TCS Daily

Cancelled Tests Prove ABM Treaty Is Hazardous to Our Health

By Ken Adelman - October 26, 2001 12:00 AM

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's postponement yesterday of three U.S. missile defense tests over the next three weeks revealed the crippling effect the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty is having on our nation's defenses.

The Secretary said, "To keep from having it suggested that we might not be keeping [our] commitment [to the ABM treaty], we have voluntarily restrained our ballistic missile defense test programs."

This stunning announcement was thirty years in the making. Three decades of interpretation and reinterpretation of the Treaty as well as rapid and sustained technological change have made the ABM Treaty a significant obstacle to our national safety.

When the ABM Treaty was first drafted in 1971, government arms control attorneys - by nature a risk-adverse bunch - interpreted its language as tightly as possible, leaving room for a reasonable amount of research and development.

Then over time, "just to be safe," attorneys gradually broadened the margin for error that determined what research was permissible, and in doing so narrowed the areas in which the Pentagon research and development team could operate.

Over the next 25 years, successive lawyerly examinations have continued constricting this "safe" playing field, so much so that during the Clinton administration - an administration not known for its commitment to missile defense to begin with - the areas remaining for research and development were so small as to render any missile defense tests of questionable merit, even if they were successful.

This three-decade history made Secretary Rumsfeld's announcement yesterday - remarkable as it was - almost predictable. The standard we now have in place is one whereby our Pentagon's actions are limited by perceptions of what missile tests are permitted under the ABM Treaty. Secretary Rumsfeld spoke not about arms control lawyers' interpretation of what is permissible under Treaty. Instead, he was addressing possible perceptions arms control lawyers might have of any tests the United States conducts.

Can anyone imagine designing a new combat aircraft, or battleship, or tank, or even automobile under conditions? Maybe such equipment would be designed, but no one would ever fly or drive it under such test conditions.

At this point in America's history, the treaty's very goals are indefensible. Banning protection from a ballistic missile equipped with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons fired by a terrorist or madman like Saddam Hussein makes no moral sense. And banning defensive systems makes little common sense as well.

That's why we must get out of the ABM Treaty, something that needs to happen after Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with President Bush in Crawford in the coming weeks.

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