On October 21, Russia and the People's Republic of China turned to the United Nations with a simple demand. They are asking the U.N. to force the United States to cease attempts to defend itself.1
What President Clinton will do about this, if anything, is unclear.
The President has for years been of two minds about U.S. efforts to defend U.S. civilians against nuclear attack. He has long said that he does not oppose a missile defense program, but, not long after taking office in 1993, he cancelled a program to develop and deploy such a defense.
More recently, in July 1999, the President signed the National Defense Act, which requires deployment of a missile defense system "as soon as technologically possible." Immediately after signing this bill into law, however, the President released a statement saying that he had yet to decide to approve - or not - deployment of a missile defense system.2
Russia and China have now upped the ante in the missile defense debate, submitting a resolution to the United Nations calling for strict U.S. compliance with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which bans a nationwide anti-missile defense system in both the United States and the Soviet Union.
In pushing for enforcement of the ABM treaty against America, however, Russia and China are choosing to ignore one very critical fact: the ABM treaty is no longer valid because one of the only two nations to sign it no longer exists.
"Fifteen states emerged from the former Soviet Union in 1991," writes missile defense expert Baker Spring of The Heritage Foundation in Washington. "None of the states, including Russia, is capable - alone, or with any of the others - of assuming the Soviet Union's ABM treaty obligations."3
In other words, the ABM Treaty is null and void, so the U.S. is free to protect civilians in their homes from incoming nuclear missiles.
Some arms control advocates have been reluctant to embrace this fact, apparently because they are so tied to the notion that arms control treaties are good that they can't stand to give one up, even if circumstances have changed and getting rid of an archaic treaty could save millions of lives.
Reflecting this odd, potentially tragic but pervasive thinking among the arms control establishment, President Clinton as late as May 1998 insisted that the ABM Treaty is still in effect. But he may have changed his mind. In a February 10, 1999 report to Congress, the Administration relayed its view that no foreign nations are now a party to the ABM Treaty.4
In other words, the only remaining ABM Treaty signer is the United States, so it is up to us to decide whether or not we should remain bound by its terms.
The arguments for building a missile defense system are compelling:
* According to the 1999 Cox Report, China could begin deployment of nuclear missiles with a 5,000-mile range by 2002, which would permit China to stage or threaten a nuclear attack in the Pacific Northwest. By 2005, China may have nuclear missiles with an 8,000-mile range, capable of reaching almost the entire U.S.5 China's development of these missiles, which very likely are being built with U.S. technology, goes a long way toward explaining China's antipathy toward a U.S. defense against missile attacks.
* Civil conflict in Russia could result in an accidental launch of nuclear missiles,6 or Russia's government could change for the worse.
* Nations hostile to the United States, including Iran and North Korea, could build nuclear missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland within five years. Furthermore, because weapons inspections in Iraq have precipitously declined, Iraq could have this capability in five years as well.7
* Technology exports, both intentional and inadvertent, from Russia, the U.S., Europe, China and elsewhere are giving more and more nations the ability to build weapons of mass destruction. These weapons are very attractive to many small nations because, compared to the cost of maintaining armies, navies and air forces, building ballistic missiles is cheap.
The United Nations in recent years has taken for itself more and more responsibility, but, even if the U.N. decides to go along with Russia and China and tries to forbid the United States from defending itself, the United States does not have to comply.
President Clinton is known to be looking for a legacy, something monumentally
positive to overcome the stain of impeachment upon his presidency. Should
this President reject the pleas of foreign nations - nations, not incidentally,
with missiles pointing in our direction - and move decisively to protect
hundreds of millions of Americans from nuclear attack, he will be making
a very substantial, positive contribution to his position in history.
1 Bill Gertz, "U.S. Missile Plan Hits Roadblock: Russia, China Join in Opposition," The Washington Times, October 22, 1999, p. A1.
2 Baker Spring, "The President on National Missile Defense: Of Two Minds and No Commitment," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 616, July 30, 1999.
3 Baker Spring, "The ABM Treaty with Russia: The Treaty that Never Was," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 610, July 6, 1999.
4 Spring, July 6, 1999.
5 Richard D. Fisher, Jr. and Baker Spring, "China's Nuclear and Missile Espionage Heightens the Need for Missile Defense," Executive Summary, Heritage Foundation Background No. 1303, July 2, 1999.
6 Dr. Barry Blechman, chairman and co-founder, Henry Stimson Center, former Assistant Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1977-80), remarks to The Heritage Foundation, October 6, 1998, reported in Heritage Foundation Heritage Lectures, No. 632, February 1, 1999.
7 Blechman, February 1, 1999.
Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.