Bush Announces U.S. Intent to Withdraw from ABM Treaty

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CLAIMING THAT THE Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty prevents the United States from protecting itself against terrorist and rogue-state missile attacks, President George W. Bush announced December 13 that the United States would withdraw from the treaty in six months. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the leader of the only other state-party to the treaty, seemed resigned to the action, calling it "mistaken" but also declaring it did not threaten Russia or imperil future U.S.-Russian relations.

Flanked by his top security advisers at the White House Rose Garden, Bush repeated his administration's nearly year-long contention that the ABM Treaty, which prohibits Washington and Moscow from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, is outdated because today's threats differ drastically from when the two superpowers signed the accord in 1972. At that time, the United States and the Soviet Union posed the greatest threat to each other's security, but Bush argued that is no longer the case, saying terrorism and rogue states now pose the most danger.

Although agreeing in 1972 that the ABM Treaty should be of "unlimited duration," Moscow and Washington included a provision for either party to withdraw if "extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." In such a case, the treaty requires six months' notice of that stateparty's intention to withdraw, including a statement of the "extraordinary events."

The United States sent the required note to Russia, as well as to Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the day of Bush's announcement. The note declared that some countries and nonstate entities "are actively seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction" and long-range ballistic missiles and that "it is clear, and has recently been demonstrated, that some of these entities are prepared to employ these weapons against the United States." (See p. 21 for full text of the note.)

To protect against an attack "without warning," Bush declared in his statement that the United States needed the "freedom and flexibility" to build missile defenses. "I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses," the president said. Unless Bush reverses his decision, the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States on June 13.

Bush, who reportedly called Putin on December 7 to inform him of an imminent withdrawal announcement, asserted that the U.S. decision to pull out of the treaty should not impair forging closer ties with Russia. In addition to citing continuing cooperation in the war on terrorism and a November 13 U.S. pledge to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear stockpile to no more than 2,200 warheads, Bush said that he and Putin agreed U.S. withdrawal would not "in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security."

Speaking the day of the announcement, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested that, with the treaty essentially out of the way, development of a new U.S.-Russian relationship is more likely because the announcement removed "a sticking point that's just been sitting there for this period of time." Rumsfeld has been the administration's most outspoken opponent of the treaty.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is thought to have been the least supportive among top Bush officials of a unilateral U.S. treaty withdrawal, dismissed fears of possible arms races with either Russia or China. On December 13, he explained that U.S. defenses are not directed at Moscow or Beijing but at "irresponsible" rogue states. He also said that the United States and Russia would hold negotiations to put the new strategic framework, including the proposed strategic reductions, into "some legal form."

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Putin assured the Russian public in a national television address the day of Bush's announcement that the U. …