Post-Mortem on the Summit: The Talbott Communique

Call it the Talbott Communique. To be sure, President Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued what was entitled their "Joint Statement on Principles of Strategic Stability." But a DNA test would clearly demonstrate that paternity of the document issued Sunday capping the presidents’ weekend summit in Moscow belongs to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Talbott’s preeminent role in the summit — and, indeed, in shaping U.S.-Russian relations for most of the past eight years — was underscored by his inclusion in the two leaders’ intimate dinner Saturday night. His nominal boss, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and National Security Advisor Samuel Berger were among the scores of lesser lights who did not make the cut.

Talbott’s Fingerprints

Talbott’s fingerprints can be clearly seen in the language and content of the Joint Statement. The communique reeks of the Moscow-centric, bipolar Cold War mindset which he has exhibited throughout his career as a journalist, author and, most recently, as a senior U.S. policy-maker. This paradigm — and the communique it has just spawned — attach supreme importance to arms control, in general, and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, in particular.

For example, the first principle of the Joint Statement stresses the need to "maintain strategic nuclear stability." This is Cold War code for the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia, as measured by the arcane (and substantially artificial) standard of treaty-accountable strategic warheads.

A second "principle" makes clear that the "capability for deterrence has been and remains a key aspect of stability and predictability in the international security environment." Translation: Russia is right in asserting that it needs to deter a threatening United States. It follows that Russia is entitled to the same number of nuclear weapons that the U.S. retains and that American anti-missile systems must not jeopardize the Kremlin’s ability to launch a devastating attack on this country.

A Slap at George W. Bush

These principles are about as direct a repudiation of the central premise advanced on May 23 by the man who may well be Mr. Clinton’s successor — Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. In a Washington press event, Gov. Bush declared:

The Cold War era is history. Our nation must recognize new threats, not fixate on old ones….Russia itself is no longer our enemy. The Cold War logic that led to creation of massive stockpiles on both sides is now outdated. Our mutual security need no longer depend on a nuclear balance of terror….The Clinton-Gore administration…remain[s] locked in a Cold War mentality. It is time to leave the Cold War behind and defend against the new threats of the 21st century.

The Talbott Communique is most noteworthy, however, for the emphasis it places on the ABM Treaty. Mr. Clinton and his Russian counterpart agreed "on the essential contribution of the ABM Treaty to reductions in offensive forces and reaffirm their commitment to that Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability." In what could pass for a parody of diplomatic obeisance to an international agreement, no fewer than three of the sixteen principles explicitly call for "increasing," "enhancing" or otherwise "strengthening" what Talbott and Company euphemistically call the "viability of the ABM Treaty." If the practical effect of this serial genuflection at the high altar of the arms control theology were not so inimical to U.S. security interests, it would be hilarious. Unfortunately, its intended purpose is no laughing matter: It is designed to create the international legal equivalent of "overkill" — bilateral commitments that would effectively foreclose any U.S. missile defenses not explicitly approved by the Russians.

What ABM Treaty?

Naturally, for the ABM Treaty to be viable — let alone strengthened — it must be in force. Under international law and domestic precedent, however, the ABM Treaty had to have lapsed when the other party, the Soviet Union, was liquidated.

The powerful arguments on this score — and the utter failure to date of the Clinton Administration to rebut them in any sort of rigorous fashion — will be on display in a very timely symposium to be held on Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The meeting will be chaired by Ambassador Max Kampelman, President Reagan’s highly respected chief negotiator in the U.S.-Soviet START I talks, and sponsored by the National Institute for Public Policy. It will bring together for the first time in public debate executive branch officials, among other ABM Treaty devotees, and experts (such as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith1) who can demonstrate why that accord has been legally "non-viable" since the dissolution of the USSR nine years ago.

Other Flim-Flams

Scarcely less bizarre than the effort to impute vital signs to the moribund ABM Treaty were two other highlights of Mr. Clinton’s adventures in Moscow. First, Principle Six of the Talbott Communique declares that "the international community faces a dangerous and growing threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, including missiles and missile technologies,2 and stress their desire to reverse that process…." While true — and the only laudatory aspect of the entire Joint Declaration — this principle blithely ignores an unsavory fact: The U.S. government knows that Russia is actively abetting such proliferation; countries we call "rogue states" the Kremlin calls "clients."

Second, in his address to the Duma, President Clinton announced that "soon I will be required to decide whether the United States should deploy a limited national defense system designed to protect the American people against the most imminent of these threats." He went on to describe the four criteria that would govern that decision: "the nature of threat, the cost of meeting it, the effectiveness of the available technology, and the impact of this decision on our overall security, including our relationship with Russia and other nations,3 and the need to preserve the ABM Treaty."

Last August, however, Mr. Clinton signed legislation adopted by veto-proof majorities in both houses. Therefore, pursuant to this Missile Defense Act of 1999, the Nation has already made a decision to deploy an effective limited national missile defense. By statute, it is to be deployed "as soon as technologically possible." The only question outstanding is how fast can that be accomplished.

The Bottom Line

The good news is that the debate is now joined. Americans will shortly have an opportunity to decide whether they wish to endorse the Clinton-Gore approach to national security spelled out in the Talbott Communique. Or will they give a mandate to Gov. Bush, who has made clear his personal commitment to defending the U.S. and its forces and allies overseas against missile attack — and who will not let an ABM Treaty that is neither viable nor desirable become a new impediment to our doing so?

1See the Center’s Press Release entitled Definitive Study Shows Russians Have No Veto Over Defending U.S. (No. 99-P 11, 22 January 1999).

2 In recent months, increasing attention is being paid to a new and particularly insidious weapon of mass destruction — electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) devices. As hearings before the House Armed Services Committee and a new "Backgrounder" by Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation entitled "America’s Vulnerability to a Different Nuclear Threat: An Electromagnetic Pulse," makes clear, a rogue state or other enemy could inflict grievous harm on an advanced society like America’s by exploding a nuclear weapon high above the United States. Without killing a single person on the ground (at least directly), such a device could fry the electronic infrastructure over a huge area with incalculable effects. Defeating such a relatively low-technology attack is yet another compelling reason to begin deploying global anti-missile systems at once.

3The attached op.ed. published in today’s Washington Times by a distinguished member of the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Advisory Council, James Hackett, makes clear that claims (by the CIA and others) about the unanimous opposition of America’s allies to the deployment of effective anti-missile systems are erroneous. The thoughtful study described by Mr. Hackett that was recently issued by Lady Margaret Thatcher and other prominent Britons should be required reading on both sides of the Atlantic.

About Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Frank Gaffney is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. Under Mr. Gaffney's leadership, the Center has been nationally and internationally recognized as a resource for timely, informed and penetrating analyses of foreign and defense policy matters. Mr. Gaffney formerly acted as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy during the Reagan Administration, following four years of service as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy. Previously, he was a professional staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee under the chairmanship of the late Senator John Tower, and a national security legislative aide to the late Senator Henry M. Jackson.

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