US Missile Defense
Useless Against Russia
President Clinton is testing a nuclear defense that could not stop Russian missiles from striking the United States, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright disclosed Wednesday.
All it could do is protect against missile attacks from less-sophisticated arsenals, such as those in North Korea, she said.
"The missile system we are planning is not designed to defend against Russia and could not do so," Albright told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.
"A Russian defense official recently proclaimed that his nation has the ability to overwhelm the missile-defense system we are planning. That is true - and part of our point."
Her remarks left foreign-affairs observers puzzling out these apparent contradictions in U.S. nuclear policies:
* She branded the Russians as "dangerous extremists" for opposing Clinton's campaign to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that prohibits any nation from building a nuclear defense.
At the same time she called for Russia's cooperation in changing the treaty to accommodate Clinton's missile-defense system.
Russia has long regarded the ABM Treaty, cornerstone of the Cold War mutual-assured-destruction strategy, as its only real defense against a nuclear strike by the U.S.
At its core is the belief that if the two nuclear nations are kept defenseless against an intercontinental ballistic-missile attack neither would risk annihilation by launching first.
* For the U.S. to build such a missile-defense system, the ABM Treaty would have to be amended or the treaty scrapped altogether by the U.S.
Undersecretary of Defense Walter B. Slocombe last week asserted the U.S. plans to build the Clinton anti-missile system even if it has to pull out of the ABM Treaty:
"We will not permit any other country to have a veto on actions that may be needed for the defense of our country."
In her Chicago speech, Albright not only gave no indication the U.S. would junk the treaty, she said it would be dangerous to do so because it would revive old Russian threats to U.S. security.
* The president has maintained all along that he would work closely with the Russians and the Senate to amend the ABM Treaty before beginning to plan his missile-defense system in June.
Albright's Chicago speech made clear that Clinton is currently developing the missile defenses prohibited by the ABM Treaty.
The Associated Press reported this upset the head of the Arms Control Association, a private group that closely follows U.S. nuclear policy.
Albright's remarks Wednesday are "strongly at odds with the president's statement that his decision will depend on an assessment of flight tests, cost estimates, evaluation of the uncertain threat and progress in achieving arms-control objectives," said Spurgeon Keeny.
Keeny criticized the Clinton administration for calling opponents of changes in the treaty dangerous extremists and having decided to proceed with its missile-defense system.
* Earlier, both Clinton and Albright said the U.S. would continue to abide by the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty despite it's overwhelming rejection last month by the Senate.
She told her Chicago audience Wednesday the Clinton administration would break that treaty, even if ratified by the Senate, should any "new threats" require the U.S. to resume nuclear testing.
Meanwhile, China's leading arms-control official has warned that Clinton's missile-defense system could trigger a nuclear arms race.
To read more about this, see today's story, "China Warns US Risks New Arms Race."
To read more about Russia's hard line on the ABM Treaty, see this story, "Russia Threatens Any US Missile Defense."
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