Bigger fish than missiles

Delay: Administration drops unilateralism when accommodation with Moscow is in sight.

November 02, 2001

THE TERRORIST attacks of Sept. 11 cured the Bush administration of its former unilateralist, "we are the only superpower" rhetoric.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's delay of tests of the proposed missile shield, which would contravene the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, was a welcome step taken in quest of a greater prize. It creates anticipation for the three-day visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin beginning Nov. 13. Hints have been dropped by both sides of a possible renegotiation of the ABM Treaty to permit the tests, along with reductions in warheads.

Secretary of State Colin Powell began meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday in Moscow to pave the way. The administration is reportedly divided on whether it wants to amend the treaty, as Russia wants, or scrap it.

The two nations' developing relationship benefits from the bold attempt of Mr. Putin to reposition Russia in world politics. Mr. Putin has shocked both his military brass and former allies by deciding to quit Russia's naval base in Vietnam and dismantle its intelligence listening base in Cuba. The latter will deprive Fidel Castro of his best intelligence on Washington, appearing to abandon the former Soviet client.

Mr. Rumsfeld remains fully committed to creating a system to destroy missiles in flight from rogue states. Research on it should go forward. The budget burden of deployment, however, must be included in the security re-evaluation made necessary by the Sept. 11 terrorism. Rogue states have cheaper means than ballistic missiles of delivering mass destruction, including the U.S. mail, that must be defended against.

Since the country most capable of harming the United States remains Russia for the foreseeable future, the security benefit of a verifiable accommodation with Russia cannot be underestimated. It would provide more protection than a very expensive missile that might or might not hit another missile launched by a minor power that had only a few.

The administration has been wisely multilateralist since realizing it could not wage effective war against one of the weakest powers on earth without substantial foreign cooperation. In treating Russian friendship as a greater potential prize than a missile defense of questionable efficacy, the administration is keeping its priorities in order.

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.