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Jewish World Review June 21, 2001 / 30 Sivan 5761

Morton Kondracke

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U.S. to share missile defense? -- PRESIDENT Bush could utterly disarm his foreign and domestic critics by offering to negotiate a missile-defense sharing arrangement with Russia and China.

Democrats at home and allies abroad are opposed to Bush's national missile-defense proposal mainly because he seems bent on unilaterally abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, much as he dumped the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Democrats such as Sen. Carl Levin, Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, are also opposed to rushing toward deployment of a system that has not proved to work and might be enormously expensive. However, if Bush offered to renegotiate the ABM Treaty with Russia and to share missile-defense systems with that nation and eventually with China, he could substantially quiet his critics and gain their support for speeded-up research.

A careful reading of statements by such adversaries as Levin and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., suggests that they would go along with a negotiated missile-defense arrangement. Levin has said he favors "robust research and development" of defensive systems, particularly those designed to destroy missiles in their early boost phase to counteract threats from potentially troublesome nations such as North Korea and Iran.

He has also argued that "it makes sense to try to modify the ABM treaty to permit development of limited NMD systems while preserving strategic stability and a cooperative relationship with Russia."

Similarly, Biden said last year that "a cooperative missile defense could knit Russia into a Western defense framework. ... It might just pave the way for a worldwide shift from pure deterrence to a mix of offense and defense."

In fact, in some speeches Bush has sounded as if he is willing to talk with Russia and China about missile defense, though he's made it clear he wouldn't give them a veto on U.S. plans, as the Democrats seem inclined to do.

At other times, however, administration officials -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for one -- have suggested that we would rush to deploy missile defenses as soon as possible, regardless of anyone else's views, breaking out of the ABM Treaty even though America isn't ready to conduct tests in space yet.

Critics can't figure out whether shifting administration statements represent conflict between the hawkish Rumsfeld and moderate Secretary of State Colin Powell or a good cop/bad cop act designed to make Bush look like a centrist.

Lacking certainty, they've assumed the worst -- that Bush is like a tennis ball being knocked back and forth between his top advisers and that he could as easily end up siding with the unilateralist Rumsfeld as with the diplomatic Powell.

Even though Bush has described missile defense as being designed mainly as protection against attacks from "rogue" states such as North Korea and Iraq, Democrats and overseas allies worry that he intends to develop a system directed against China and Russia, which would encourage a new arms race.

Such a system would be huge, costly and, its critics say, ineffective because Russia would maintain its missile arsenal and China would develop one to overcome it.

Bush could strike through the fog of suspicion by telling Russia, China and U.S. allies that they'd be defended by the system under terms to be negotiated in a successor to the ABM Treaty.

When Bush first unveiled his new nuclear strategy in his May 1 speech at the National Defense University, he promised to "consult closely" with allies and said he was "not presenting ... unilateral decisions already made."

He added, "We'll also need to reach out to other interested states, including China and Russia." Russia and the United States, he said, "should work together to develop a new foundation for world peace and security in the 21st century."

He did not offer to "work together" with China, presumably because some in the administration are convinced that the United States and China are destined to become strategic adversaries later in this century.

Nevertheless, the offer should have been made (and still could be) as a carrot to encourage better behavior by China. It would cost the United States nothing. And if China pursued a hostile path, negotiations could be broken off.

Lately, Bush has reversed some other early unilateralist positions, taking Powell's side by agreeing to keep U.S. troops in the Balkans, negotiate with North Korea and take an active part in Middle East diplomacy.

In Europe last week, he also agreed to international cooperation on global warming while continuing to reject the Kyoto agreement, which even our allies haven't ratified.

A missile offer to Russia and China could help convince critics that we do not plan to go it alone in foreign policy, but to maintain the traditional U.S. role of world leader.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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