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How to Get Europe and Russia Into a Consensus on Defense

Authors: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, and Ivo H. Daalder
June 13, 2001
International Herald Tribune


Missile defense will figure prominently in President George W. Bush's meetings this week with European allies and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Many expect these discussions to be heated. But if Mr. Bush plays his cards right he can lay the foundation for a consensus on how to move forward with defensive deployments.

On May 1 Mr. Bush set forth his overarching vision of missile defenses and the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship. He subsequently sent high-level envoys around the globe to consult

with allies, friends and other countries about his vision.

European governments welcomed the consultations, but also raised many questions. What would a missile defense system look like? What specific steps did President Bush have in mind when he said a new policy needed to include nonproliferation efforts as well as defenses? What is the future of arms control and negotiated agreements?

President Bush's answers to these questions will be critical. Some in his administration favor proceeding with missile defenses in ways that ignore or dismiss European concerns, on the presumption that Europe has little choice but to follow the American lead. But the unilateralist prescription posits a false choice, and would lead to a diplomatic disaster.

It is possible to reconcile the desire to protect the United States from the threat of long-range missiles with European worries that defenses will cause more harm than good.

That requires moving ahead on the basis of four principles.

First, defenses must be imbedded in a broader nonproliferation strategy. Active and passive defenses are one important element, and the administration is right to highlight them. But a reinvigorated policy to prevent countries from acquiring missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the first place is also needed. This means strengthening export controls, arms control regimes and regional security alliances. And the United States should continue its efforts to persuade countries to abandon ballistic missile programs. Washington had great success in the 1990s in persuading Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and South Africa to "de-proliferate." It should now work to replicate these successes in North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Second, the overriding objective of any missile defense system should be to defend the United States, friends and allies against the rogue state missile threat. It should not be aimed at Russia or China. As Mr. Bush his said, they are not America's enemies. That means that defenses can be limited in scope, be based on earth rather than in space and rely primarily on intercepting ballistic missiles in their boost phase. Such interceptors must be located near the enemy missile launch point to work, and hence would pose no threat to missiles located in the interior of large states like Russia and China.

Third, missile defenses should be deployed only after they have been shown to work. Neither the threat nor the technology warrants a rush to deployment. North Korea continues to abide by its pledge not to test long-range missiles, and Iran and Iraq are still years away from building them. And while the prospects for developing effective defenses against at least small attacks are good, the Pentagon has yet to translate this promise into reality. Finally, the administration should make good on its pledge to cooperate with Russia where it can. It should push Moscow to help stop the spread of advanced technologies to countries like Iran, but also it should increase its support for bilateral programs designed to secure Russia's dilapidated nuclear, chemical and biological weapons infrastructure against theft.

In adapting arms control policies to meet the needs of a new world, the Bush administration should not forget that formal agreements continue to be in the fundamental interest of the United States.

On the defensive side, the administration should pledge to modify or replace the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with an agreement that allows limited defenses against rogue states but bars the United States and Russia from developing defenses that threaten the other's nuclear deterrent.

On the offensive side, the administration's pledge to cut U.S. forces unilaterally makes sense if this helps accelerate deep cuts in Russian forces. However, such force reductions must be translated into binding agreements that promote transparency and verification. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, trust, but codify. As Mr. Bush visits Europe he faces a choice. He can follow the siren's call of the unilateralists to build large missile defenses come what may, thereby undermining the Atlantic alliance. Or he can take these four principles, make them his own and forge a new trans-Atlantic understanding on how to proceed with missile defenses.