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Context of 'June 2001: New Head of Arms Control Agency Leads Charge to Pull out from ABM Treaty'

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The US and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) Treaty. It will be ratified by the US Senate in August 1972, and will go into force in October 1972. Originally, the treaty agrees that each nation can have only two ABM deployment areas, located so that those areas cannot provide a nationwide ABM defense or become the basis for developing one. In essence, the ABM Treaty prevents either nation from developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983), and allows each country the likelihood of destroying the other with an all-out nuclear barrage. The treaty puts in place the doctrine of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that because both nations can obliterate the other in a nuclear exchange, neither one will trigger such a strike. In 1976, an addendum to the treaty further limits the number of ABM deployment areas from two to one; the Soviets will deploy a rudimentary ABM system around Moscow, but the US never does, and even deactivates its single ABM site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2001, US President George W. Bush will unilaterally withdraw from the treaty (see December 13, 2001 and June 14, 2002). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Newly elected President Ronald Reagan begins his first term with a cabinet and senior staff made up of two quite different brands of conservatives. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, in his 1991 book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, will describe an administration riven between “pragmatists” or “realists,” whom their opponents dismiss as “accomodationists” or “one-worlders,” and “conservatives” or “Reaganauts,” whom their opponents label “crazies” or “hard-liners.” Both groups staunchly oppose communism and support increased defense spending, but they diverge on the subject of negotiating with the Soviet Union. The “pragmatists” favor working to extend the idea of detente with the USSR, while the “Reaganauts” see any such negotiations as nothing but appeasement of a murderous and implacable foe (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). During Reagan’s first term, particularly in the first three years, the “Reaganauts” hold the upper hand in setting his administration’s foreign policy. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “This period marked the closest conservatives came during the Cold War to seeing their principles translated into policy.” It also marks the closest the world came to an all-out nuclear war between the two superpowers since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 (see November 2-11, 1983). The “pragmatists” will have much more say in setting policy during the last five years of Reagan’s presidency, and as a result will help engineer a dramatic reduction in tensions between the US and the Soviet Union as well as a treaty eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons (see December 7-8, 1987). By the end of Reagan’s presidency, many conservatives have gone from enthusiastically supporting his policies to considering him a traitor to their ideology (see 1988). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 115-116]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, J. Peter Scoblic, Lou Cannon

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

John Bolton, a neoconservative lawyer at the American Enterprise Institute, begins his term as the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, heading the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Bolton, who like many other neoconservatives is ideologically opposed to the very idea of reducing the US’s nuclear arsenal, enters his office in the State Department and places a memento on his coffee table: a hand grenade mounted on a small wooden base with a plaque reading “Truest Reaganaut” (see January 1981 and After). Bolton will lead the movement within the Bush administration to withdraw the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). [American Enterprise Institute, 2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 159-160]

Entity Tags: Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, American Enterprise Institute, John R. Bolton, US Department of State, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

At a joint press conference in Genoa, Italy, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the necessity of maintaining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a treaty from which Bush and many American conservatives wish to withdraw (see May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Putin says, “As far as the ABM Treaty and the issues of offensive arms, I’ve already said we’ve come to the conclusion that [the] two of these issues have to be discussed as a set… one and the other are very closely tied.” Bush, who agrees with his administration’s conservatives, counters that the two nations do not need such treaties because they have “a new relationship based on trust.” Putin responds: “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.” Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismisses the idea that the Russians could distrust the US as “silly.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly joins the chorus of Bush administration officials demanding that the US withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Rice, an expert on the former Soviet Union, describes herself as a former “high priestess of arms control” who has changed her thinking. She says there is no longer a reason to discuss respective numbers of ballistic missiles held by the US and Russia, or, as she says, no further reason to debate “how many warheads could dance on the head of an SS-18.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 7/16/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The rising demand for President Bush to make good on his stated intention to withdraw the United States from the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972, August 3, 2000, May 1, 2001, and June 2001) alarms Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman. Ackerman, a constitutional law expert, writes that Bush lacks the authority to make such a decision. “Presidents don’t have the power to enter into treaties unilaterally,” he writes. “This requires the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, and once a treaty enters into force, the Constitution makes it part of the ‘supreme law of the land’—just like a statute. Presidents can’t terminate statutes they don’t like. They must persuade both houses of Congress to join in a repeal. Should the termination of treaties operate any differently?” Ackerman cites several historical instances, the most recent in 1978, when then-President Carter pulled the US out of a treaty with Taiwan, and was challenged unsuccessfully in a lawsuit that was dismissed by the Supreme Court. “[T]he court did not endorse the doctrine of presidential unilateralism,” Ackerman notes, but felt the issue should be resolved “by the executive and legislative branches.” Congress should not allow Bush to withdraw from the treaty, Ackerman writes. “If President Bush is allowed to terminate the ABM treaty, what is to stop future presidents from unilaterally taking America out of NATO or the United Nations?” he asks. “The question is not whether such steps are wise, but how democratically they should be taken. America does not enter into treaties lightly. They are solemn commitments made after wide-ranging democratic debate. Unilateral action by the president does not measure up to this standard.” Instead, he recommends: “Congress should proceed with a joint resolution declaring that Mr. Bush cannot terminate treaty obligations on his own. And if the president proceeds unilaterally, Congress should take further steps to defend its role in foreign policy.” [New York Times, 8/29/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ackerman

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 174-176]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, J. Peter Scoblic, Trent Lott, Jon Kyl, Jesse Helms

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty.US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, Singapore Straits Times, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing.Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/24/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 177-178] Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, George W. Bush, John R. Bolton, Vladimir Putin, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Colin Powell, Boris Yeltsin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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