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June 6, 2002

ABM Treaty: Not With a Bang...

By

Excuse me, but where's the outrage?

Here we are, officially leaving the confines of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and hardly a peep can be heard from the arms-control crowd.

For years, they warned us not to withdraw. They told us how the treaty formed the "cornerstone of strategic stability." They assured us that a document binding two nations to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)-the idea that neither side would launch a missile attack if it knew it would suffer a devastating retaliatory strike-made the world safer.

Russia wouldn't be the only one objecting to our withdrawal, they fumed. So would China and all of Europe. Our "go-it-alone" attitude would leave us without a friend in the world and the world without a hope of peace. And all so we could pursue our half-baked delusions about building a missile defense.

But wait. How many of these dire predictions panned out? Almost none. Sure, the Russians complained (sort of) when President Bush announced in December that the United States would be withdrawing in six months. But it's clear now that the Kremlin produced these muted theatrics solely for the benefit of hard-liners at home. Russia's actions tell the real story: Russian President Vladimir Putin just signed an agreement with President Bush to slash our respective nuclear arsenals.

But why be surprised? Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, it was clear the treaty was as outdated and meaningless for Russia as it was for us. The Soviet Union had signed and supported it because their leaders feared a U.S. missile-defense system would allow the United States to bomb Moscow, then fend off the retaliatory strikes. Now, virtually no one in Russia believes we have, or ever had, any intention of launching a "first strike." And virtually all realize that the real threat for both countries comes from rogue regimes such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

The Russians' future is with us, and they know it. In addition to agreeing to cut their nuclear arsenal, they just signed up to become a junior member of NATO. Even with Putin-a former KGB officer-at the helm, they view us as strategic partners in the real war of the 21st century: the war on terrorism. The ABM Treaty has no place in such a world.

Indeed, it's been clear for a while that the pact had to go. Barely a decade after it was signed in 1972, President Reagan realized that the stalemate the ABM Treaty enshrined was untenable-and that the Cold-War mindset that inspired it was blocking the road to the more reliable peace that could flow from weapons reductions and missile defense. He became the first U.S. president to decry its faults and declare that America needed out of it.

President Reagan's determination to build a missile shield that the Soviets knew they couldn't afford to match or counteract did as much to bring about the Soviet Union's demise as any Vaclav Havel speech or Lech Walesa rally.

When Soviet president Mikhael Gorbachev concluded President Reagan wouldn't be deterred, he ordered the leader of Hungary to open his border to Austria. This meant those who suffered most under the Soviets' iron fist were free-and that dictatorial regimes had to begin respecting human rights or watch their citizens flee en masse to the West. What followed was a series of events-regime changes, etc.-viewed as amazing only by those who don't grasp the way power truly works.

It's ironic that modern-day peaceniks complained loudest when President Bush announced America's withdrawal from the treaty, given the enormous contribution to world peace President Reagan made merely by threatening to do so years earlier.

Now we can finally develop the kind of robust missile-defense program the ABM Treaty prohibited. We don't have to limit ourselves to a single land-based site-or slow the speed of our interceptors, as we did for years-to avoid violating the agreement.

Most importantly, we don't have to remain vulnerable in an increasingly dangerous world.

Edwin Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire

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