Bush Pushes New Strategic Framework, Missile Defenses

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Bush Pushes New Strategic Framework, Missile Defenses


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


INA MAY 1 speech at National Defense University, President George W Bush said that the United States "must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty" and replace it with a "new framework." Bush offered few details about what such a strategic framework would look like, but he reaffirmed his intention to deploy ballistic missile defenses and further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Arguing that, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world today is "vastly different" than when the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was signed in 1972, Bush said U.S. security needs to be "based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us." Negotiated by President Richard Nixon with the Soviet Union, the ABM Treaty proscribed nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles and barred the development, testing, and deployment of sea-, air-, space- and mobile land-based ABM systems or components. Without nationwide defenses, both countries had confidence that the other would not risk a nuclear attack, knowing that it would be vulnerable to a retaliatory strike.

In addition to barring the United States from "exploring all [missile defense] options," Bush charged in his speech that the ABM Treaty "perpetuates a relationship [with Russia] based on distrust and mutual vulnerability" and therefore must be replaced. The president did not detail what should replace the treaty, except to say that the resulting relationship with Russia should be "reassuring, rather than threatening."

The alternative to the ABM Treaty "might be a framework, might be another treaty," Secretary of State Colin Powell ventured in a May 14 interview with CNN. "We're not sure what it is yet. We are not foreclosing any option," he said.

Bush did not repeat his campaign statement that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty if Russia refused to negotiate amendments to permit a U.S. strategic ballistic missile defense. Nevertheless, he and other administration officials have made it clear that they do not think the accord is useful to U.S. security.

Prior to Bush's speech, a top State Department official told the Danish parliament on April 25, "We believe the ABM Treaty will have to be replaced, eliminated, or changed in a fundamental way." When asked on May 11 whether the United States may in the end continue the treaty, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher answered, "I don't think we have raised that possibility." He later added, "We have come to the conclusion that this treaty is outdated and not important or relevant to the current strategic situation."

A key characteristic of the current strategic situation, according to the administration, is that, unlike the Soviet Union, so-called rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles, such as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, may not be deterred from attacking the United States by the prospect of U.S. nuclear retaliation.

Without missile defenses, the president argued, the United States and others could be susceptible to nuclear blackmail by rogue states. Citing Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the president said the international community would have "faced a very different situation" if Baghdad had possessed a nuclear weapon, implying that U.S. efforts to form a coalition to evict Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait would have been a much more difficult task or would have failed because of the significantly higher stakes of intervening.

To guard against these new post-Cold War threats, as well as to protect against accidental launches of strategic ballistic missiles, Bush said his administration, "working with Congress," would deploy missile defenses. The president noted he had already charged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with exploring "all available technologies and basing modes" for effective missile defenses in order to protect the United States, its deployed forces, and U. …

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