President Bush yesterday bluntly repudiated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and called for the deployment of an ambitious missile defense system to protect the United States and its allies from rogue nuclear nations.
“We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of todays world,” Mr. Bush told military officers at the National Defense University in Washington.
“To do so, we must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty,” he said. “This treaty does not recognize the present or point us to the future. It enshrines the past.”
The ABM Treaty, which bars the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union from nationwide defenses against incoming nuclear warheads, was considered sacrosanct by President Clinton.
Mr. Bushs vow to abandon the treaty and build a defense shield recalled the 1980s, when President Reagans push for missile defense contributed to the collapse of communism.
Russian military and diplomatic sources told Russias Interfax news agency that abandonment of the ABM Treaty could lead to a new round of nuclear proliferation.
“Many in Washington understand that the destruction of ABM and deploying an anti-missile shield could undermine the system of strategic stability which exists in the world today and lead to a new arms race,” the Russian sources said.
House Democrats agreed, warning that the presidents aggressive call for a global missile defense would alarm China and lead to a new arms race that would further destabilize India and Pakistan.
“The diplomatic implications are just frightening to me,” said Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat. “I dont think it helps unnecessarily to roil the Chinese by talking about a missile defense which on the one hand we say isnt aimed at them, but now appears to be.”
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, added: “It seems irresponsible to just unilaterally trash this 30-year agreement.”
But a senior administration official told The Washington Times that China will be one of the first nations consulted as Mr. Bush moves forward with his plan.
“We havent been in a Cold War relationship with China and we dont want to get out of one with Russia just to fall into one with China,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“The truth is, the Chinese are already modernizing their nuclear force,” added the official, who dismissed “this notion that somehow China is going to build up in response to what were doing.
“China is building up anyway for its own purposes, consistent with its sense of itself as a global player,” said the official. China is not a party to the ABM Treaty.
As for Russian concerns about a new arms race, Mr. Bush wants to dampen such talk by unilaterally cutting back the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which currently contains some 7,000 warheads.
The president hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin will view the cuts as a good-faith measure that will assuage worries about proliferation.
“We just dont need, in this environment, the kinds of high numbers of ready, sort of day-to-day forces that weve had in the past,” said the administration official. “The president would say: ‘Mr. Putin, neither of us needs the kinds of numbers weve got. Were still at 7,000 deployed strategic weapons. Thats crazy. Neither of us needs them. We should both be getting out of that business.”
Indeed, Mr. Bush took pains to point out that the old ABM Treaty was negotiated with a nation that no longer exists the Soviet Union. He emphasized that Russia has moved from communist totalitarianism toward democratic capitalism in the post-Cold War era.
He described this as “a far different time in a far different world.” He recalled how the two nations aimed their huge nuclear arsenals at each other “on hair-trigger alert.”
“The security of both the United States and the Soviet Union was based on a grim premise that neither side would fire nuclear weapons at each other, because doing so would mean the end of both nations,” he said.
“We even went so far as to codify this relationship in a 1972 ABM Treaty, based on the doctrine that our very survival would best be ensured by leaving both sides completely open and vulnerable to nuclear attack,” he added. “Today, the sun comes up on a vastly different world.”
Citing the growing number of small nations that are developing weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush said the threat now comes from rogue states that might try to hold the U.S. hostage. He and administration officials also warned of an accidental nuclear launch.
“In Saudi Arabia, we lost 24 Americans to a Scud ballistic missile during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Brit Hume of Fox News Channel. “Ten years later, we still dont have the ability to defend against a ballistic missile, notwithstanding the fact that these capabilities are proliferating across the globe.”
The president broadly sketched a “layered” missile defense system that could destroy incoming missiles from facilities on land, on sea and in space. It was a dramatic departure from the limited plan envisioned by President Clinton, who contemplated only a land-based system in Alaska.
“We must seek security based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who destroy us,” Mr. Bush said.
“This is an important opportunity for the world to rethink the unthinkable and find new ways to keep the peace. Todays world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and defenses.”
Mr. Bush will dispatch top members of his national security team to reassure skittish allies in Europe and elsewhere that his plan is sound. But even senior members of the Bush administration acknowledged the plan will get mixed reviews.
“I think the Europeans will be open to it,” Mr. Rumsfeld told Fox News. “Certainly, the Chinese will react negatively. But I think it will work its way through. It takes time to understand it.”
French President Jacques Chirac has called the plan an “invitation to proliferation.” But Britain has voiced sympathy for the proposals.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said: “The president is right to focus on these new challenges, and I welcome his commitment to close consultation.”
The administration official said Mr. Bush will reach out to Moscow.
“Ideally, hed really like to offer Russia a different vision of the relationship,” the official said.