TOPICS > Nation

End of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

December 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The United States formally notified Russia today it intends to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty six months from now. The decision opens the way to develop a U.S. missile defense system. Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: The President has long argued that the old US- Soviet ABM Treaty is obsolete. But now, he said, the need to scrap it is more urgent than ever.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Today, as the events of September the 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning, or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction. We know that the terrorists and some of those who support them seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile, and we must have the freedom and the flexibility to develop effective defenses against those attacks. Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief, and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses.

MARGARET WARNER: The President wants to build a high-tech defense shield to protect America and its allies from missile attacks. But the ABM Treaty signed in 1972 stands in the way. The pact restricts missile defenses to one site per country, and more important for now, bans the sort of testing the Pentagon says it needs to develop an effective system. Russian President Putin, as recently as his visit to the U.S. Last month, has opposed scrapping the treaty. Today in a national TV address, he faulted the U.S. decision to unilaterally withdraw; though he conceded the U.S. was within its rights under the treaty to do so.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): The leadership of the U.S. Announced this several times, and such a step wasn’t a surprise for us. However, we believe the decision was a mistake. Russia, like the United States and unlike other nuclear powers, has long had an effective system capable of penetrating missile defense. That’s why I can say without hesitating that the decision from the USA doesn’t pose any threat to the national security of the Russian Federation.

MARGARET WARNER: President Bush noted that both countries have agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals dramatically, and sounded confident the U.S.-Russia relationship would remain positive.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: President Putin and I have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security. As President Putin said in Crawford, we are on the path to a fundamentally different relationship. The Cold War is long gone. Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges.

MARGARET WARNER: At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he would continue meeting with Russian defense officials to find a framework to replace the treaty. He was asked about the Russians’ reaction to today’s decision.

DONALD RUMSFELD: We’ve said all along, “look, we’re bumping up against this thing; we want to set it aside, we want to get on with a new framework, a new relationship that’s looking forward, not back.” I personally think that people ought to be relieved that this is behind us. It has been kind of a sticking point that’s just been sitting there for this period of time– “when are they going to withdraw?” The President said a year ago he was going to withdraw.

MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld made clear the testing program will move ahead as soon as possible.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It turned out that we do need to test, and we’ve waited now a year. And it’s… Well, now we have to wait another six months before we can proceed with some of those tests. And it seemed that the thing to do was to get the clock ticking on the six months so that we’re… Won’t be constrained by the treaty after that. But we still have exactly the same attitude and approach that the President and President Putin announced, and that is that we are looking forward, that we’re not looking back, that we do not consider them an enemy.

MARGARET WARNER: The United States plans to start building a missile defense command center at this army base in Alaska next spring. For reaction to the President’s announcement and what it means for U.S.-Russia relations, we’re joined by two Senators from the Foreign Relations Committee: Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware, the committee chairman; and Republican chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Welcome, gentlemen. You’ve been quite critical, Senator Biden, of this impending announcement. What’s wrong with it?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Wrong priorities set, the President in a citadel speech said that nonproliferation is the best strategy. Distracts our attention. I find it fascinating that the events of 9/11 mean we need a national missile defense. It seems to me it should have underscored the fact that we’re more likely to have a bomb put in the rusty hull of a tanker coming up New York Harbor than anything else. We have cut — the President has cut over $100 million out of programs that are designed to corral the nuclear material in Russia through our Department of Energy, cut Nunn-Lugar money. And according to Kadish, General Kadish, the guy who ran the program or runs the program, a couple of months ago he said there’s no test envisioned in the next couple of years that would require to us pull out of the ABM Treaty. But quite frankly, I’m much more worried about starting an arms race in race than I am about the Russian reaction.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Hagel… You may become an ambassador.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I’m not worthy of that, Margaret.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: We don’t want to you leave, Chuck.

