Bush Administration Aims to Get Rid of ABM Treaty

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

Bush Administration Aims to Get Rid of ABM Treaty


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


ALTHOUGH SOME BUSH administration officials have claimed that the administration has not ruled out amending the AntiBallistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit U.S. ballistic missile defenses, most official statements over the summer have made clear that this administration is not interested in preserving the treaty in any form or codifying future constraints on missile defenses.

President George W. Bush vowed during his campaign to seek changes to the 1972 ABM Treaty, which forbids Washington and Moscow from deploying nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, by offering amendments to Russia that would enable the United States to field defenses against long-range missile attacks. If the Kremlin rejected the amendments, Bush said he would withdraw from the treaty, giving the required six-month notice.

Since taking office, however, Bush and his senior officials have said almost nothing about amending the accord. Bush declared August 15 that building defenses to protect the United States from missile attacks would require "getting rid of the ABM Treaty once and for all."

When a reporter suggested July 16 that a "notion" existed that the administration would try to amend the treaty, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher replied, "I think if you look back, you will not find that in the lexicon of the new administration."

Instead, the administration has repeatedly declared it wants to "move beyond" or "set aside" the ABM Treaty. Yet it has remained vague about what such terms would entail. Suggesting that amendments are not part of that approach, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice explained July 13, "This is not about lining in, lining out the ABM Treaty." A day earlier, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified before a Senate hearing, "We have either got to withdraw from [the treaty] or replace it." However, he later maintained at a July 17 hearing that amending the treaty was still an option.

In place of the treaty, Bush has proposed to Russia creating a new "strategic framework," which would, among other things, permit missile defenses and include nuclear reductions. (See p. 23.) If Moscow refuses to work with the United States, the administration says it will withdraw from the ABM Treaty and push ahead with missile defenses alone.

Administration officials have voiced a preference for the new framework to be an "understanding" that is not legally binding. "We don't see the need for a treaty regime here," Rice said July 23, claiming the outcome should be more along the lines of "something that looks more like defense planning talks." The administration's preferred course of action, officially, is either to withdraw with Russia from the accord mutually or to issue a joint political declaration stating missile defenses are permissible.

Administration Discusses ABM Treaty

Unveiling plans in mid-July to explore missile defenses that are sea-, air-, and space-based, the Bush administration declared its proposed missile defense testing programs would come into conflict with the ABM Treaty in "months, not years." It later added that a violation would not occur before the end of September. The treaty prohibits the development, testing, and deployment of strategic missile defense systems and components that are air-, sea-, space-, and mobile-land based.

Administration officials contend the ABM Treaty, which they decry as a Cold War relic, has kept the United States defenseless against long-range missile attacks by preventing research and development of promising technologies. …

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