Brookings Beware: Strobe's Light Is dim.(EDITORIALS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Brookings Beware: Strobe's Light Is dim.(EDITORIALS)


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On July 1, Strobe Talbott, the self-styled arms-control expert for more than a quarter-century, assumed the presidency of the Brookings Institution. As it happens, Mr. Talbott's arrival at Brookings occurred within six weeks of two momentous events in arms-control history. And as the historical record indisputably demonstrates, Mr. Talbott had spent the better part of his adult life insisting that these essentially simultaneous arms-control developments could never happen in tandem. Rarely in human history, it is fair to say, has one man been so wrong about so many facets of such an important issue in international relations.

The two recent developments that must so baffle Mr. Talbott were these: On May 24, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an arms-reduction treaty that would slash long-range (i.e., strategic) nuclear warheads by two-thirds. Over 10 years, the pact will reduce the operational deployment of these weapons from the roughly 6,000 strategic warheads in each arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200. Three weeks later, on June 13, the United States, having given the requisite six-months notice in December, formally and unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Two days later, the United States broke ground in Alaska for silos to house ABM interceptors, beginning what Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has described as the "robust development" of a land-, sea-, air- and space-based program to "deploy effective layered defenses."

That was not the first time that arms-control realities utterly disproved Mr. Talbott's theories and arguments. In fact, developments over the past 15 years, beginning with the 1987 signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, have repeatedly confirmed the prescience and the wisdom of the arms-reductions policies pursued by President Ronald Reagan, whom Mr. Talbott incessantly criticized and ridiculed in Time magazine articles and in his 1984 book, "Deadly Gambits."

The ABM Treaty, which now joins the Soviet Union on the ash heap of history, was the indispensable document that Mr. Talbott had relentlessly characterized as the "cornerstone" and the "foundation" of strategic stability during his eight years in the Clinton administration. Not surprisingly, the Russians felt likewise. During a White House briefing in Moscow in June 2000, Mr. Talbott, having long been in the habit of taking everything the Russians assert in negotiations as immutable, thusly summarized the Russian position relating to the relatively small changes in the ABM Treaty being sought by President Clinton: "President Putin made absolutely clear to President Clinton that Russia," Mr. Talbott told the press, "believes that [national missile defense] will undermine strategic stability, threaten Russia's strategic deterrent and provoke a new arms race." In other words, a blustery Mr. Putin was huffing and puffing in 2000 in the same way that Mr. Talbott had been huffing and puffing in a Time article dated the day Mr. Reagan was inaugurated for a second term: "If Reagan holds firm on Star Wars, he might as well abandon his pursuit of drastic reductions in existing Soviet weaponry." Mr. Talbott could hardly have been more wrong.

Less than three years after Mr. Talbott wrote those words, Mr. Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty, completely vindicating Mr. Reagan's negotiating strategy. That treaty required the destruction of all Soviet and U.S. intermediate-range missiles, essentially embracing Mr. Reagan's "zero option," which Mr. Talbott had spent more than six years criticizing. Gone were the 405 triple-warhead SS-20s the Soviets had aimed at Asian and Western European targets, as well as the Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles NATO had deployed in December 1983 in response to the SS-20s. …

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