MARGARET WARNER: Respond to, that especially this argument that it’s really misplaced priorities.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I understand Senator Biden’s concerns and questions. But I view it a little differently. First, I think the response that we’ve seen from President Putin today and in fact Prime Minister Blair in saying that what’s important here is stability and the nuclear stabilizing dynamic for the world and developing a framework for that is most important, not the specific document. And as you look across over the last few hours, the global and the kind of response we’ve had, I think it’s been pretty good. But more to the point, why now and some of the tough questions that Senator Biden answered. First, you had Secretary Rumsfeld on a minute ago explaining why now, and I don’t think I need to repeat what he said. But I think more fundamentally for me is that nonproliferation is not mutually exclusive with missile defense. I see this in a sense as part of a changing and dynamic world. Joe talked about the dirty bomb. Of course we have to be careful about that. The threats and challenges facing our world today are asymmetrical. They will come and do come in many forms, and I think one of those forms certainly in the long term could very well be someone launching a ballistic nuclear missile toward this country. Is that going to happen tomorrow? Probably not. But the testing and the technology takes time. It’s probably five years away at best before we could put that in place. I don’t want to risk the future generations of this country that we made a mistake here.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Biden, on that point, I mean are you saying you really think it’s a far-fetched danger, this idea that some rogue state could get ahold of ballistic missile technology and lob something our way?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Margaret, what’s getting lost in all this — the original rationale for the system is to defend against a rogue state getting a missile, is to defend against particularly North Korea, which is the most likely one to have the capacity that could have a missile to reach the United States, although it wouldn’t be able to put a nuclear weapon on because it wouldn’t have enough throw away to be a chemical weapon or a biological weapon. And my point is that deterrence works. We’re going to spend tens of billions of dollars on this program; we’re going to divert our attention from the needs that related to the 9/11 kind of things that can happen. So what are we doing?

MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying that you think deterrence would also work if an al-Qaida-like group ever got a hold of this technology?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: No, I’m not saying that, but no one is saying an al-Qaida-like group is likely to get a hold of that, but that’s what I’m worried about. An al-Qaida-like group is going to get a hold of some fissile material, put it around a hundred pounds of TNT, blow it up on a mall and render this city uninhabitable for the next thirty or forty years. That’s what I’m worried about. That’s a real threat. We’re not doing anything. Look, Senator Baker filed a report saying that the single greatest urgency was to corral that nuclear material, it’ll cost $30 billion, the Russians would cooperate with us. We’ve moved not a wit on that. We’re going to be able to afford all these — $30 billion for, that $8 billion for chemical weapons, the $30 billion we need for homeland defense — and at the same time we’re going to be out there spending tens of billions o dollars on a threat that is based upon the notion that one morning Kim Jung Il is going to wake up in North Korea, assuming he gets the capacity, and say, “You know, I’m taking out San Francisco today and not worry about retaliation? Name me one single nation state in the history of mankind, knowing that they would face absolute annihilation that has gone forward with an offensive action against a state that could annihilate them. I don’t know one.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, like I said earlier, I don’t believe it’s an either/or scenario here. We’re going to have to pay attention to all the pieces, all the dynamics that Senator Biden pointed out. And I happen to believe, and I think a good number of Americans believe that the potential is there for… is true and it’s real and it is there for some group, some organization and, and not necessarily a rogue nation as we define rogue nations today, would not in the future have the capacity and the deliverability, capability, the delivering of that nuclear weapon, that it’s not going to be there. I don’t think we can sit here-tonight and predict what’s going to happen or be the situation in the world in five years. I think that we have got to plan and prepare and protect for all these possibilities — and including what Senator Biden is saying. Now, are we going to need to do more? Of course we will do more. It will require us doing more in areas that we haven’t done much in, in the past. But I don’t think that this is exclusive from what I think is a very real threat, and even Henry Kissinger, the architect of the ABM Treaty in 1972, has said it is now time, because of the world changing and the threats changing, the challenges changing, to move beyond and put together a new framework of nuclear deterrence and nuclear stability.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Margaret, I don’t disagree with the bottom line that this is a threat. The question is that: Are we safer if, as a consequence of this, China goes from less than two dozen ICBM’s to 250 ICBM’s and then Pakistan responds to, that as well as India and Japan goes nuclear in ten years? Are we in a safer world? Is anybody talking about a nuclear…

