While the country is fighting over a 6-year-old boy in Florida, the big geopolitical news is buried on Page 20. President Clinton has quietly added Russia to a planned European trip. On June 4, he will go to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin. This is no mere "how do you do." Frantic negotiations are going on for an immense arms control agreement--the so-called Grand Compromise--in time for Clinton to leave a legacy.Beware a Clinton arms deal
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, April 21, 2000
Why is this big news? Because the deal Clinton is angling for would both decimate our offensive nuclear deterrent and cripple any future president's ability to build an effective missile defense. It promises to be the worst arms control agreement in American history.
The story is this. The Russians, going back to Gorbachev's days, don't want us to build a missile defense. They don't have the technology to build one. We do. Why do we care what Russia thinks? Russia's hold on us is the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which essentially prohibits building defensive weapons. But the ABM treaty was signed in 1972 with the now defunct Soviet Union. Quite arguably, it is legally dead. Inarguably, it is logically absurd.
It was intended to prevent an arms race in a radically bipolar world. The world is not bipolar today. And there is no arms race. Yet the treaty prevents the United States from building adequate defenses against the likes of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
For 20 years, Democrats resisted the idea of building a missile defense. They ridiculed it as Reagan's folly. But the left's almost theological resistance to defending America from missile attack has begun to weaken. Why, even the New York Times now admits that the ABM treaty "was premised on a clash between the two superpowers. The likely emergence of smaller, less-predictable nuclear-armed nations over the next few years creates a different equation."
But what to build? Clinton is considering a single plan: a battery of fixed, land-based ABMs in Alaska.
It is the worst possible choice. Fixed missiles are expensive, because the whole infrastructure has to be built from scratch, and limited, because from Alaska there are parts of the United States they could not defend.
A far more effective and versatile way to go is by sea, placing ABMs on Aegis cruisers. We already have the cruisers. No need for huge infrastructure expenses. The ships are movable and thus less subject to preemptive attack. Best of all, they can be sent to defend any vulnerable part of America or, for that matter, the world (e.g., Taiwan, Israel, South Korea, Japan).
Why Alaska? Alaska is the choice of people still deeply skeptical about missile defenses, still grudging about validating Reagan's idea. The administration figures that Alaska is just enough to get the Democrats off the hook on the issue of defending America--and that the Russians will see an Alaska defense as so weak that they might agree to allow it by mildly amending the ABM treaty.
In return for those mild amendments, Clinton is preparing to forfeit to Putin the store. He would:
(1) Sign a START III treaty that would radically cut our nuclear weapons force--to the point where we lose much of the redundancy that today makes it invulnerable. Why? To get corresponding Russian cuts? The Russians aren't building new missiles anyway. They don't have the money. With or without these treaties, they are not going to squander their scarce military resources on overkill.
(2) Strengthen the obsolete ABM treaty to prevent precisely the kind of layered defense we need, such as the Aegis option, and, in the future, space-based defenses to shoot down missiles as they leave the launch pad. As Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) explained in The Post, Clinton's plan is to "get the limited system locked down in a deal with Putin" in order to prevent Republicans from pushing forward with a broader, full-scale national missile defense.
Such is the Grand Compromise. We get the costly, limited Alaska plan. We cut our nuclear deterrent to the bone. And we get restrictions on building defenses that will make it impossible in the future to adequately defend America or its allies.
Why, then, are we doing it? Because Clinton gets a lavish signing ceremony in Moscow and a run at a Nobel. "The Clinton administration does not want to be the first in several decades not to have signed a significant arms control agreement with Moscow," says former diplomat and Clinton administration official Thomas Graham Jr.
In other words, arms control for the sake of arms control. It has come to that.