Which Way on Missile Defense?

By Gaffney, Frank, Jr. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Which Way on Missile Defense?


Gaffney, Frank, Jr., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


As luck had it, I had the chance to visit briefly with the president 10 days ago on the question of missile defense.I thanked him for his leadership on this front but warned him that I was concerned the initiative was getting away from him. He responded confidently, "Actually, we are making more progress than you might think" and cited as an example his conversation earlier that day with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Perhaps we are making considerable "progress." I am worried, however, that the "progress" we are making appears increasingly to be in the wrong direction.

This concern has only been aggravated by reports in recent days in the New York Times to the effect that Mr. Bush's administration has decided to try to "buy" Russia's support for his pursuit of protection against ballistic missile attack for the nation, its forces overseas and allies. The paper actually quoted "one senior White House official" as saying "If we are going to make this work, the Russians have to agree to the plan."

Specifically, the Bush team is said to have made an offer to share with Russia early warning information, to conduct joint anti-missile exercises and to purchase Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. A "senior administration official" told the Times: "Think of it as exercising their missile defense with ours, to see whether they could be made interoperable. Our systems could be interconnected. It makes a lot of sense."

Actually, it only makes sense if you make several dubious assumptions.

First, you have to believe the Russians will be more accommodating if they think the United States will only proceed with missile defenses if they approve, than would be the case if the Kremlin knows it has no say in the matter. In fact, for most of the past 17 years, successive American administrations have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Moscow to accede to U.S. anti-missile deployments. This experience suggests that if in the future, as in the past, we accord Russia a de facto veto over our missile defense programs, they will happily exercise it.

As the New York Times noted: "The evolving strategy is in strong contrast to that of the administration's early weeks, when Mr. Bush and his national security aides said they were preparing to speed ahead alone to undo the [1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty." In fact, the first approach was the right one. The only hope for making the Russians (and, for that matter, our allies) tractable is to persuade them that the United States is going to do whatever is required to defend itself, whether others concur or not.

Second, you have to think collaboration with the Russians on missile defense systems will not result in the compromise of U.S. anti-missile technologies. In fact, at the very least, the Kremlin will use any insights garnered from joint exercises and missile-sharing programs to improve the ability of their ballistic missiles to overcome such defenses. We may or may not worry about improved penetration capabilities being in Russian hands. We cannot ignore, however, the virtual certainty that these capabilities will be shared in short order with the many countries Moscow views as clients from China to Iran, from North Korea to Libya to whom it is feverishly proliferating its missile technologies. …

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