Monday, November 19, 2001

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit with President Bush last week bordered on romantic courtship. Mr. Putin was wined and dined but apparently not cajoled. Despite the barbeque that Mr. Putin was served at Mr. Bush’s Prairie Ranch in Texas, which he characterized as “masterpiece cooking,” he was not inclined to make serious concessions regarding missile defense.

Still, Mr. Putin did seem moved by his stay at the ranch and spoke of the “romantic magnetism” of the Lone Star State. And the Russian leader held out the possibility that an agreement on missile defense could occur. “If we are to follow this road further,” he said, referring specifically to discussions over missile defense, “we will certainly arrive at a solution, a decision acceptable to the United States, and indeed, the entire world.”

The possibility that a missile defense deal with the Russians could be just a few Prairie Ranch steaks away is certainly promising, since Mr. Putin is proving to be an eager participant in the ongoing war on terror, pledging to help counter this threat along the Russian border with Central Asian states. All the same, the White House seemed to suggest that, while a deal with the Russians would be welcome, it is unwilling to wait indefinitely for an agreement that would revise mutual interpretations of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. “Everybody, including the Russians, understands that we’re soon going to run up against certain constraints of the treaty, and we’re continuing to work with them,” said National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

In the event a workable deal on the ABM Treaty with the Russians can’t be made, the United States should drop out of the treaty in the broader interest of homeland defense. The September 11 attacks should stiffen the White House’s resolve to pursue an effective missile defense program, particularly in view of reports that manuals detailing how to build nuclear weapons have been found at an al Qaeda terrorist safehouse in Kabul. America’s homeland defense response must be multi-dimensional, and missile defense remains an essential component. So, if masterpiece cooking and soul-gazing doesn’t convince Mr. Putin to acquiesce to reality on the ABM Treaty, America will need to go it alone in finding ways to deal with the threats from rogue states and terrorist groups.

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