May 16, 2001

May 16, 2001 | Commentary on Missile Defense

Psst! Liberals, the ABM Treaty is Dead

A funny thing is happening in the debate over a missile defense. The president is getting more cooperation from Russia than from liberals in Congress.

Indeed, a number of nations that for years pleaded with the United States to retain the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which banned so much as testing a national missile defense, are now open to the idea of sending the treaty to the ash heap of history. That leaves American liberals largely alone in their fervent campaign to deny the United States and its allies a missile shield.

Take Joe Biden. The Delaware senator argues that to abandon the treaty, as President Bush proposed earlier this month, in hopes of getting a missile defense in place somewhere down the line "would damage the security interests of the United States."

However, Moscow -- the other party involved in the treaty -- has said it's interested in Bush's plan to scrap it. What makes the president's plan so attractive, according to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, is that it "opens up the possibility for jointly seeking solutions to those [ballistic missile proliferation] problems." Ivanov also says that the president's proposal would be in "the interests of preserving [and] strengthening strategic stability." This is amazing talk from a country that liberals such as Biden claim would be incensed by Bush's proposal.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle alleges that protection from missile attack could "undermine our nation politically, economically and strategically." The South Dakotan also suggests that "there has not been a shred of evidence that [ballistic missile defense] works." Still, NATO's Secretary General Lord George Robertson said he listened "with great interest" to Bush's speech "including the requirements on missile defense," which says a lot. A top leader of one of the most successful military alliances in history wouldn't waste his time listening to ideas that don't work.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt argues that Bush "is jeopardizing an arms control framework that has served this nation and the world well for decades." But British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who, ideologically, is closer to Gephardt than Bush -- said "that the issues raised by the American administration are real and correct to raise in respect of weapons of mass destruction."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also recognizes Bush's plan as an opportunity to restructure our strategic forces for the modern era. He pointed out that Bush's speech "held out the prospect of quick and far-reaching reductions of strategic offensive weapons." Germany's support for missile defense also is notable, considering that those running the country today are the same ones who largely opposed the United States deploying Pershing II nuclear missiles on its lands during the 1980s.

One country shares the views of Biden, Daschle and Gephardt. The China Daily -- an official state-run communist newspaper -- argues that Bush's plan "will trigger a new arms race and destroy what has been achieved so far with international disarmament efforts."

So here's the line up in the great ABM Treaty Debate: On one side you have the United States, Russia, Great Britain and Germany -- countries that don't always agree on everything. On the other, you have liberal leaders in Congress and communist leaders in China. Maybe this is the "new world order" that President Bush's father talked about when he was in office. But even the elder Bush couldn't conceive the reasons for such odd pairings.

After all, it's not as if the world has much to show for its "international disarmament efforts" over the last decade. During that time: Pakistan and India built nuclear weapons, North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile, and Iran is very close to having its own ICBM. And China? Oh, China began building nuclear missiles -- and exporting missile technology -- as fast as it could.

All of this occurred while the ABM Treaty was in place and a missile defense was not. In fact, during the 20 years that followed the signing of the treaty, the United States and Soviet Union expanded their nuclear arsenals from around 2,000 warheads each to about 10,000 each.

If that's arms control, the world can live (quite literally) without it. It's about time congressional liberals realized that.

Jack Spenceris a policy analyst at the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a public policy research institute.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Related Issues: Missile Defense

Distributed nationally by Scripps-Howard News Wire