Opposing Interpretations of an International Treaty: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Controversy

By Bradley, Angela M. | Chicago Journal of International Law, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Opposing Interpretations of an International Treaty: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Controversy


Bradley, Angela M., Chicago Journal of International Law


Whether the United States should initiate construction of a limited national missile defense system became a significant issue for the Clinton administration in the summer of 2000. Central to the national defense system discussion was a concern that such a move would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ("ABM Treaty") signed with the Soviet Union in 1972.(1) The administration considered a number of different approaches to build a national missile defense system, including the possibility that the ABM Treaty could be interpreted to allow preliminary stages of construction to begin without technically violating the treaty. After considerable deliberation, the Clinton administration decided not to insist upon such a broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty. However, the discussion surrounding that possibility highlighted an important problem in international law: what happens when one party to an international treaty unilaterally changes a long-standing and previously universally accepted interpretation of the treaty?

The United States and the Soviet Union signed the ABM Treaty in the midst of the Cold War as an effort to slow the arms race by reducing the number of weapons and limiting the defense systems available to both sides. Article I of the treaty takes a strong stance against nation-wide defense systems, stating "[e]ach party undertakes not to deploy ABM systems for a defense of the territory of its country and not to provide a base for such a defense."2 The treaty limits even the testing of several kinds of defense systems in Article V: "Each party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy AMB systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based."3 The treaty leaves in place the ability to deploy very limited defense systems that are unable to protect the parties' major cities. The idea driving the limitations on defense systems was that if neither side could survive a first strike with

a retaliatory capability intact, then neither side would have an incentive to order that first strike.4 Any defense system capable of defending either side's major cities was considered to be a negative contribution to the arms race, because once one side had such a defense capability the other side would work until it produced the technology necessary to pierce the system.

At the time that the ABM Treaty was signed, the United States and the Soviet Union were among the only countries with the capability of launching intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles.5 The global climate concerning nuclear weapons has changed considerably since the treaty was ratified. In recent years, smaller nations such as North Korea and Iran have developed nuclear technology. The possibility that the United States may be vulnerable to a nuclear attack from such "rogue states" fueled a desire among both Congress and the Clinton administration to deploy a limited defense system despite the ABM Treaty.

In early June 2000, President Clinton met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the US plan to build a limited defense system in response to the threat from "rogue states." The plan included the construction of 100 interceptor missiles in Alaska to protect the United States from incoming missiles. Russia made it clear during the summit that the proposed missile defense system would constitute a violation of the ABM treaty. Clinton rejected Putin's suggestion that the two nations create a joint Russo-US theater defense system of a much smaller scale than the national system that Clinton proposed.6

Following the summit, the Clinton administration suggested that the ABM Treaty could be interpreted to allow for the initial phases of construction of a limited defense system without violating the terms of the treaty. Article II of the ABM Treaty states that "The ABM System components ... include those which are ... under construction."7 The administration argued that the phrase "under construction" could be interpreted so that the United States could pour the cement on the project without the system actually being "under construction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Opposing Interpretations of an International Treaty: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Controversy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.