As luck had it, I had the chance to visit briefly with the President
ten 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 Ivanov.
Perhaps we are making considerable "progress." I am worried,
however, that the "progress" we are making appears increasingly to be in the
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 inter-operable. Our systems could be interconnected. It makes a lot of
Actually, it only makes sense if you make several dubious
First, you have to believe that 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 seventeen 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
Second, you have to think that 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.
Third, you have to believe that American military officers and
defense-minded congressional leaders already anxious about the adequacy of
Bush Administration spending on the promised rebuilding of the military will
be happier if money is being spent buying Russian hardware than U.S.
equipment. This is all the less likely if reports in [yesterday's]
Washington Times prove correct, namely that the lion's share of the
projected infusion of some $30 billion in additional funding for the
Pentagon is earmarked for necessary improvements in medical care and housing
for the armed forces -- leaving practically nothing for needed procurement
of modern weapons.
Even if the acquisition of Russian S-300 missiles at the cost of
untold millions of dollars made strategic sense, such investments will face
tough sledding at home to the extent that they come at the expense of the
production of domestic anti-missile systems, to say nothing of ships, planes
and armored vehicles that enjoy higher priority among the JCS and in some
quarters on Capitol Hill.
Fourth, you have to ignore the fact that the Russians already have a
territorial defense against ballistic missile attack. Their S-300s are
upgraded versions of the nuclear-capable SA-10 surface-to-air missiles,
thousands of which have been deployed across the former Soviet Union. When
integrated with many older SA-5 SAMs, a number of large missile-detection
and -tracking radars and an up-to-date ABM complex around Moscow, the
Kremlin is in the enviable position of denouncing our prospective national
missile defense system while preserving (in fact, while modernizing) its own
Finally, you have to assume that the new Democratic leadership of
the Senate will be more willing to support the President's missile defense
program if given an opportunity to slow, encumber or otherwise derail it.
There is no evidence to support this thesis. To the contrary, Senators Tom
Daschle, Carl Levin and Joe Biden -- the new Majority Leader and the
presumptive chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees,
respectively -- have been vocal opponents of efforts to defend America
against missile attack since long before Mr. Bush came to town. All they
need do to prevail now is to maintain the status quo of no anti-missile
deployments and they will seize any chance afforded them to do just that.
In short, President Bush has a choice to make. He can make further
"progress" on missile defense by heeding the advice and respecting the
sensibilities of those who have kept this nation defenseless against missile
attack to this point. Or he can make the only kind of progress that matters
-- by initiating deployments forthwith, first from the sea (as he intimated
in his address last Friday at Annapolis was his intention), and pursuing
thereafter whatever cooperation makes sense with the Russians and whatever
dialogue is constructive with the allies and congressional Democrats.
The difference between the two approaches may determine whether the
United States deploys effective anti-missile systems before we need them, or
only after we do.