(Washington, D.C.): President Clinton’s summit with Vladimir Putin did not result in the
“Grand Bargain” arms control agreement (read, “legacy”) the former has been frantically
seeking. As a result, new impediments were not placed in the path of important
options to deploy militarily and cost-effective anti-missile defenses. With a surprising degree of
unanimity, the editorial boards of three of the Nation’s leading newspapers — the Wall
Journal, the Washington Times and even the Washington Post —
have welcomed this outcome.
Thanks in considerable part to the insidious machinations of Deputy Secretary of State
Talbott, the summit did produce however a Joint Declaration of Principles that could prove
troublesome. Among other defects, it reiterates the absurd proposition that the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is “a cornerstone of strategic stability” and that efforts must be
enhance its “viability.” Interestingly, the Post — until recently, a paper that
unquestioningly hued to the politically correct line on arms control — was particularly critical of
the Clinton-Talbott performance. In the editorial below, it observed: “Declaring the treaty a
‘cornerstone’ before deciding which, if any, missile defense system makes sense is backward.
To pretend that it’s possible to have things both ways sets the stage for more tension than
necessary with Russia later on.”
Washington Post, 6 June 2000
Have Your Treaty and Eat It Too
President Clinton is famous for championing a Third Way on many issues, but on nuclear
matters he seems to have settled on a Both Ways strategy. In his Moscow visit concluded
yesterday, Mr. Clinton explained to his hosts why the United States might decide to build a
defense against nuclear missiles. He warned that missile technology is spreading and that nuclear
weapons may also. “The question is not whether this threat is emerging,” Mr. Clinton told
Russia’s parliament. “It is.” At the same time, he committed himself “to continuing efforts to
strengthen the ABM treaty,” the purpose of which is to prohibit almost any effective missile
defense. Not only that; Mr. Clinton signed on to a document that calls the treaty “a cornerstone
of strategic stability.”
Maybe Mr. Clinton doesn’t really believe in missile defense and is trying to narrow the next
administration’s options as far as possible. According to this interpretation, a Republican
Congress, and the desire to protect Vice President Gore’s electoral flank, have pushed Mr.
Clinton toward a weapons system that in his heart he still opposes. He seemed to reveal a lack of
enthusiasm when he told parliament that he will soon “be required to decide” whether to start
work on a limited defense. But if this interpretation is correct, Mr. Clinton should have taken a
clearer stand long ago. He could have argued that the risks of an arms race with China or
instability with Russia outweigh the possible benefits of a defense against “rogue states” such as
North Korea. But, so far at least, he won’t make that case.
That leaves him in no man’s land. We believe that Mr. Clinton’s public position — that a
defense is worth considering — is right. And if it’s worth considering, it should be considered on
its merits — political, diplomatic, technical — with no options ruled out simply because the 1972
ABM treaty disallows them. No technology has yet proven itself. But eventually the most
effective option may include sea-based components relying on space-based sensors; these aren’t
permitted under the ABM treaty.
The president is right to seek continuing dialogue and cooperation with Russia. But declaring
treaty a “cornerstone” before deciding which, if any, missile defense system makes sense is
backward. To pretend that it’s possible to have things both ways sets the stage for more tension
than necessary with Russia later on.
Washington Times, 5 June 2000
MAD Defense is No Defense
The good news emerging yesterday from the U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow was the failure
President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin to strike a bad deal for America. If
the legacy-obsessed U.S. president had his way, the two sides would have agreed to
modifications of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that, for all practical purposes, would
have prevented the United States from deploying a truly effective missile defense. Even a limited
ballistic missile attack from any of several rogue states feverishly attempting to develop or
acquire advanced missile technology in order to threaten the United States with nuclear,
biological or chemical weapons might succeed.
The failure to seal a bad deal was not for lack of effort on Mr. Clinton’s part. For weeks,
U.S. officials, including national security adviser Sandy Berger and Deputy Secretary of State
Strobe Talbott, had traveled to Moscow to beg Mr. Putin’s permission to amend ever-so-slightly
the 1972 ABM Treaty to allow the United States to deploy a relatively inferior land-based
anti-missile system in Alaska.
The land-based system would be so ineffective, Mr. Putin was assured, that it would pose no
threat to Russia’s nuclear forces, which, despite its impoverished state, Russia continues to
modernize and deploy. “Our intention,” Mr. Talbott declared in Moscow before the summit
began, “is to keep the ABM Treaty very much part of the foundation of international arms
control. We don’t want to see the ABM Treaty violated. We don’t want to see it weakened. We
want to see it strengthened.”
Mr. Talbott and Mr. Clinton’s idea of “strengthening” the ABM Treaty is to continue to leave
United States exposed to a ballistic missile attack that could deliver weapons of mass destruction
to the American mainland. Known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, this policy is a
relic of the Cold War that Mr. Clinton continues to embrace, believing it is better to avenge lives
than to save them.
