ABM Treaty Withdrawal: Neither Necessary nor Prudent

Arms Control Today, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview

ABM Treaty Withdrawal: Neither Necessary nor Prudent


On December 13, as President George W. Bush announced that the United States would -Dull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to discuss the ramifications of the U.S. withdrawal.

The speakers were Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association; Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Lisbeth Gronlund, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists; and John Rhinelander, a legal adviser to the ABM Treaty and SALT I delegation.

The following is an edited transcript of their remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

Today, President George W. Bush is expected to formally notify Russia that the United States intends to unilaterally withdraw from the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile [ABM] Treaty in six months. He is basing the withdrawal on his claim that the treaty blocks necessary testing of strategic anti-missile technologies and the eventual development of land-, sea-, and space-based strategic missile defenses.

From my perspective, this decision is unnecessary, unwarranted, and unwise. It will negatively affect long-term U.S.-Chinese relations, U.S.-Russian relations, and U.S. relations with its allies, as well as undermine efforts to curb the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons-work that has become more urgent since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

We will hear from three expert speakers who have long been involved in missile defense and ABM Treaty issues, and then we will entertain questions. But first I will make a few remarks to put this matter in a proper context, because we're dealing with more than one treaty here, which is no small matter.

Bush's intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty is not all that surprising. After all, the president is on record supporting national missile defense [NMD] deployment. Withdrawal from the treaty is but the latest in a series of moves that reflect the Bush administration's policy of unilateralist nonengagement with U.S. allies, partners, and erstwhile adversaries. And it marks the resumption of the Bush administration's strategy-which it was pursuing before September 11-of dismantling and discarding proven arms control strategies and international efforts to prevent the acquisition, development, and potential use of weapon of mass destruction. In fact, in recent weeks the administration blocked progress on an international agreement to enforce the Biological Weapons Convention and boycotted international consultations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Although not surprising, President Bush's withdrawal notification is the administration's most blatant and radical departure to date from three decades of U.S. support for multilateral and bilateral arms control and nonproliferation measures. Arms control and nonproliferation were valuable during the Cold War. And they will continue to be valuable in the post-Cold War, post-September 11 environment by providing confidence, transparency, and predictability, especially between the United States and Russia.

Bush argues that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is a Cold War relic that preserves mutual assured destruction policies. But so long as thousands of deployed and nondeployed strategic and tactical nuclear weapons remain, it will be necessary to have clear limits on strategic offenses and defenses to help establish lasting confidence and stability between the United States and Russia-two states with a long history of adversarial relations.

Another important point is that Bush's withdrawal decision may set a very dangerous precedent for other countries' adherence to and willingness to participate in multilateral arms control regimes. What message does this send when the world's pre-eminent military, economic, and cultural power believes that it must be unconstrained by international rules of conduct to protect its security?

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