President George W. Bush has recently sought to persuade Russia, through meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to replace the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with an accord that accommodates missile defense. Bush also says that if no accord can be reached within six months, rather than violate the treaty, the U.S. would give the required six-month notice that it intends to withdraw from the treaty.
There are numerous risks associated with withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and building a missile shield. Withdrawal from the treaty could lead to other nuclear states continuing to ignore nuclear proliferation constraints. And there is no proof that this defense system will functionally work. There has been no successful test of the system.
There is also no certain threat from other countries that would deem the need for an anti-missile defense system. Few people believe Saddam Hussein would fire a single nuclear missile at the United States knowing what his country would receive in return. Also, this system is no use against a nuclear bomb carried into a federal building in a suitcase.
The establishment of an American anti-missile defense system may also prompt other nuclear powers to bolster their nuclear arsenals. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists proved weapon designers could easily create features that would defeat the planned system. In a 1997 test of the system, the missile interceptors could not decipher between a decoy missile and an actual missile.
There are also servicing problems with the system. Ground-based missiles would be located on a remote Alaskan island where conditions are so adverse that construction could only be conducted three months out of the year. The military also concedes this site will be difficult to defend.
The United States has already spent $120 billion on national missile defense systems that failed to work. An additional $50 billion would be spent over the next 15 years on a “modest” anti-missile defense system.
The recent threat of terrorism is not a reason to withdraw from the ABM Treaty or a reason to begin construction on an anti-missile defense system that has yet to be proven effective. Russia has been a good ally to the United States, especially the Putin administration in place. Withdrawing from the ABM Treaty would put us in danger of losing a key ally and risks alienating us from the rest of the world.
-The writer, a junior majoring in political science and communication, is president of the GW College Democrats.