|One Way To Reduce The Warhead Count!
No Accord in Crawford
by James Hall, From the Left
The president did his best in Crawford, but the compelling strains of country-western music and the delights of chicken-fried
steak didn't budge Vladimir Putin, the president's new soul-mate. Putin took Bush's already-announced pledge to drop America's
nuclear arsenal from around 7,000 warheads to around 2,200, but didn't feel any urge to reciprocate by giving the president
what he wanted, a change in the 1972 ABM Treaty. This leaves the administration in the awkward position of delaying the testing
and acquisition of a missile defense system it made a central part of its 2000 campaign.
Unfortunately for Bush, the fault can be laid directly to that campaign and to the war on terrorism. In 1999, the Bush
campaign announced their willingness to drop the number of strategic warheads to around 2,400 or so, subject to Pentagon review.
The campaign made a big deal about doing so unilaterally, even though previous reductions had been based on negotiations
with the Soviets--SALT, START I and II--and the Clinton administration was in the middle of negotiations on START III, which
would have covered reductions with the Russian Federation.
The Bush people felt that they had the Russians at a disadvantage and didn't need to bargain. The Russian Federation
desperately needed to cut back on its 6,800 ready nuclear weapons to save money for other military programs, in particular
the war in Chechnya. Bush also had ideological support from his party to go so far as to just cancel the ABM Treaty if the
Russians refused to renegotiate it, based on a legal technicality--that the Russian Federation is no longer being the Soviet
Union. (Though of course we continue to honor other treaties signed by the Soviets that are to our advantage.)
But the events of September 11 changed all that. Suddenly the Russians were among our most important supporters, and
we needed their help to gain access to air bases in Tajikstan and Uzbekistan, gather intelligence, and to provide weapons
for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Tearing up the ABM Treaty and risking Russian anger no longer made sense. The
Russians, who had nothing to give the Bush campaign in 1999, have a lot to give the Bush administration in 2001.
Had the Bush people played their cards closer to their vests, had they not announced ahead of time their decision to unilaterally
reduce the American nuclear arsenal, they might have been able to trade the nuclear arsenal reductions that Putin wants for
changes in the ABM Treaty that Bush wants. As it is, they've needlessly complicated things for themselves. By hesitating
and publicly announcing that they won't conduct tests of ABMs that might violate the treaty, they're abandoning the legalistic
argument they were ready to use--that the ABM Treaty no longer applies.
Now they're in a position where they've publicly acknowledged that the ABM Treaty still applies, and fear to break it
lest they anger the Russians and lose their support for the terrorist war. Perhaps candidate Bush should have taken to the
example of President Reagan, who always insisted on a quid pro quo before giving anything to the Soviets, and who never took
his close personal relationship with Premier Gorbachev as state policy. "Trust, but verify," was always Reagan's
motto, while Bush appears eager just to trust his friend Putin.
Now it remains to be seen just when Bush will give the green light to the Pentagon to begin the tests of the ABM system
and start construction on the radar installations, each of which would constitute a break in the ABM Treaty. Those tests
and installations are a necessary component of a system that the president wants ready at least in part by 2004, and which
will likely take years to perfect or complete. The Bush administration is now left with the difficult choice of pushing the
Russians into making changes in the Treaty, offering them something they want--like a substantial increase in American aid,
or alienating them by going ahead with an ABM shield at the cost of their significant support in a war against terrorism.
So it appears that Putin and the Russians can play President Bush--nod and smile and joke with our Commander in Chief,
while putting themselves in a position to delay and frustrate him on a campaign promise dear to his primary constituency's
heart, the wall of missiles he promised would be in place before 2004. The bitter fruits of his campaign's foreign policy
unilateralism have now ripened.
Who expected the Crawford Accord? Only the man who needed it badly--George W. Bush. The man who pulled out all the stops
to talk his buddy into easing back the 1972 ABM Treaty, but ended up with no promise after all.
If Bush doesn't intend to honor the ABM Treaty and stay in the good graces of the Russian Federation, why have Donald
Rumsfeld announce the postponement of testing to honor the Treaty? When Rumsfeld did so, he undercut the ideological arguments
of Jesse Helms, et al, that the Treaty didn't exist, because the Soviet Union didn't exist. Nobody keeps treaties with ghosts--unless
they aren't ghosts after all.
The fact of the matter is that the Russians have acquired political capital, and want to spend it delaying and even killing
the American ABM program. Why? It's in their interest to do so. A missile shield that starts out defending against a rogue
nation attack can be readily increased to create Reagan's dream shield capable of stopping any and all missile attacks. Putin
surely understands this and is taking his buddy along for a ride, getting him to postpone and delay the testing and developing
a shield until it's too late to implement it.
George W. Bush has always run his political campaigns on his ability to deliver on his promises. If the Russians successfully
delay him, it will prove impossible to get back on track with his goal to have at least a minimal system working by 2004--in
time for his reelection campaign. And that might well contribute to a second term loss. What a terrible thing for one friend
to do to another--but then what else do you expect from a KGB guy?
James Hall, From the Left