ABM Treaty: Good riddance!

Posted: Dec 19, 2001 12:00 AM
The wisdom of President Bush's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is perhaps best demonstrated by reference to those opposing it and their arguments. Who do you suppose is upset by the president's decision? Try China, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the United Nations, the Union for Concerned Scientists, the Council for a Livable World, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and liberals, North Korea, Mikhail Gorbachev and Russia. Their principal objections are that it will rekindle a nuclear arms race, it will cost too much; it won't work, it won't help against a terrorist attack and it will antagonize Russia. Plus, Ronald Reagan was committed to the idea, which means it must be flawed, strategically and morally. There is nothing in logic or experience that suggests that our withdrawal from the treaty will spur worldwide nuclear proliferation. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had the best response for this one. Since the signing of the treaty 30 years ago, "the numbers of weapons soared, and here we are without an arms-control agreement and they're declining by thousands. I think that's not a bad lesson," he said. Besides, do we really think that China and other rogue nations will go forward with their nuclear programs only if we continue our missile defense plans? Did our adherence to the treaty keep China from stealing our nuclear secrets? But opponents argue that if we develop an effective missile-defense system (which, ironically, they say is next to impossible) we will be invulnerable to attack and in a position to destroy or impose our will on other nations. So they will scramble to build even more weapons to overcome our defenses. It may be well for us to consider our track record and our character as a nation. When we were the only nation with the bomb following World War II, we did not inaugurate an age of imperialism and threaten to annihilate any nations that didn't bend to our will. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union violated the treaty at will and developed missile-defense systems to the limits of their scientific capabilities. The next objection is that such a system will cost too much. Sure it will be expensive, but we won't know how much until we get further into it. But, especially considering recent events, it's difficult to understand how opponents can place such a small value on our liberty and security. How about the argument that it won't work? The fact that we haven't perfected the system yet does not mean we can't. I have no doubt we can – despite our failures, we have had some very encouraging successes. I am convinced that the naysayers fear we can do it, too – otherwise, they wouldn't be going so ballistic (pun intended) about us starting a new arms race. Also, withdrawal from the treaty will free us to conduct more meaningful testing and expedite the development of the system. What about the contention that the terrorist attack proves that missile defense won't protect us? To the contrary, the attack reinforces the truism that there are evil people in the world willing to kill us. That they will do so with our own airplanes or suitcase nukes doesn't mean they or rogue nations won't use ballistic missiles next time. Finally, they say that rejecting the treaty will antagonize the Russians and undermine their support for our war on terrorism. The handwringers warned that Reagan was wrong to call the Soviet Union an evil empire, too, and in not abandoning SDI at the Reykjavik arms talks. They were abundantly wrong then and are wrong now. Notwithstanding Bush's decision, our relationship with Russia is better than it's ever been – thanks to Bush. Putin knows we have no aggressive aims and are even offering to reduce our offensive stockpiles. And with radical Muslims at Russia's doorstep, she has every bit as much reason to fight terror as we do. Since none of their arguments is persuasive, I have to believe their opposition is rooted in their ideology – apart from the evidence. Just as they are willfully blind to the evidence that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens saves more lives than it endangers, they can't countenance the concept of a benevolent United States with global nuclear superiority, much less invulnerability. What about this nation do they fundamentally distrust? What about other rogue and tyrannical nations do they fundamentally trust? Regardless of their real or professed objections, President Bush did the right thing. Not to pursue every means available to defend ourselves borders on the suicidal.