Putin's discomfort, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has recently criticized Russia for being "an active proliferator" of weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and India. That should be the first issue addressed by the expert-level dialogue General Powell and Mr. Ivanov have agreed to resume. The second item on the agenda should be a verbatim recitation of what Lord Robertson told Mr. Putin. "I made it clear that the NATO allies accept that the U.S. has made its decision to have an effective missile defense," Lord Robertson recalled telling Mr. Putin during an interview with the New York Times, adding this advice he offered the Russian president: "It would be a complete waste of time to try and split the alliance." Let's hope the Russians are listening.


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