The need to test and quickly deploy a missile defense system is almost an article of religious faith within the Bush administration. And the president has variously described the 1972 ABM Treaty that prohibits most testing and any deployment as a useless Cold War relic.
However, showing that his administration can be a lot less doctrinaire than it sounds, the president has postponed three scheduled antimissile tracking tests, and for good reasons.
The administration rather showily announced the postponement as a way of demonstrating to the American public that the ABM Treaty really is standing in the way of an effective missile defense. But the Pentagon has yet to establish that we have such a capability.
By far the best course would be for the United States and Russia to rework the treaty to allow for the testing and deployment of a missile defense that is clearly aimed at deterring rogue states and not rendering Russia's arsenal useless.
If the negotiations fail and the administration truly feels that continuing to abide by the treaty puts the country in danger, rather than violating the treaty, it should give the required six months' notice to withdraw. But there seems no overriding reason that Bush and Putin cannot reach agreement next month.
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