Clinton legacy and the arms race

President Clinton has embarked on his last nine months in office.

The word "legacy" isn't popular around the White House these days, but in these nine months the president hopes to strike "grand bargains" with Russia and China that will lay the groundwork for international stability. In this political season, though, he has problems getting Congress to support him in his endeavors.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has taken some important steps toward reduction of nuclear arms. He has gotten his parliament finally to ratify the START II treaty that would reduce the nuclear arsenal on both sides by about half. He followed that up by winning ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which the United States Senate has rejected. And, in Geneva, talks have started on a START III that would further reduce nuclear missiles on both sides. Mr. Clinton will have arms control high on his agenda when he meets Mr. Putin in Moscow in early June.

That's the good news.

The bad news for Clinton is that Russia has made compliance with these treaties conditional on America's continued observance of the ABM Treaty, banning defense against ballistic missiles.

Under pressure from Congress to develop a limited antimissile defense against rogue states like North Korea, the administration is asking that the ABM Treaty be amended to permit this.

Failing that, the US threatens to pull out of the pact.

That, says Putin, would start a new nuclear arms race.

Stay tuned. There'll be more, much more.

As to China, the president faces an uphill fight in Congress to grant permanent trading privileges. The administration has not satisfied China about the bombing of its embassy in Belgrade by firing one CIA employee.

Beijing is not happy about America's leadership in the United Nations in an effort, which failed again, to have China condemned for human rights violations.

But the biggest bone of contention is Taiwan, and the move in Congress to strengthen military ties between Taipei and Washington. Walking on eggshells, the Clinton administration is providing Taiwan with new missiles and radar, but not the four high-tech destroyers that the Taiwanese government was seeking.

The Chinese have said that selling these destroyers to Taiwan would be "unacceptable." They say that, even without the destroyers, the US is providing Taiwan with too much.

Republican leaders like Senator Jesse Helms say the US is offering Taiwan much too little. Stay tuned.

Clinton has his work cut out for him: promoting peace with Russia and China, while trying to avoid war with Congress.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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