The new arms race

The Clinton administration appears to be heading for a confrontation with Russia and China on its plans to develop an antiballistic missile (ABM) system capable of warding off blows from rogue states like North Korea and Iran.

This week the Russian Defense Ministry called a news conference to warn that if the US attempts to establish an ABM system, Russia will deploy enough nuclear warheads to overwhelm it. Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhalov said Russia also has the capability of targeting any ABM installation.

The administration has offered Russia inducements such as help in completing a giant radar installation in Siberia in return for changes in the 1972 ABM Treaty banning antimissile defense.

What the administration has not disclosed is that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott also delivered what the Russians regard as "a polite ultimatum" indicating the United States will abrogate the ABM Treaty if the Russians do not agree to modify it.

At a Moscow meeting on Sept. 8 and 9, Mr. Talbott presented President Yeltsin's government with two letters outlining the American position. Shortly thereafter, a delegation of American scientists and former diplomats arrived in Moscow and was briefed by the Russians on the Talbott meeting.

The statement is said to have told the Russians that President Clinton expects to give a green light next June for a so-called "national missile defense system," starting with sites in Grand Forks, N.D., and Alaska, and eventually covering all 50 states. The Russians quoted the letter as saying that if the Russians don't agree to changes, the US may simply abrogate a treaty as not being in the American national security interest.

The Russians said they had told Talbott that "we are on the threshold of disaster and a destruction of the whole arms control framework." Since then, the Russians have met with officials in Beijing. As a result, Russia and China have joined forces in submitting a resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for "strict compliance" with the ABM Treaty.

Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a member of the American arms-control delegation that met with officials and military leaders in Moscow, says, "The Clinton administration has put us on the path to an arms race ... an international disaster of historic proportions."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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