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask Senator Hagel that because Senator Hagel that is a scenario that a lot of critics raise – that Russia doesn’t have reason to be concerned but China does because they don’t have as many and they — it may just start an arms race in Asia and in South Asia.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, Margaret, we could sit here and go “if “and “may “and “but” and “and” and “if” and “maybe” all day long and defer the tough decisions. There are certain parts of foreign relations and national security that we can’t control. The things we can control, then those are the things that we better pay attention to. Now, do we want to deliberately offend China or start China or force China or induce China into an arms race? Of course not. China will have to do what it believes is the best in their own self-interest. But we cannot hold our national security interests captive to what China will do, maybe will do, we think will do. We’ve got to make a very tough, difficult, hard decision here, and we’ve made it, to make our national security needs come into focus with a capability to deal with those challenges out there. And I think that is what’s paramount here, not that we dismiss the threat here of India or Pakistan or China. Those are real. And we’re dealing with those. The President and Powell have dealt with those. They’ll continue to deal with those.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senator Biden, let me go back, though, to the U.S.-Russia relationship because that is a new element post September 11, which is this new cooperative relationship against terrorism. Do you think that withdrawing from this treaty will affect that?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think it will affect it in ways we don’t know on the margins. Look, one of the things that’s happened here, Margaret, is that Putin is going to get an awful lot of heat from his military, an awful lot of heat from the browns and the reds, the old Commis and the nationalists for not putting up more of a fuss here. Now, for example, Senator Lugar and I have and I think Senator Hagel supports it, we have this proposal, for example, to say we’ll forgive you debt you owe us, Russia, in return for you engaging in nonproliferation activities with us, including not selling to Iran or letting us have access to your chemical weapons to help you store them, et cetera, et cetera. I think we’re going to see nuance changes in the willingness to go forward. You’re going to see a nuance change in their willingness to see the expansion of NATO, which shouldn’t affect our decision but may affect our European friends’ decisions. I can’t calculate — in fairness to Chuck, I can’t say for certain what will or will not happen. We’ve got to make some strong judgments. What I find unnecessary here was this notion that everybody believed, at least we were led to believe that you could have worked out a deal here with Putin on how to allow the testing to go forward with an amendment to or an addendum to the ABM Treaty. I asked Secretary Powell this morning when they called me to tell about this, “have you spoken to China?” He said, “We haven’t had a chance to yet.” Now, you know, I’m not sure that that is… I don’t mean for a veto right or veto power or anything. And by the way, we were on the verge of having an agreement with North Korea in return for food and launching satellites for them to oversimplify that, that they’d stop moving toward the third stage of constructing a missile, which could have obviated the urgency of all of this.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Senator Hagel to respond to the first point you made, which had to do with the pressure Putin is going to be under from his generals and from a lot of conservative forces in Russia.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I think Senator Biden’s right but that’s not new. He would have a certain amount of that pressure regardless. He understands that. And I think…

MARGARET WARNER: But you don’t think it’s going to undercut this new relationship? Are you as confident as the President is, that in fact it’s on a new footing and that’s going forward?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: It’s more to this point. Not as confident as I am or President Bush is, but in President Putin’s own words today, he said that this is not going to affect the bilateral relationship we have of many common self-interests parts of this relationship. I mean he, President Putin, said it himself. Will there be blips and bumps along the way? Of course. This is imperfect, this is imprecise. That’s it is it is. But the bigger picture here will I think, stay in focus. I think President Putin’s lens will be, and I think he’s quite clear on this, is he going to have some problems? Of course he is. But the bigger picture is where he will go and focus on as he should.

MARGARET WARNER: So Senator Biden, what should we be looking at in terms of the Russian reaction here on various fronts in the anti-terrorism war, whether it’s bio-terrorism or nuclear proliferation or chemical stockpiles, what do you think we should be looking at in the next year to know whether, as Senator Hagel put it, Putin’s lens stays clear or that he is still on track in this relationship, versus the opposite?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think he’s going to stay on track. Again, I’m not most worried about the Russian relationship. I have said that for the last year and a half, as Chuck knows. That’s not been my focus, the Russian relationship. But I think with regard to Russia, you could look at attitudes toward Iraq, attitudes toward Iran, whether or not there’s more cooperation or less cooperation.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean at the U.N. or at selling the material, technology?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Their bilateral relationships as well as agreements with us at the U.N. to toughen sanctions and the like against Iraq. But again, that will be hard to – that will be hard to measure. The place where the rubber’s going to hit the road with Russia will be down the road if they conclude that we’re going to weaponize space. If they conclude, for example, we’re putting lasers in space and we’re having an overall system, we’re going for the big enchilada. You’ll see it all change then. But in the meantime, in the meantime, my greatest concern is that we are focusing on… And by the way, I have voted for probably over $70 billion in research on this program. I think we should continue the program. I’m not saying we should scrap national missile defense. But what I am saying to you is that it’s the wrong focus at this moment. And thing to look at over the next year, keep your eye on Asia, keep your eye on Asia, and that’s the place where I think we’re going to find out whether there’s any positive or negative drawback in this. And we haven’t even spoken about the efficacy of such a system and the capability of achieving a system. I know you don’t want to talk about, that but that’s another tie.

MARGARET WARNER: We can’t. But let me have Senator Hagel have a brief final word.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I go back to a comment I made earlier, Margaret. All the points that Senator Biden has raised are legitimate. They are questions. But again, we have to focus on what we think we can do, as the President said today, to protect the national security interests of this country and at the same time reach out, as we have been, to our allies, bring them into this process, consult with the Russians, as we have been, and the Chinese and others. And then we have to come to a point where we make a decision. I think what the President did today was responsible. I support it. I think it was the right thing to do. I know there are different points of view on it, but we have to move on and deal with what’s ahead, and there will be bumps, and which know that.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, and we have to move on, but thank you both very much.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Thank you for having us.