Defense shield may depend more on other nations than technology

Presidential pipe dream?

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush has a dream: space-age technology shielding the United States from missile attack. Most everyone else, from Moscow to Paris, Beijing to Berlin, sees a gilt-edge pipe dream, unnecessary at best, a spur to a new nuclear arms race at worst.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will hold talks Tuesday in Moscow on Bush's aspirations.

So far, the Russians are not buying it, even though the dream is packaged as a part of a new relationship between post-Cold War friends and festooned with the glitter of U.S. technology that may be sold to Russia if the deal goes through.

''I am hopeful there can be a new day with Russia,'' White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told The Associated Press. ''We are talking about a bigger issue than what we do about missile defenses and strategic weapons.''

Bush sees North Korea and Iran as potential threats to the United States -- not Russia, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet system.

He calls the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits a national defense, a relic of the Cold War and an out-of-date tool to protect American security.

Bush has made it plain that he wants Russia to agree with him. But if President Vladimir Putin does not Bush vows to act in the best interests of America.

That means going ahead unilaterally, which many European leaders consider unwise.

Here at home, Michael Mandelbaum, of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticized the U.S. approach. ''Whether or not missile defense makes our country more secure depends on what other countries do,'' he said in an interview.

For instance, Mandelbaum said the Russians and the Chinese might respond to the program by giving or selling ''rogue'' states technology that could overwhelm the U.S. defense.

The 1972 treaty was -- or still is, depending on one's view -- a cornerstone of arms control. The treaty was based on the proposition that if a potential aggressor had an inadequate defense the aggressor would not launch an attack and thereby invite a devastating retaliatory blow.

Critics of Bush's program believe the proposition is still relevant, and that if the United States built an anti-missile shield, potential enemies would be inspired to build more potent missiles to overcome the U.S. defense.

Mandelbaum said ''the problem with the administration's policy on missile defense is it is theological rather than strategic. They seem to believe that putting up a missile defense is right and necessary under any and all circumstances.''

The proper view, he said, ''is that missile defense makes sense if it makes the United States more secure. Whether or not it does depends on the circumstances''

Lee Feinstein, of the Carnegie Endowment, is an arms control expert who supports missile defense, but questions the administration's approach.

The former senior adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said ''the administration seems to consider missile defense as its highest foreign policy priority. That overemphasis puts other important interests at risk.''

For instance, Feinstein said, a request for a 60 percent increase in funding for the missile defense program could make it more difficult to get more money for law enforcement, border control and other anti-terrorism measures along with curbs on proliferation of dangerous technology.

Also, Feinstein said development of North Korea's missile program is outpacing the U.S. anti-missile program, which would not be ready for years.

Bush and Putin, meeting last month in Genoa, Italy, agreed that missile defense and weapons cutbacks should be discussed simultaneously

That looked like a gain for the administration.

Russia wants to slash U.S. and Russian offensive arsenals and reduce the cost of stockpiling too many missiles.

Talking about cutbacks and missile defenses at the same time raises the possibility of compromise and trade-off.

But when Rice went to Moscow after the Genoa meeting she found Russia still resisting the concept of an anti-missile shield.

Talks at the Pentagon earlier in the week were described by U.S. officials as cordial and a good exchange of information. There was no claim that anyone's views had been changed.

The talks Rumsfeld, Bolton and Shelton will hold in Moscow also are likely to be exploratory, and followed by talks in mid-September in New York between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Chances are good there will have to be more talks after that.

Barry Schweid has covered U.S. diplomacy for The Associated Press since 1973.

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