Farewell to the ABM Treaty

by David Krieger

Without a vote of the United States Congress and over the objections of Russia and most US allies, George W. Bush has unilaterally withdrawn the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, rendering it void. His withdrawal from this solemn treaty obligation became effective today, June 13, 2002.

Bush’s action is being challenged in US federal court by 32 members of Congress, led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI). We should be thankful that there are still members of Congress with the courage and belief in democracy to challenge such abuse of presidential power.

Since becoming president, Bush has waged a campaign against international law. Withdrawal from the ABM Treaty is but one of a series of assaults he has made, including pulling out of the Kyoto Accords on Climate Change, withdrawal of the US from the treaty creating an International Criminal Court, opposing a Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention that would allow for inspections and verification, and failing to fulfill US obligations related to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Bush told the American people that he was withdrawing from the ABM Treaty so that the US could proceed with the deployment of missile defenses defenses that most independent experts believe are incapable of actually providing defense. The president has traded a long-standing and important arms control treaty for the possibility that there might be a technological fix for nuclear dangers that would allow the US to threaten, but not be threatened by, nuclear weapons. In doing so, he has pulled another brick from the foundation of international law and created conditions that will undoubtedly make the US and the rest of the world less secure. He has also moved toward establishing an imperial presidency, unfettered by such constitutional restraints as the separation of powers.

In 1972, when the US and USSR agreed to a treaty limiting anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, they did so for good reasons, which are described below in the Preamble to the treaty to which I have added some comments.

Proceeding from the premise that nuclear war would have devastating consequences for all mankind, [Nothing has changed here, except that 30 years later we might better use the term "humankind."]

Considering that effective measures to limit anti-ballistic missile systems would be a substantial factor in curbing the race in strategic offensive arms and would lead to a decrease in the risk of outbreak of war involving nuclear weapons, [This relationship between offensive and defensive systems still holds true.]

Proceeding from the premise that the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems, as well as certain agreed measures with respect to the limitation of strategic offensive arms, would contribute to the creation of more favorable conditions for further negotiations on limiting strategic arms, [The recent treaty signed by Bush and Putin only applies limits to actively deployed nuclear weapons and at levels high enough to still destroy civilization and most life on the planet.]

Mindful of their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, [The United States under the Bush administration has been contemptuous of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Article VI obligations to achieve nuclear disarmament.]

Declaring their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to take effective measures toward reductions in strategic arms, nuclear disarmament, and general and complete disarmament, [These promises remain largely unfulfilled 30 years later.]

Desiring to contribute to the relaxation of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States…. [The US missile defense program and related US plans to weaponize outer space have the potential to again send the level of international tensions skyrocketing, particularly in Asia.]

The ABM Treaty was meant to be for an "unlimited duration," but allowed for withdrawal if a country should decide "that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." Bush never bothered to explain to the American people or to the Russians how the treaty jeopardized the supreme interests of the Untied States. It is clear, though, that withdrawal from the treaty as a unilateral act of the president has undermined our true "supreme interests" in upholding democracy and international law.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He can be contacted at dkrieger@napf.org.

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