WASHINGTON -- By abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, are we going to live in a safer world? I think not. Just the opposite, I fear.
President Bush wants to build a nuclear anti-missile shield in the heavens someday to protect us. The idea may not be far-fetched, but he is living in a dream world if he thinks there will not be other ways to endanger us.
I hark back to the words of physicist Albert Einstein, the brilliant scientist whose work contributed to the invention of the A-bomb -- and later regretted it.
Einstein said: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
What a sad commentary on the future of civilization and human progress.
Bush is taking us back to ultra-nationalism, to go-it-alone thumbing the U.S. nose at the rest of the world after all we have been through together. Since World War II, collective security has been the goal, and it has worked.
Unfortunately, Bush tapped John Bolton, an ardent activist against arms control accords, to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs.
In an article Bolton wrote for the University of Chicago's Journal of International Law last fall, he divided the world into "Americanists" and "globalists." He scoffed at the "globalists," declaring that "they want to bind the United States into a web of treaties on everything from arms reduction to the environment to human rights."
He said Americanists, which I read as isolationists, seek to preserve U.S. sovereignty and flexibility in foreign policy.
Bush has now informed Russia that in six months we are pulling out of the ABM Treaty, which has helped keep our two nations in a nuclear standoff for three decades.
The ABM Treaty was ratified by the Senate, but Bush did not seek approval of the lawmakers to withdraw from the accord. He didn't have to since the pact includes a clause permitting either party to withdraw after due notice. Nevertheless, he should have consulted with Congress as a courtesy in the democratic process.
The nuclear arms control treaties in the post-World War II era were based on what Winston Churchill called "the sublime irony of mutual destruction."
This is the first time in the modern era that the United States has broken off an international agreement. Bush apparently came into the White House with the premise that the only good treaty is a dead treaty. His obsession with militarizing the American skies is well known.
Surely the president realizes we live in one world, and, given today's rapid communications and transportation, it's an increasingly smaller one.
Both Russia and China -- and many European allies as well -- are unhappy with Bush's decision, even though he has tried to reassure their leaders that our "Star Wars" defense would not be a belligerent act against them. Bush has said it would protect against terrorists and rogue nations seeking to launch a nuclear attack. And U.S. officials have made vague comments about sharing technology in its missile defense system with Europe and Russia.
But certainly that system would not work against terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who used relatively low technology and turned hijacked planes into deadly missiles in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Our European allies are wary because they don't think the system will work or that it could be extended to protect them, and they definitely see it as an example of U.S. unilateralism leading to a new arms race.
The ABM pact is only one of several treaties that Bush wants to scrap. Despite the taste of bio-terrorism the American people have had with the recent anthrax scare, the United States last week sabotaged efforts to salvage the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention by creating an international inspection system to enforce it. The United States, in scuttling discussion of the plan for a year, said it would be counter to American business and defense interests.
What can they be thinking of in the White House?
Since the president wants to forge ahead in testing the missile shield, the administration has no interest in reviving the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which the Senate rejected a couple of years ago. That was a victory for Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is another foe of international agreements.
Helms' successor as chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., wrote in an article for The Washington Post that walking away from the ABM treaty was a "serious mistake." He added that "a Star Wars Defense ... would address only what the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider "the least likely threat to our national security."
Furthermore, Biden said, "Nothing could be more damaging to global non-proliferation efforts than to go forward" with missile defense. He said that it would cost a quarter-trillion dollars and that Russia still has enough offensive weapons to overwhelm any system we could devise.
Biden also said that terrorists who are determined to do harm "can employ a wide variety of means" and that "weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological or even nuclear -- need not arrive on the tip of an intercontinental missile ..."
If those in power believe they can guarantee the safety of the United States alone while the rest of the world is in danger, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Have we forgotten the lessons of two centuries of American history?
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
Copyright 2001 Hearst Newspapers.