- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

In an article in The Washington Post on Feb. 20, just one month out of office, Vice President Al Gore's longtime national security adviser Leon Fuerth revealed the full depth of the Cold War thinking of the Clinton-Gore administration. In his article, Mr. Fuerth bemoans the missing concept of strategic stability in the new Bush administration.

It is no coincidence that Russian generals also are pleading daily to save the concept of strategic stability, between bellicose threats of a new arms race, punctuated by expensive missile tests. The Clinton-Gore administration and the leadership in Moscow shared a strong affinity for strategic stability, also known in one form as Mutual Assured Destruction, which kept both sides vulnerable to ballistic missiles while armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

Russia's leaders, trying hard to restore their country's status and influence as a great power, demand that America remain totally vulnerable to their nuclear missiles. Today's diminished Russia, without the 15 republics that are now independent states, with a population barely half that of the U.S., and with a depressed economy, flawed economic system, and failing infrastructure, has only its military force to justify great power status.

And the deterioration of Russia's conventional military has been revealed to all by its inept performance in Chechnya. That leaves nuclear-armed missiles as the sole foundation for the return to greatness the leadership is seeking. Moscow's desire to maintain equality or "stability" with U.S. nuclear power is understandable. Russia no longer is an equal, and it is hard to accept that.

But why should this country want to keep living in a dangerous environment of mutual destruction? Mr. Fuerth tells us in his article. Reduced numbers of nuclear weapons and increasingly effective defenses, he writes, create the temptation to launch a first strike in a crisis. But that is absurd. It is Cold War thinking. No sane leader would launch nuclear weapons against another nuclear power, crisis or not. But would an insane leader launch a nuclear missile? Could be, which is one reason missile defenses are a good idea.

Mr. Fuerth also refers to the arms race as a matter of fact. What arms race? Russia is broke, already spending more than it can afford on saber-rattling missile tests, money that would be better spent on keeping its citizens from freezing to death this cold winter. Moscow knows it cannot engage in an arms race with Washington, which is why the Kremlin is trying so hard to keep the ABM treaty and block President Bush's proposal for missile defenses without treaties. It wants bilateral treaties to show it is still equal.

Mr. Bush's proposal also really disturbs Mr. Fuerth, who cannot imagine a future without arms control agreements to "confine offensive nuclear weapons," "regulate defensive systems," and "prevent renewed testing and diversification of nuclear weapons." Apparently, a Gore administration would have spent years trying to negotiate such agreements not only with Russia but also with China agreements that would seriously restrict the future U.S. development of missile defenses, advanced technologies and space weapons the things Moscow and Beijing want to block.

Mr. Fuerth refers to the two "sides" in Cold War fashion, as though NATO and other countries do not exist. That is one of many problems with the ABM treaty. It is between the Soviet Union and the United States and ignores the rest of the world, which is catching up in the development of longer-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The ABM treaty prevents the U.S. from extending ABM defenses to its allies or transferring ABM systems to other countries, as Mr. Bush has promised to do.

Fortunately, we have been saved from another four years of Cold War thinking. Arms control agreements have tied the hands of U.S. defenses for too long. President Bush promised to deploy missile defenses and reduce nuclear weapons to the minimum needed for national security, and to do so without arms control agreements. He has appointed an eminent defense analyst, Andy Marshall, to head a long overdue defense review. Congress should support this effort to begin moving U.S. defenses into the 21st century.

We never needed a START or ABM treaty with those other nuclear powers, Britain and France, nor do we need such agreements with Russia. Mr. Bush is on the right track. Mr. Fuerth and his former boss, Mr. Gore, are now professors. May they have long careers in academia.


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