No Bush-Putin Agreement on ABM Treaty, Missile Defenses

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

No Bush-Putin Agreement on ABM Treaty, Missile Defenses


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


DURING THREE DAYS of mid-November talks held in Washington and Crawford, Texas, President George W. Bush failed to secure an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin that would let the United States move forward with its missile defense plans without potentially violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Despite what seems to be a growing rapport between Bush and Putin and separate pledges by both presidents to cut their deployed offensive strategic nuclear forces by roughly two-thirds, the two did not appear to narrow their differences over how to reconcile U.S. pursuit of nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses with the 1972 ABM Treaty, which prohibits such defenses. The Bush administration has made clear that it prefers unilateral or joint withdrawal from the treaty in order to pursue missile defenses unfettered, whereas the Kremlin wants to preserve the accord or at least to keep in place some limits on future strategic missile defenses.

Speaking on November 13, the first day of Putin's visit, Bush acknowledged, "We have different points of view about the ABM Treaty."

Two days later, little had changed. When asked by Bush to respond to a student's question about missile defense, Putin told a school audience, "We differ in the ways and means" of addressing future threats.

Yet, the U.S. side downplayed the differences, contending that the U.S.-Russian relationship cannot be undermined by a dispute over a single issue. Bush said, "Our disagreements will not divide us." Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told reporters November 15 that the missile defense issue "is a smaller element of the U.S.Russia relationship than it was several months ago" and that "it's not going to have an effect on the relationship as a whole."

Although speculation existed before the summit that Russia might agree to a deal to modify or suspend the ABM Treaty's prohibitions on testing sea- and air-based components of strategic defenses to forestall a possible U.S. withdrawal from the accord, no such agreement was concluded. The presidents, however, pledged to continue their discussions, and Putin sounded confident about the possibility of reaching an agreement, saying, "One can rest assured that whatever final solution is found, it will not threaten... the interests of both our countries and of the world."

Before traveling to the United States, Putin told U.S. journalists at a November 10 press conference that Moscow is ready to compromise and that a deal can be struck, but he said Russia needs specific U.S. proposals first. For example, with regard to the ABM Treaty, Putin asked, "What exactly [does the United States] want changed? What exactly hinders the implementation of the [missile defense] project devised by the U.S. administration?" Putin explained that Russia needs this type of information "in the practical proposals of our American partners."

While commenting that he "partially" agreed with U.S. officials that the ABM Treaty is a Cold War relic, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said November 3 that "before scrapping one agreement or another.. we believe that this should be better done only after something has been created in the ways of replacement."

Ivanov's comment underscored a key hurdle impeding the two countries from finding common ground on missile defense. Russia wants to fashion the new U.S.-Russian relationship through treaties in which obligations and responsibilities are clearly spelled out and legally binding, whereas the Bush administration asserts that such treaties are unnecessary between countries that are no longer enemies.

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