November 30, 2001 | Commentary on Missile Defense
"No progress on ABM Treaty," blared the headlines as President
Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin departed the Bush ranch
in Crawford, Texas.
Those of us who want America to build a missile-defense system
as soon as possible missed out on what would have been a fantastic
early Christmas present -- withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty or its more-than-timely demise.
But "no progress" is better than the disaster that could have
unfolded in Texas.
Yes, the United States will continue to abide by the obsolete
treaty at least for a little while longer, despite the fact that
one of its two signatories, the Soviet Union, ceased to exist in
1991. That's the bad news.
The good news is, we didn't foreclose the possibility that we
will withdraw from the treaty in the near future, and we didn't
agree to some half-baked scheme that would permit us to continue
testing some of our more-advanced radars and interceptors until the
Russians cry "foul."
Signed in 1972, the ABM Treaty prohibits the United States and
the Soviet Union from testing or deploying a national
missile-defense system. Despite the demise of our treaty partner,
America continues to honor the treaty's provisions and even employs
a team of attorneys at the Pentagon to ensure compliance.
But this can't go on much longer. We recently altered two
critical missile-defense tests because those attorneys determined
the tests would violate the treaty. We want to use two high-tech
radars -- one in California, one on a ship -- to monitor the tests,
so we can review what happens more closely and see what roles these
radars can play in spotting incoming missiles and finding ways to
shoot them down.
But under the ABM Treaty, these extra radars aren't allowed, so
the next test won't include them.
It's a problem that stands to get worse. At least a dozen
different types of missile-defense activities can't be performed
without violating the treaty. We're honorable people. We don't
violate treaties, even if we're told to expect only a nod and a
wink in return. So the agreement has to go.
Why the urgency? Because time is growing short. Our enemies are
working furiously to build the very types of weapons that make
missile defense a national priority.
Osama bin Laden, for example, says he wants to develop a missile
for the express purpose of launching it toward America. Iraqi
strongman Saddam Hussein has shown he will suffer any indignity --
10 years of sanctions, economic catastrophe for his people, loss of
oil revenues -- to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
of mass destruction.
This would seem the ideal time for a deal. The Russians want us
to graduate them from the list of nations covered by the
Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which ties U.S. trade preferences to
emigration policies, and to forgive some of their foreign debt. We
need a missile defense. (The Soviets violated the ABM Treaty long
ago and already have such a system.)
So let's strike a deal to bury the ABM Treaty (as Soviet Prime
Minister Nikita Krushchev once promised to bury us). If Putin won't
agree, then it's time to give notice and bow out.
The ABM Treaty is a relic of the past. Let's take advantage of this moment to get out of the line of fire now. We all saw the death and destruction that two fuel-laden commercial airliners can cause. Imagine what a nuclear-armed missile could do.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally on the AP Data Feature Wire