- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

The perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks strove to undermine America's global leadership by making the world's superpower appear weak, vulnerable and isolated from the rest of the world. But, interestingly, many countries have seen the White House's coalition-building efforts as a prime opportunity to reinforce their friendship with the United States.

Russia, driven no doubt by its own national interests, is taking a lead in cooperating with America's campaign. And over the weekend, at a gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated his clear recognition of America's need to develop missile defense technology a plan the Kremlin has traditionally been strongly opposed to. In making this acknowledgement, Mr. Putin is surely considering his country's potential benefit from a U.S. missile defense capability, since Russia's battle with Islamic militants in Chechnya, who are seeking autonomy from Moscow, could make the Russian people a target of terrorist attacks. If these militants were to acquire nuclear weapons, U.S. missile-busting technology could provide invaluable protection. To a large degree, however, it has been the White House's diplomatic efforts that have prompted residual Cold War hostilities to thaw and allowed Mr. Putin to see the United States as a strategic partner.

Regarding the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, an agreement the United States signed with the Soviet Union in 1972 that has prevented the development of a comprehensive U.S. missile defense system, Mr. Putin said, "I believe we do have an understanding that we can reach agreements, taking into account the national interests of Russia and the United States, and taking into account the necessity to strengthen international stability in this very important area." Unfortunately, neither Mr. Putin nor President Bush has outlined, even in broad strokes, the hallmarks of this apparent agreement. And while Mr. Putin's stated awareness of the ABM's counterproductive limitations represents a step forward in the U.S.-Russian relationship, the White House must avoid any future agreement with Moscow that prevents the U.S. military from maintaining a formidable deterrent to nuclear attack, retaliating in the event of an attack and developing the most effective missile defense system engineers can devise. While a negotiated agreement with Russia on neutralizing ABM limitations would be welcomed, America's ability to best defend itself is the paramount, not to mention urgent, priority. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that the United States, proceeding cautiously with its tests for a nuclear missile shield, has asked Russia to break with the ABM treaty, citing the threat of terrorism. Since America is clearly a target of coordinated attacks, this seems a most reasonable request.

And, while a defense system wouldn't have protected America from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, those assaults have made clear that the United States should never underestimate its enemies and must plan not only for those threats that may appear likely, but also those that are feasible. Since missile defense technology will take years to develop, the system should be designed to counter threats that may emerge in the future, rather than in response to the dangers that are prevalent today. Should America fail to invest in the future, it could find itself tragically vulnerable tomorrow.

Mr. Putin now has a vested interest in a safe America that has the capability of defending itself and its allies. The White House's unyielding commitment to this technology will fortify U.S. global leadership and surely make friendships with the United States increasingly attractive.

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