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ABM Treaty Withdrawal
December 17, 2001

James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The ABM Treaty is now defunct. And the sounds you hear are the wails of supra-nationalists.

Yes, the same folks who mourned the Kyoto Treaty and fretted over the lack of support for U.N. summits are now going daft over the demise of the ABM Treaty. An interesting cadre of commentators has leapt forth to try and explain the reasons why they oppose withdrawal from the treaty.

U.N. Sectretary-General Kofi Annan weighed in earlier with a statement that described U.S. missile defense as a threat to the ABM Treaty, and he admonished the Bush administration not to lose "the strategic stability it embodies."

China's spokesperson said its country was "worried about the negative impact." Russia's President Putin offered a sort of muted criticism. And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is grumbling about future arms races and "sending the wrong message to the world."

It seems that leftist minds think alike.

Now Daschle is doing the PR dance. With little of substance to criticize, he is trying to feign surprise over lack of consultation from the executive branch.

Apparently, he is the only one in D.C. who didn't know this was coming. The decision to scrap the treaty was leaked to the media days before it was officially announced. No one should really have been startled by the news.

The ABM Treaty is a useless artifact. It was put into effect almost 30 years ago under a theory of mutually assured destruction.

Many believe it is unenforceable. This is primarily because the treaty was negotiated with a country that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. But in addition, modern-day Russians have violated the treaty. They have integrated anti-aircraft weapons with missile attack warning systems, using high-powered radar as a form of missile defense.

Despite the legal debate, the treaty contains a provision that states either party can withdraw, with six months notice to the other party. In deference to those who still view the treaty as valid, the Bush administration complied with the termination provision and gave six months notice to Russia of U.S. intent to withdraw.

For far too long, our tax dollars have poured out so that a group of attorneys at the Pentagon could keep the U.S. in compliance with a Cold War relic. Pentagon officials recently altered two tests because the legal eagles of ABM compliance had decided tests would violate the treaty.

Now, free of interference from lawyers and diplomats, our scientists can meet or exceed the goal of developing the capacity to interdict incoming ballistic missiles. With the ABM Treaty gone, we can proceed down a sound path toward more potent national protection. This includes defending our shores from low-flying cruise missiles and using the very same high-powered radar prohibited by the ABM Treaty and violated by Russia in the past.

Still, critics counter with a litany of talking points. They say it won't work, it costs too much, and it protects us from the wrong threat.

In regard to its success, rarely is a scientific objective completely realized at first attempt. Just ask Mr. Edison or Dr. Salk. Americans never have embraced and never will embrace a philosophy of "don't bother to try ­ it's not going to work."

As to price, yes, the cost is high. But if a ballistic threat isn't worth the outlay, what is?

Then there is the argument that a missile defense system will not protect against a hijacked plane or an anthrax attack. True. However, most of our weapons systems are ineffective in the face of such threats. Limitation in no way renders a system useless, but rather, it merely narrows its application.

In today's geopolitical reality, a missile defense is needed to protect us against terrorist organizations and rogue nations, which, we assume, will eventually possess ballistic missiles. Sept. 11 reminds us that talk of "peace dividends" is over. We know it is a different world, one that is profoundly more dangerous.

Critics also warn of an arms race. But Russia is engaging in meaningful arms reductions, thanks to a warming of relations between our nations.

China, on the other hand, has been in an arms race for years. And it's not the only one that hopes to have the capacity to hit us with missiles.

North Korea is assembling long-range missiles that could strike our country.

Osama bin Laden has made it clear that he covets a missile that would reach our continental shores.

Saddam Hussein continues to develop weapons of mass destruction and has already proven he is willing to use them.

Iraq possesses enough uranium to make three nuclear weapons, has designated a site for testing and is expected to be able to conduct the first tests in three to four years.

Pakistan could be overthrown, with the potential of a hostile group getting its hands on nuclear capabilities.

The list goes on.

It is in the best interests of America to protect our way of life, using any and all resources at our disposal. This perspective will never be accepted by those who embrace a transnational vision that denies basic American distinctives.

We live in an era where circumstances have reinforced the idea that American values are precious, unique and very much worth protecting. With the ABM Treaty out of the way, the vision of a safer future is that much clearer.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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