Bush seeks changes to '72 treaty

Missile shield needs `new framework' with allies, Russia, China

Democrats, others critical

President says he's ready to cut nuclear stockpile

May 02, 2001|By Tom Bowman and Jay Hancock | Tom Bowman and Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush announced plans yesterday to begin building a missile defense system, starting with land-based and sea-based interceptors. He said he would move beyond a 1972 treaty that constrains such ballistic missile shields and work toward a "new framework" with U.S. allies and with Russia and China.

"We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today's world," said Bush, who maintained that the 3-decade-old U.S.-Soviet Antiballistic Missile Treaty does not recognize current realities but "enshrines the past."

The president, in his first major defense speech, also said he was prepared to reduce the U.S. stockpile of nearly 7,000 nuclear missiles but did not specify how deeply he was prepared to cut.

Speaking at National Defense University, Bush said, "I'm committed to achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs. ... My goal is to move quickly to reduce our nuclear forces."

On missile defense, Bush was short on details or costs, although he said "near-term options" include building interceptor missiles for land-based sites and Navy ships that could shoot down enemy missiles. Such options "could allow us to deploy an initial capability against limited threats," he said.

The president said the ABM treaty was signed when the United States and the Soviet Union were aiming thousands of missiles at each other. The treaty allows a single site of defensive missiles to protect a national capital or a field of offensive missiles. It prohibits sea-based, airborne, space-based or mobile land-based missiles.

The treaty, a cornerstone of postwar arms control, aimed to deter nuclear war by leaving both superpowers vulnerable to a devastating retaliatory strike if one attacked the other.

The current threat is from "today's tyrants," who are trying to build ballistic missiles capable of reaching U.S. territory, said Bush, singling out only Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

North Korea and Iran are among the so-called rogue states working toward a ballistic missile capability, officials have said, with North Korea presenting the most immediate threat.

"Today's most urgent threat stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in Soviet hands but from a small number of missiles in the hands of these states ... for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life," Bush said.

Bush said he was dispatching three top administration officials to Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada to discuss the plan with U.S. allies.

"These will be real consultations," Bush said. "We look forward to hearing their views, the views of our friends, and to take them into account." U.S. allies have expressed concerns about the missile plan.

The president said he also would "reach out" to Russia and China. Leaders in both countries have opposed missile defense, saying such a system could trigger a new arms race.

Bush, Putin confer

The president discussed his intentions by phone yesterday with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Later, Bush said he might, at Putin's request, meet with the Russian leader before their planned July summit.

"I told him I would love to meet with him beforehand, to look him in the eye and let him know how sincere I am about achieving a new way of keeping the peace," Bush said.

Russia had no official reaction to the president's address, but Russia's Interfax new agency quoted Russian military and diplomatic sources as saying they were concerned about the Bush plan.

"Many in Washington understand that the destruction of ABM and deploying an anti-missile shield could undermine the system of strategic stability which exists in the world today and lead to a new arms race," the sources said.

There was no immediate comment from China.

New arms race feared

Bush's speech was sharply criticized by some Democratic lawmakers, peace activists and scientists, who said a missile defense plan could spur a new arms race and cost tens of billions of dollars although its effectiveness is unproven.

A land-based system of interceptor missiles proposed during the Clinton administration failed in two of its three tests. Sea-based, airborne and space-based alternatives are still on the drawing board. Since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan called for a national missile shield, more than $60 billion has been spent on the effort.

"By announcing his intent to move forward with as yet unproven, costly and expansive national missile defense systems, the president is jeopardizing an arms control framework that has served this nation for decades," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.