When President Bush meets Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Rome this weekend, he will try to nudge Mr. Putin toward a new agreement between the two countries on missile defense.
But the Bush administration is indicating that any agreement will not take shape as a formal treaty - a position that breaks with past Republican presidents, who have relied on arms-control treaties as a way to build safety into the nuclear age.
Instead, "framework" and "agreement" are terms administration officials use to describe their aim, reflecting the Bush team's aversion to treaties in general and arms-control treaties, like the now-troublesome Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), in particular.
"I do think this is a philosophical shift with Bush Jr., in that it dovetails with his conservative principles," says Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who helped brief Mr. Bush before his first meeting with Mr. Putin last month. "They don't like to constrain the individual in domestic politics, and here they don't want to constrain the United States."
Examples of this no-constraints philosophy, say Mr. McFaul and others, are the Bush administration's rejections of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and a United Nations accord on the proliferation of small arms.
Wiggling out of treaties
But nowhere is it more evident than in the field of nuclear arms control. Specifically, the administration:
* Is going forward with plans to build a missile defense, which could violate the ABM Treaty as soon as February, according to the Defense Department. It hopes to reach a broad agreement with Moscow that reflects a post-Soviet era of friendship between the two countries.
"There's a good reason not to get into 15-year negotiations, which is what it has taken to create arms-control treaties," Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said last week. "You're talking about trying to dot every 'i' and cross every 't,' because there was no reason to have any trust in this relationship. It was implacably hostile, and it was abnormal from the point of view of the way international relations is normally done."
* Is on record against the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which the GOP-controlled Senate refused in 1999 to ratify. The Bush administration has said it will voluntarily uphold a moratorium on nuclear testing, but it is also considering underground testing of a new class of smaller nuclear weapons that might be able to, say, blow up the underground bunker of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but spare civilians nearby.
* Is willing to reduce, unilaterally, its nuclear-weapons arsenal - a departure from START, the strategic arms reduction talks that involved the US and the former Soviet Union in negotiations for three decades. Ms. Rice, however, indicated that Bush could include reductions as part of an overall new agreement with Russia on missile defense.
Ironically, Bush's steps could lead to the undermining of …