TCS Daily

Dump the ABM Treaty

By Jeane Kirkpatrick - April 1, 2001 12:00 AM

What George Washington called our "blessed location" between two vast oceans can no longer protect America from weapons of mass destruction. Contemporary missile technology is evaporating those oceans. And our failure to develop a defense in response leaves Americans vulnerable to a degree that we have never been vulnerable in the entire life of our nation.

Too many in Congress and among allies abroad are wedded to an "arms control" approach to this threat. They are more concerned with preserving paper barriers like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty than with reliably protecting millions of American men, women, and children. Their strategy does not work.

For example, we hear the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) praised, even though it has actually helped spread the technology needed to produce nuclear weapons. Under the treaty's terms, countries like Iran gained the right to assistance in developing their (supposedly peaceful) nuclear capacities from other signatories like Russia. Iraq was actually on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agencycharged with ensuring compliance with the NPTat the same time it violated promises not to develop nuclear weapons. In short, a treaty intended to halt nuclear proliferation has been the principal source of that proliferation.

If treaties and diplomatic control regimes actually worked, Iraq, North Korea, India, and Pakistan would not have bombs today. But they do. Nor have countries like Iraq been prevented by various treaties and conventions from developing and using chemical weapons. What happens when a nation violates a weapons treaty? Little or nothing. A country attacked by the resulting weapons, however, will experience devastation.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has not, despite its defenders' claims, stabilized international relations. The country with which we signed the ABM Treaty no longer exists, and when it did exist it violated the treatyas Soviet Foreign Minister Edouard Schevardnadze admitted soon after the Cold War ended. Today, Russia retains a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and is much less stable than we would prefer.

Meanwhile, China is dramatically increasing the reach and accuracy of her missiles. Her leaders are pushing for preservation of the ABM Treatypaying lip service to "strategic stability"while simultaneously using their new power to threaten Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the U.S. The Chinese are also aiding the spread of nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea.

Meanwhile, the number of other countries with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them is increasing alarmingly. In 1998 the bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission concluded that any of several small anti-American nations may, if they choose, "be able to inflict major damage on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability." Worse, "during several of those years the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been made."

The archaic ABM Treaty was ratified during a time when only the United States and the Soviet Union had the capacity to reach the other's territory with ballistic missiles. Whether the treaty contributed to America's security during the Cold War is a question for historians. The question today is whether it contributes to our security now. The answer is a resounding no.

By allowing the ABM Treaty to constrain our ability to defend ourselves, we allow dangerous governments to acquire power they would not otherwise have. The United States should give notice of our intention to withdraw from the treaty and immediately focus on building a missile defense system to protect our most vital interest: our national survival.

Yes, there will be complaints from abroad. Russia clearly has an interest in keeping America vulnerable to its missiles. The Russian military, lacking its former size and power, has chosen to place ICBMs at the center of its national strategy.

The ABM Treaty also serves China's long-term ambition to become the dominant power in East Asia, because a missile defense system developed by the U.S and shared with its Asian allies would neutralize China's ability to blackmail its neighbors. If we do not provide an adequate missile defense for our Asian allies, a regional nuclear arms race may indeed result. Japan, for instance, may feel compelled to develop nuclear weapons to counterbalance those coming in China and North Korea.

The ABM Treaty is without legal standing. Under international and U.S. law, it expired with the Soviet Union's demise in 1991. Yet its restrictions prohibit our scientists from developing the effective, economical system they know how to create. The right of self-defense is undisputed in courts of law and the U.N. Charter. It is time to unleash the creativity of American scientists and allow them to solve the problems of defending the United States, its allies, and world peace generally from potentially grievous harm.

Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick is a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow of AEI.

Reprinted with permission from The American Enterprise magazine


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