Missile Defense Consultations Abroad Yield Little Progress

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

Missile Defense Consultations Abroad Yield Little Progress


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


SENIOR BUSH ADMINISTRATION officials dispatched around the globe in early May to consult with foreign capitals about the U.S. intent to deploy missile defenses were asked many questions but were able to provide few answers because Washington still has not formulated specific plans. Foreign leaders welcomed the talks, but most withheld support for the nascent Bush vision of a new strategic framework, preferring to wait until they hear more details.

In a May 1 speech, President George W. Bush explained why he believes the United States needs to deploy missile defenses and "leave behind the constraints" of the AntiBallistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. (See previous page.) But Bush also pledged to consult with other countries, saying that he did not want to present them with "unilateral decisions already made" and that Moscow and Washington should "work together to replace [the ABM Treaty] with a new framework."

Less than a week later, the first of three high-level delegations, soon followed by the other two, traveled abroad for the promised consultations. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly traveled to Asia, while two teams, one headed by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman and the other by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, visited Europe. Over a nine-day span, the delegations visited 19 countries, including Russia and China, and briefed NATO.

At each of their stops, the delegations emphasized two themes: that Washington intended to hold true consultations in which other countries could express their views and that the world has dramatically changed since 1972, when Moscow and Washington signed the ABM Treaty. U.S. officials explained that Russia is no longer an enemy and that new threats arising from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction demand new responses, such as missile defenses. In this new world, the United States wants to "think in a new way about deterrence," Grossman said during his May 9 stop in the Netherlands.

The delegations, however, said missile defenses were only one element of Bush's new strategic framework, which will also include non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, and unilateral nuclear reductions. When pressed on specific details of these elements, particularly missile defenses, all the U.S. delegations demurred, saying it was too early for such discussions.

After briefing NATO on May 8, Grossman said, "The decisions about how, and when, and how much, are still decisions to come and, as we said today, decisions that have not been made in the United States." Similarly, Wolfowitz in Warsaw on May 10 explained, "What we are talking about at the moment is still a concept."

Although Bush made dear in his speech that he sees little utility in the ABM Treaty, the visiting U.S. delegations said its fate had yet to be decided. "There has been no decision about how to deal with the ABM Treaty," Wolfowitz declared May 9 in Paris. Speaking May 11 in Tbilisi, Georgia, Grossman said, "It's very, very important that you understand that there has been no decision to leave the ABM Treaty," though he reiterated that, to create Bush's new framework, "we may need to move beyond the constraints of the ABM Treaty."

At their stops, U.S. officials declined to discuss the reactions and positions of their hosts, but on May 15, Pentagon spokesman Craig Quigley described the responses as "mixed," admitting there was "skepticism from some of the capitals." Quigley also said, however, that there was "some positive reaction" from certain countries, specifically identifying Poland and Australia.

India, a country that has long criticized U.S. strategic policy, described Bush's speech as "highly significant and far-reaching.

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