October 12, 2000

U.S. Withdrawal from the ABM Treaty


U.S. Withdrawal from the ABM Treaty

Russian Duma Bill of Ratification of START II Treaty
Adopted April 14, 2000
Article 2
Extraordinary events giving the Russian Federation the right to withdraw from the Treaty in exercising its national sovereignty and in compliance with Article VI of the START II Treaty shall be:
2) the United States of America's withdrawal from the Treaty Between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, done at Moscow on May 26, 1972, hereinafter referred to as the ABM Treaty, or the infringement of the aforesaid Treaty and respective agreements

The ABM Treaty was signed on May 26, 1972, at the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The primary purpose was to restrict each country's ability to build national anti-missile systems. The treaty limited both parties to two centralized systems of no more than 780 miles in diameter with the capital being the center of one (Article III). Commitment to the ABM was officially assumed by the Russian Federation in 1991.

Russia's steadfast belief in the importance of the ABM Treaty and its concern about a U.S. withdrawal were apparent when it ratified START II. President Putin has not been shy when it comes to voicing Russia's position against the National Missile Defense shield (NMD) and the consequences of withdrawing from or violating the ABM. Additionally, Putin has repeatedly pointed out that the greatest threat to the global community is international terrorism, a beast that does not employ conventional methods of attack. Systems such as the NMD are useless against this threat. The NMD would not have been capable of changing the events of September 11, 2001, nor would it be of any use in combating a biological attack.

On March 6, 2001, President Putin told Interfax, "The ABM Treaty is like an axle to which a number of agreements on international security are attached. If we remove this axle, those agreements will automatically fall apart, destroying the entire present-day security system." In accordance with the Law on the Ratification of the START II Treaty by the Russian parliament, Putin continued, that treaty is to be applied only if the ABM Treaty is being observed. Consequently, if the ABM Treaty is violated, Russia, automatically and in accordance with the law, "will not have to observe the quantitative limitations in the sphere of missile defense."

Early in 2001, Russia offered a counter proposal to the NMD. The creation of a mobile rapid missile reaction force would not violate the AMB and could be deployed by any region or country where a credible missile threat exists. Such action would be a final resort and used only when diplomatic measures have failed. Moscow does not concur with Washington's evaluation regarding the immediate nature of a missile threat from, so called, rogue nations. It maintains that political, diplomatic and/or economic measures are still the most promising means by which to neutralize future threats.

On October 21, 2001, Putin and Bush met in Shanghai. Putin presented a proposal to Bush that would allow the U.S. to conduct missile tests for a specified period of time and allow for Russian observation and certain level of approval. This was totally unacceptable to the U.S.

During the week prior to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in November, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld visited Putin in Moscow. Putin stated, once again, that he would not approve of giving the U.S. carte blanche in terms of missile testing. Rumsfeld then stated that this gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw from the ABM. During the same visit, Rumsfeld met with Putin's security advisor to discuss whether the announcement should come before or after Putin's visit to the U.S.

On Nov. 12, the day after President Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly and just prior to Putin's visit, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with top Russian officials in New York. Rice led the meeting stating that if Russia did not allow the U.S. complete latitude in developing the NMD, they would pull out of the ABM. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov asked, "In your mind, what are the chances that we would accept a deal like that?" Rice said she thought it was a good deal for Russia. Ivanov said nothing. (WP)

Critics have suggested that any gestures on the part of the Bush administration to reconcile the AMB issue with Russia were disingenuous. They cite the fact that during the Bush presidential campaign, candidate Bush stated that he proposed to eliminate the ABM Treaty during a speech at The Citadel (Sept. 1999).

The Kremlin has been silent regarding the official Bush announcement of withdrawal from the ABM. However, the Duma's foreign affairs committee chairman, Dmitry Rogozin, said, "Now Russia's hands are untied concerning START I and START II . . . Russia will opt to preserve and develop its heavy strategic rockets which will be loaded with multiple warheads, something that had been banned by START II." (AFP)

The Duma's deputy speaker, Vladimir Lukin, pointed out that relations between the U.S. and Russia have improved but that this is one issue on which the two will never totally agree. He, also, expressed disappointment in the upcoming announcement and had this to say about the current actions in Afghanistan; "We supported the U.S. unconditionally, we worked, we shared all sort of very sensitive data to do with combating terrorism. What happened after that is the moment we scored the victory, this line prevailed in the U.S.: 'Thanks, but in matters concerning both of us, we will be acting the way we want.' " (WP) He went on to say that he believes that future relations with the U.S. will be poor.

President Bush justifies the need for the NMD and, thus, withdrawal from the ABM, on the perceived missile threat from rogue nations such as N. Korea and Iran. He has also stated that the ABM is an antiquated Cold War relic which is no longer relevant since Russia does not present the threat that the Soviet Union did to U.S. security.

Since September 11, opponents to the U.S. withdrawal have pointed out that the timing of the pull-out is bad. With the need for an international coalition against global terrorism, upsetting nations such as Russia and China is not seen as being wise. Those questioning this action include some NATO allies, Congressional Democrats and even Secretary of State Colin Powell.

As for Moscow's threats of future stockpiling, many U.S. analysts think this is a smokescreen because Russia simply does not have the economic means by which to accomplish this. These analysts also believe that Russia is hanging on to the ABM simply because it is the last active international mechanism of the old Soviet superpower.

On December 13, 2001, at roughly 10 am ET, President Bush stepped out of the White House to officially announce his withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. At 0930GMT, a document announcing Bush's official decision was delivered to officials in Moscow. Similar official notice was delivered in writing at 1400GMT to Ukraine, Kazakstan and Belarus. These former Soviet states had signed a memoranda binding them to the ABM during the Clinton presidency.

The U.S. withdrawal will be effective in six months, as per the treaty. During Bush's speech, he said, "I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks. Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses." (AP)

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ivanov and Secretary of State Powell have been instructed by their respective governments to draft up the provisions for further arms reduction to be presented next spring when Bush visits Russia. Time will tell if this will be possible in light of the disbandment of the ABM Treaty.

See Chronology of Nuclear Standoff

Transcript: Bush Withdraws From ABM Treaty
Text of President Putin's Response

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