Coup De Grace

By Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr. | Arms Control Today, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Coup De Grace


Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr., Arms Control Today


The Democrats' recapture of the Senate may well have administered the coup de grace to President George W. Bush's plan to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as the first step toward a robust national missile defense (NMD) in a world without arms control. Even before Senator James Jeffords' courageous act of conscience, international opposition to Bush's strategic vision was almost unanimous despite frantic administration efforts to win allied and world support, or at least acquiescence. Suddenly, instead of having a Senate controlled by extreme right-wing Republicans exhorting him to ignore foreign objections, Bush will have a Senate dominated by Democrats who share many of the same concerns.

In his May 1 speech at National Defense University, Bush reaffirmed his campaign rhetoric to reject the arms control regime built up over the past 30 years and to replace it with a system of military laissez-faire in which complete freedom of action would presumably result in the most security for the United States. In place of arms control agreements, the Bush doctrine would call for unspecified unilateral reductions in strategic offensive weapons. Unlike treaties, such unilateral actions could be arbitrarily changed at any time and, lacking verification measures, would not add to predictability or stability.

Alarmed at the continuing failure to line up foreign support, Bush followed up his speech with the dispatch of teams of senior officials to "consult" all interested parties but with the understanding that the United States would replace the ABM Treaty regardless of their views. Not surprisingly, all reports indicate that these mock "consultations" were generally counterproductive. NATO could not even be persuaded to give a nod in support of the U.S. position.

Top Russian officials expressed the common complaint that the emissaries and high-level officials in Washington were unable to provide any additional information on such critical issues as the threat justifying this precipitous action, the "replacement" for the ABM Treaty, or the unilateral actions that would replace the START process. In short, Bush essentially asked the rest of the world to give the United States a blank check to do whatever it wishes.

On the home front, in addition to growing skepticism from the media and Democratic members of Congress, Bush's vision encountered opposition from two unanticipated sources: technical reality and the military. Bush's inner circle was apparently surprised to discover that there is nothing remotely close to deployment and that the layered defense they proposed could not be operational for a decade or more. …

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