Tuesday, May 8, 2001

The Bush administration has announced its intention to alter or eliminate the 1972 ABM Treaty and deploy a national missile defense (NMD) as soon as feasible. Russias neighbor, Ukraine, has offered to help Washington turn NMD into a reality.

NMD has faced its sharpest opposition abroad, from Russia and, reflecting Moscow´s criticism, many NATO members. However, Kiev is actively rebutting their objections.

Sounding like U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who recently told Congress that “the ABM Treaty was designed in a different time,” leading Ukrainian officials uniformly agree that change is necessary. Sergiy Pyrozhkov, director of the National Institute of International Security Problems, opened a conference last week in Kiev on the ABM Treaty co-sponsored by his organization and, even more significantly, the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine, the equivalent of America´s National Security Council. He noted that when the accord was originally ratified the two signatories “said it could be changed; how it will be changed just hasn´t been decided yet.”

In a later interview, Volodymyr Horbulin, chairman of the State Commission on the Defense Industry of Ukraine his nation´s leading voice on the treaty pointed to today´s dramatically different threat environment. When the accord was signed, nuclear stability primarily involved two nations. Today it involves a plethora of states, some of which are “rogues.” He was backed by Boris Andresyuk, chairman of the Rada´s national security and defense committee: “The situation has changed enough for us to change the way that we keep strategic stability.”

Moscow disagrees, of course, even though Vyacheslav Dukhin, counselor to Russia´s ambassador to Ukraine, admitted at the conference that “there have been changes in the world, and these changes require a response.” But Mr. Horbulin contends that Moscow is mistaken in believing that NMD “would destroy global stability.” He echoes Washington´s argument that NMD is not designed to stop a large-scale strike from a country like Russia, but instead to “protect the U.S. from nuclear attack from rogue states, such as North Korea.” Thus, “the global balance wouldn´t be affected by creation of an anti-missile complex in the U.S.”

Particularly noteworthy to conference participants was Andrei Sakharov´s admonition to his Soviet superiors that missile defense was not only possible, but desirable. Mr. Andresyuk observed that “It´s like domestic laws. They aren´t enough to prevent burglary. You also need to take measures like alarms.”

Kiev speaks with authority as a successor state to the ABM Treaty. Indeed, Ukraine´s status is recognized by the 1997 Memorandum signed by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the United States. Washington has yet to ratify the accord, however. U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pasqual told the conference that doing so would have to wait until Washington decides whether to jettison the ABM framework.

But, complains Mr. Horbulin, only Russia and the United States are discussing this issue. He wants Ukraine to take part as well. Although Belarus and Kazakhstan also hosted Soviet missiles, they had far fewer and “never produced them,” Mr. Horbulin points out. Ukraine voluntarily gave up the world´s third largest nuclear arsenal, and has since complied with a variety of arms control agreements.

In doing so, Ukraine has left itself vulnerable. Over the last decade “a number of countries, like India and North Korea, have created middle-range missiles. Ukraine cannot now feel fully protected,” complains Mr. Horbulin. While the ABM Treaty addresses global security, it “doesn´t provide any guarantees for regional security.”

Kiev proposes revising the ABM Treaty to allow the kind of missile defense envisioned by the Bush administration. Mr. Horbulin argues for moving the “philosophy of the ABM Treaty” away from one oriented to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction between the United States and Russia. Regional systems to protect other countries could supplement the U.S.-Russia agreement, with the possibility of technical cooperation among nations.

Mr. Horbulin points to the two early warning stations in Ukraine dating back to the old Soviet Union: With “certain modifications they could be used to create a protective system in Ukraine.” Moreover, he adds, Kiev is interested in helping to produce America´s defense network. “Ukraine possesses plants that could create part of an early warning system. And we have research institutes that helped create an anti-missile system.” Employing Ukrainians would yield the ancillary benefit of deterring people who once worked in nuclear and missile research “leaving for troubled countries.”

Washington has yet to formally react to Kiev´s proposal. At last week´s conference, Mr. Pasqual explained that the administration was high on consultation, but he not so subtly sidestepped Ukraine´s potential role. “Consultation teams” are slated to hit Europe next week; one should visit Kiev as well.

In any case, it will soon be difficult for Washington to avoid giving an answer. Mr. Horbulin is planning a trip to Washington. Not only has he served as head of Ukraine´s equivalent of the National Security Council. He is one of President Leonid Kuchma´s closest confidantes, with an association that stretches back 40 years.

Washington should bring Ukraine into negotiations over NMD and the ABM Treaty. Doing so would help loosen what some observers fear is a tightening embrace with Moscow. Moreover, involving Ukraine would bolster the decision to deploy NMD. Who better to deflate Russian objections than a fellow inheritor of the treaty?

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Reagan.

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