Seven years ago (on December 13, 2001) President George W. Bush made a formal declaration of intent to vacate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the Russian Federation. On June 13, 2002, the United States unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty came into effect. With the stroke of a pen, President Bush vacated a treaty that was created out of a U.S.-Soviet summit in 1967 and spanned over 41 years of nuclear diplomacy between the two countries. You can imagine this didn't thrill Russian President Vladimir Putin who called the decision "a mistake." Such understatement.
Why would the President of the United States do such a thing? Just three (not so) little words - National Missile Defense (NMD). The ABM Treaty (signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1972) explicitly prohibits the deployment of a nationwide missile defense system. If you have noticed the occasional newspaper articles about a missile intercept test here and there, you would have a vague idea that the U.S. is developing some sort of national missile defense system. And you would be correct.
Every president since the signing of the ABM Treaty has dabbled to some degree in limited missile defense. The U.S. and the Soviets, and later Russia, engaged in an intricate (and sometimes bizarre) dance as each nation tried to push the Treaty's limits. Overall though, the ABM Treaty has served its purpose well. During the Cold War, it played a pivotal role in keeping the arms race between the Superpowers from getting out of control. And even since the end of the Cold War, it has provided a security framework for disarmament efforts and bilateral reductions in nuclear arsenals by both the U.S. and Russia.
President Bush has been fast tracking NMD big time, going so far as deploying interceptor missiles before the system has been fully (let alone partially) proven. He has never been one to let the (scientific) facts get in the way of a critical decision related to our nation's defense. Some people have referred to the program as "faith based missile defense." Even if (and I mean "if") they could ever spend enough money, there is no way the system would ever be 100% effective at intercepting incoming missiles in a real world situation.
But I digress. The real point of all this is that the President abrogated the ABM Treaty that had been entered into and ratified by Congress; a clear violation of the treaty since the President (representing the U.S.) can only "withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests". Once a treaty is ratified, it becomes "the supreme Law of the Land." And that's the Constitution speaking, not me.
The best thing President-elect Obama can do is take a serious look at the U.S. NMD program that has debilitated the international arms control and disarmament process, undermined nonproliferation efforts, and has been fueling a new arms race. No matter how much technological testosterone we pump into NMD, an adversary will find a way to get by it. Anything else is wishful thinking; it only takes one missile! The best way for the U.S. to ensure its own security is to ensure a framework of collective security for ALL nations, and the first step in that process is ditching National Missile Defense.
The Obama/Biden Website stated that "an Obama-Biden administration will support missile defense." Let's hope we don't ever see the catch phrase, "Missile Defense We Can Believe In."
Speaking of faith based initiatives, here is an article from Slate.com that you won't want to miss titled Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense. This one had me (literally) rolling on the floor with laughter. God knows we could all use a good laugh these days.
Click here for an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Chronology.
Be sure to stay informed on National Missile Defense (and other related issues) at the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.
Photo Note: That really, really large floating thingy in the bottom photo is the Sea Based X-Band Radar, a critical component of the current U.S. NMD program, which has been developed during the Bush Administration (since the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty). A sea based system (such as X-Band) is explicitly prohibited by the ABM Treaty.