300 N. Washington St.
Suite B-100
Alexandria, VA 22314

GlobalSecurity.org In the News

ABM Treaty Abrogation

By John Pike

President Bush has now joined the new American campaign against terrorism with the hawk's perennial campaign against arms control treaties. In the name of defending against terrorists, the Administration has announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.

There are two fundamental lessons from the current war in Afghanistan that should inform future missile defense programs. No weapon system is perfect. Success cannot be achieved by the force of American arms alone. Neither lesson suggests wisdom in abrogating the ABM Treaty.

While it is too soon to declare victory in Afghanistan, celebrations of the marvels of American military technology began even before the first bomb was dropped. No one can deny that this unprecedented combination of intelligence, communications, and precision weapons has revolutionized the art of war.

Nor can anyone deny that there is a difference between precision and perfection. In early December an American satellite guided bomb inadvertently killed three American soldiers, and injured many others. Consider the response of Pentagon briefer Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem: " ... these are human-made, human-designed systems, and therefore, they're going to have flaws that are going to either be built in or that are going to occur. We have not perfected a technology that is perfect in its execution."

In Afghanistan, the consequences of "human-made" imperfections are a few deaths by friendly fire, or a Red Cross warehouse or a village bombed by mistake. During the Kosovo air campaign, the consequences of imperfection were limited to bombing the Chinese embassy, and other incidents which killed perhaps hundreds of civilians.

The consequences of "human-made" imperfections in missile defense will be rather more serious. A single nuclear weapon might well kill more Americans than were killed in every other war in American history.

Is there any prospect that any "human-made" anti-missile system will render the American President or the American people any less fearful of nuclear war?

Will the proponents of missile defense agree to realistic testing? Testing that would demonstrate their moral certainty of the reliability of this new weapon. Will proponents of missile defense take their friends and families to a Pacific island, while an American nuclear tipped missile is fired towards them, with missile defense interceptors the only thing between them and the light brighter than a thousand suns? Of course not. Why not? It might not work!

Will the American people put their faith in this "human-made" weapon? Let us imagine that the President has blundered into some profound crisis in which the use of nuclear weapons becomes quite thinkable. Addressing the nation, the President warns of the present danger, but reassures the public that missile defense has rendered the hazards acceptable. How many Americans will place their fates in this "human-made" weapon, and how many would immediately flee from the great cities and head for the hills? The Administration has plans for those few that might trust to technology. Does it have plans for the evacuation of that greater number who chose to vote with their feet?

America will not prevail against international terrorism by force of arms alone. The threat is multi-dimensional, and so must be the response. The global "coalition" against terror is extraordinarily broad, precisely because terrorists operate outside the law. Disguised as civilians, indiscriminately attacking civilians, terrorists are war criminals. The suppression of terrorism is the reassertion of the rule of law, as surely as the suppression of piracy was centuries ago.

Diverse international tactics are needed to prevail against terror - ranging from improved intelligence sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and unraveling money laundering schemes. Over the past three months America's new initiatives on these and kindred fronts have enjoyed success precisely because America sought to reinforce international norms that are incumbent on all nations.

In renouncing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and in walking away from other treaties and international fora, the Bush Administration appears to place America above the law. Over time, this presumption of American exceptionalism - one set of rules for America, another for the rest of the world - will surely test the enthusiasm of other countries in working with America.

The most immediate test may come with Iraq, widely touted as the next target of American wrath. America alone cannot prevail against Saddam Hussein. Unilateral American efforts will be too easily -- and unfairly -- dismissed as a Bush family vendetta. America must rebuild a coalition that is committed to enforcing the international norms so flagrantly violated by Saddam Hussein. The abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is not an auspicious beginning to this necessary process.


John Pike is founder and director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy website.