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Disturbing Isolationism
Published on Saturday, August 25, 2001 in the Irish Times
Disturbing Isolationism
It is now official. The United States administration will back out of the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty despite severe misgivings on the part of many public figures at home and most of its allies abroad. President Bush, in his remarks to reporters at Crawford, Texas, has finally said the US will renounce the treaty. It will do so on its "own timetable" and because, in Mr Bush's view, the treaty hampers the ability of the United States "to keep the peace, to develop defensive weapons necessary to defend America against the true threat of the 21st century."

This threat has been identified as one of "rogue states" developing the capacity to strike at the United States with missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction. The states most often mentioned are Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. None of these countries currently poses such a threat but Washington believes it should develop a missile defense system just in case someday they might. To develop this system would entail a breach of ABM which has been seen by most neutral observers as the cornerstone of international security. There are justified fears that without ABM the entire web of arms-control agreements would unravel to be replaced by a new, if unequal, arms race.

Opposition to Mr Bush's policy has come not only from America's former cold war enemies in Russia and China, but also from within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance, as well as from political observers in the United States itself. In today's editions of this newspaper, a former Republican US defense secretary, Mr Melvin R Laird contends that the Bush administration is leading the US down the path of isolationism and unilateralism.

Under Mr Bush, the US has refused to submit to the Kyoto protocol on climate change and the small-arms control pact. It has insisted that the proposed International Criminal Court should have no jurisdiction over US citizens; it has opposed the convention on germ warfare and it has been in two minds about attending the UN conference on racism in Durban.

There are signs that the administration's outlook may be reflected in areas of US society previously impervious to such attitudes. In a recent editorial urging the Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, to stay away from the Durban conference, The New York Times wrote that his presence would "lend the gathering a distinction it has not earned". The suggestion that international assemblies are without distinction unless a senior American is present, betrays a mind-set in which less powerful countries and their representatives are seen as inferior. At a time when all other countries are less powerful than the US, the development of such a world-view is disturbing.

© 2001


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