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Context of 'June 12, 2002: Conservatives Celebrate US Withdrawal from ABM Treaty'

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The US and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) Treaty. It will be ratified by the US Senate in August 1972, and will go into force in October 1972. Originally, the treaty agrees that each nation can have only two ABM deployment areas, located so that those areas cannot provide a nationwide ABM defense or become the basis for developing one. In essence, the ABM Treaty prevents either nation from developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983), and allows each country the likelihood of destroying the other with an all-out nuclear barrage. The treaty puts in place the doctrine of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that because both nations can obliterate the other in a nuclear exchange, neither one will trigger such a strike. In 1976, an addendum to the treaty further limits the number of ABM deployment areas from two to one; the Soviets will deploy a rudimentary ABM system around Moscow, but the US never does, and even deactivates its single ABM site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2001, US President George W. Bush will unilaterally withdraw from the treaty (see December 13, 2001 and June 14, 2002). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Reagan administration asks Congress for $4.3 billion for what the 1980 GOP campaign platform called a “civil defense which would protect the American people against nuclear war at least as well as the Soviet population is protected.” The funding request is for a program, based on the platform plank, that the administration says will protect 80 percent of Americans in case of a massive Soviet nuclear strike. President Reagan’s chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Louis Giuffrida, says of nuclear war, “It would be a terrible mess, but it wouldn’t be unmanageable.” FEMA’s head of civil defense, William Chipman, says that most civilians would not only survive a nuclear onslaught, but would rebuild society in short order: “As I say, the ants eventually build another anthill.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 130]

Entity Tags: Louis Giuffrida, Federal Emergency Management Agency, William Chipman, Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

National Security Decision Directive 75 is signed into law by President Reagan. It further embeds the idea that a “protracted nuclear war” can be won (see March 1982), saying in part that Soviet calculations about war must always see “outcomes so unfavorable to the USSR that there would be no incentive for Soviet leaders to initiate an attack.” [Air Force Magazine, 3/2008] NSDD 75 stipulates that the US must “contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism” and “promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system.” Conservatives and hardliners will later interpret Reagan’s words as indicating the US would actively engage in “rollback” of the USSR’s control over other nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Strategic Defense Initiative logo.Strategic Defense Initiative logo. [Source: United States Missile Defense Agency]President Reagan announces his proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, later nicknamed “Star Wars”), originally conceived two years earlier (see 1981). SDI is envisioned as a wide-ranging missile defense system that, if it works, will protect the United States from nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union or other countries with ballistic missiles, essentially rendering nuclear weapons, in Reagan’s words, “impotent and obsolete.” Reagan says, “I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Soviet leader Yuri Andropov’s response is unprececented in its anger (see March 27, 1983); Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrinyn says SDI will “open a new phase in the arms race.” [PBS, 2000; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129]
US Hardliners 'Ecstatic' - Hardliners in and out of the Reagan administration are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s characterization, “ecstatic, seeing SDI as the ultimate refutation of [the principle of] mutual assured destruction and therefore of the status quo, which left [the US] unable to seek victory over the Soviet Union.” The day after the speech, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) sends Reagan a one-sentence letter: “That was the best statement I have heard from any president.”
'Less Suicidal' Adjunct to First Strike - Scoblic will write that if SDI is implemented as envisioned, “[a]lthough the Soviets would still be able to inflict enough damage that a first strike by the United States would be suicidal, it would be ‘less suicidal’ to the extent that such a concept made sense, which some Reagan officials believed it did. In short, SDI was a better adjunct to a first strike than it was a standalone defense. That made it critically destabilizing, which is why missile defense had been outlawed by [earlier treaties] in the first place.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129-130]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, J. Peter Scoblic, Ronald Reagan, Anatoly Dobrinyn, Barry Goldwater, Yuri Andropov

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty.US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, Singapore Straits Times, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Heritage Foundation sponsors a celebration of the US’s impending withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and June 14, 2002). The invitation reads: “ABM: RIP. For 30 years, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has served to bolster the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and impose crippling restrictions on the nation’s missile defense programs (see March 23, 1983). President Bush, recognizing the inappropriateness of MAD and the policy of vulnerability to missile attack, announced on December 13, 2001 (see December 13, 2001) that the United States is withdrawing from the treaty.” Several hundred conservatives, including senators, House representatives, generals, policy makers, and academics, gather in the caucus room of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, taking part in what one participant calls “a cheerful wake for a flawed treaty.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “The mood was, not surprisingly, buoyant, for ‘flawed’ was really too mild a description for the loathing the assembled crowd felt for the agreement. To the right wing, the ABM Treaty had symbolized everything that was wrong with American foreign policy during the Cold War: negotiating with evil, fearing nuclear war instead of preparing to win it (see Spring 1982 and January 17, 1983), and abandoning faith in American exceptionalism and divine superiority.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Heritage Foundation

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A day after the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty goes into effect (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001), Russia announces that it will no longer abide by the terms of the 1993 START II missile reduction treaty. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008; Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Russia, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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