Indeed, Mr. Clinton has long opposed missile defense. In 1993, his first year in office, he
canceled President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which envisioned a multilayered, partly
space-based defensive shield, and dramatically reduced spending on space-based research. Also
in 1993, Mr. Clinton canceled President Bush’s Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, a
missile-defense deployment plan to protect both U.S. territory and U.S. troops overseas. In 1995,
the Clinton-Gore administration issued a National Intelligence Estimate projecting a 15-year
period before the United States would face a ballistic missile threat.
In July 1998, however, the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to
United States, known as the Rumsfeld commission, issued a unanimous report, concluding *
completely contrary to the administration’s self-serving 1995 intelligence estimate * that “the
U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment” by rogue states of
ballistic missiles that could threaten U.S. territory. It’s also worth noting that the Rumsfeld
commission further concluded that Russia, whose permission Mr. Clinton seeks to deploy a
useless, ineffective missile defense, “poses a threat to the U.S. as a major exporter of enabling
technologies, including ballistic-missile technologies, to countries hostile to the United States. In
particular,” the Rumsfeld commission concluded, “Russian assistance has greatly accelerated
Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
Following the release of the Rumsfeld commission’s report, bipartisan congressional
for deploying a national missile defense system as soon as possible also greatly accelerated.
Bowing to both public and political pressure and hoping to protect the political fortunes of Vice
President Al Gore, the administration signed legislation last year committing the nation to
“deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system.” To be
truly effective, however, such a system would be, by definition, incompatible with the
restrictions of the ABM Treaty, including the relatively minor amendments the administration is
imploring Russia, an active missile-technology proliferator, to approve.
A bad agreement to amend the ABM Treaty would be worse than no agreement because it
for all practical purposes, ratify the prohibition of effective missile defense. The United States
should be moving in the opposite direction, whether Messrs. Putin and Clinton like it or
Wall Street Journal, 6 June 2000
Thank Senator Helms
The good news from President Clinton’s weekend summit in Moscow is that it ended without
lame-duck deal damaging American security. For this successful failure we can thank Jesse
Helms, George W. Bush and, reading between the lines, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Clinton was eager to strike a new arms deal that would burnish his legacy and lock in
on U.S. nuclear defenses. “Clinton’s Ticking Clock: A Rush for Arms Control,” is how the New
York Times described it yesterday. But the President’s effort was stymied by a series of timely
First came Mr. Helms, the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, to warn some weeks ago that
block any treaty that constrained America’s ability to defend itself. Then, two weeks ago, Mr.
Bush laid out his own strategic-nuclear thinking, asserting that he wouldn’t need Russia’s
permission either to build defenses or to cut America’s own weapons arsenal. Mr. Bush was
flanked when he said this by Henry Kissinger and other pillars of the conservative strategic
Mr. Putin seems to have been paying attention, even if Mr. Clinton wasn’t. To be sure, the
Russian President insisted on a joint U.S.-Russian statement reasserting the “viability” of the
1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. And he resisted Mr. Clinton’s attempts to modify the ABM
accord to allow a single, inadequate defense site in Alaska.
But Boris Yeltsin’s successor also dropped some hints that he isn’t set in Cold War concrete.
acknowledged the mutual U.S. and Russian vulnerability to a terrorist nuclear launch. And he
seemed open to the idea of countering such a threat with a theater-based defense located off, say,
North Korea, that could intercept missiles in their boost phase.
This would rule out Mr. Clinton’s Alaska plan, which would target incoming missiles on
descent. The best response to a Korean threat would be something like the Aegis Cruiser-based
defense system now being developed by the U.S. Navy. Mr. Bush likes the Aegis concept and
has said he’d invite Russia to work with the U.S. on it.
All of which underscores that nothing useful is going to happen on missile defenses until the
U.S. President withdraws from the ABM pact, as that treaty itself allows. As long as it stands,
even limited, theater defenses will be technically impossible to build.
At his press conference, Mr. Putin also implied that he didn’t want to strike any deals that
be made obsolete by the November U.S. election. “We know that today, in the United States,
there is a campaign ongoing,” he said. “No matter who gets to be president, we’re willing to go
forward.” Message: Russia can do business with Mr. Bush and his strategic ideas as well as it can
with Al Gore.
This makes sense for both Mr. Putin and the U.S. The Russian is just beginning his
so his future relationship with the U.S. will be defined much more by the next American chief of
state than by Mr. Clinton. Locking himself into a lame-duck deal would only complicate that
relationship, especially because it is in both countries’ interest to move their discussions away
from arms competition.
What made this summit so strangely irrelevant to modern Russia was its preoccupation with
Cold War arms-control. Credit this to the ideological obsessions not of Mr. Putin, but of the State
Department’s Strobe Talbott, who still has nightmares that Ronald Reagan was right about
Mr. Putin’s more important priority is fixing the Russian economy, and on that score he also
seems to be moving in the right direction by ignoring the U.S. Treasury. He has even offered up
his own tax reform, including a 13% flat tax, which Mr. Clinton seemed to endorse. (How about
the same for Americans, Mr. President?) This should help with voluntary tax collections as well
as economic incentives.
The bad news is that Mr. Putin still seems willing to take money from the International
Fund, which is the U.S. Treasury’s way to continue meddling. Our own advice to Mr. Putin is
that, like arms control, economics is also a subject better left to discussions with the next U.S.