Bush Wants to Dump Treaties

Unilateralism adds up to isolationism, which is based on arrogance.

There is something about a treaty -- especially an arms treaty -- that the Bush administration doesn't like.

Now that the Cold War has been over for almost 12 years, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and his other hawkish advisors want to shelve past arms-limitation pacts as relics.

Last weekend's successful test of a rocket-launched interceptor against a dummy warhead over the Pacific provided a thrill for those who want to junk the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia and to move full speed ahead with development of a missile-defense system, which that treaty forbids.

Most of Bush's top advisors don't want to seek an amendment to the pact to accommodate these new developments. Instead, they want to scrap the entire 30-year-old treaty, even when they have nothing better to replace it with yet.

There is an attitude in this administration that we can do it alone in the world. The rationale behind this bulldozer approach is that we have ``transparency'' -- that is, our policies and government are open to public inspection. But when it comes to national security and secret weaponry, we are not entirely an open book, nor should we be.

Unilateralism seems to be the goal. That adds up to isolationism and is based on arrogance.

To pursue wider testing of the national missile-defense system, the United States would have to give six months' notice to the Russians that it is withdrawing from the ABM pact. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicates that the administration is ready to do that unless there is some other accommodation that will allow the United States to build a missile shield. Bush intends to do this unless Democrats in the Senate stop him.

The 1972 treaty, negotiated by President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, has worked. It helped keep peace through the years when the superpowers were at a standoff.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that if the United States pulls out of the ABM treaty, Russia will consider all other arms-control agreements with the United States to be void. China also threatens to beef-up its nuclear arsenal if the United States goes ahead.

The voice of reason in the administration is Secretary of State Colin Powell. But he doesn't seem to have the clout to convince Bush that his drive for a national missile-defense program will be fueling another arms race without a new agreement with Moscow.

Powell recently told The Washington Post that the United States needs ``an understanding, an agreement, a treaty -- something with the Russians that allows us to move forward with our missile-defense programs.''

Rice disagrees on the need for new agreements. She notes that the ``old implacable'' hostility with Russia is gone and that it would be impossible to hide anything in our transparent society. The United States and Russia, she added, have developed a new relationship where treaties would not have to be negotiated on ``every warhead and every element of our relationship.''

``We believe it's time to move beyond that framework,'' she explained. ``We are open as to the forum that this finally takes, but I can tell you that . . . it's time to leave behind this really rather-abnormal way of doing business.''

I asked her, ``You are saying it's not necessary'' to formalize an understanding?

She replied: ``I'm saying it's not necessary, that's correct.''

That's not all. Bush has no intention of reviving the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Senate defeated in 1999. The treaty would ban all nuclear-test explosions and prevent the development of new nuclear weapons.

Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty is well known. He also has rejected the International Criminal Court negotiated by United Nations member nations in 1998 that would have jurisdiction over the prosecution of war crimes.


Rice's antipathy toward arms-control treaties is apparent. Although she served as a Soviet specialist in the Reagan White House and helped to draft these treaties, she now labels them as ``obsolete.''

She's too eager to junk the treaty framework that has helped keep peace between the world's two greatest nuclear powers. And she's against any new agreement on the basis that none is needed.

It makes more sense to stick with the agreements that have stood the test of time until we and the Russians mutually agree on a new set of rules.

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