At a time when the Afghanistan War is drawing to en end and the whole world is wanting to know whether US forces can finally catch Bin Laden, on December 11, the United States sent out the shocking news: the White House has decided to formally notify Russia in a few days that the United States will withdraw from the ABM Treaty (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) it signed in 1972.
The spread of the news has stunned the world. This not only represents the US withdrawal from an important international agreement for the first time since the end of World War II in 1945, but also implies the disintegration of the international mechanism for prohibiting strategic defense that has continued for almost 30 years.
Withdrawing from ABM: the Bush Administration Once Again Wields the "Unilateralism" Magic Weapon
After the September 11 terrorist incident, the United States and Russia swiftly "got close" to each other, the all-round cooperation provided by Russia to the United States in the latter's Afghanistan War and other anti-terrorist actions is the key factor making it possible for the United States to defeat Taliban within 62 days. In the US future anti-terrorism actions, Russia's cooperation will absolutely play a significant role. Therefore, judged from the situation featuring the rapid improvement of US-Russian relations after the Afghanistan War, the United States should have found it hard to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty.
Now, the US sudden declaration of its plan to withdraw from the ABM, without a doubt, means a heavy blow stricken by US unilateralism to the international community who have been concerned about and in opposition to the US unilateral deployment of the missile defense system.
On November 2, 2001, the General Assembly of the 56th United Nations just passed the resolution entitled "Maintaining and Observing the ABM Treaty by an overwhelming majority with 80 votes for and three votes against, which reiterated the spirit of the related resolutions passed by the General Assembly in December 1999, called on the signatory states to strictly observe the contents of the treaty, refrain from deploying and transferring the anti missile weaponry system and safeguard the completeness and effectiveness of the ABM Treaty. Now, it is only three months after the occurrence of the September 11 incident when the international community is helping the United States in winning the Afghanistan War, the United States once again turns a deaf ear to the just voice of the international community, this cannot but once again generate a deep impression on the people about the US international behavior which is "full of hegemonic air".
US-Russian Negotiation on the Anti-Missile Issue Will Not End
However, for US-Russian relations, the question is not so simple. The US sudden use of the "withdrawal-from-treaty" mace, superficially, has not only discredited President Putin, but also spelled a scratching satire on Putin who devotes great efforts to improving relations with the United States. Interestingly, Western media reports say Russia has recently told the United States that if the latter withdraws from the ABM Treaty, US-Russia relations will not be thus harmed; this implies that US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will not cause Russia's strong reaction and there is no need to worry about excessive diplomatic cost incurred from breaking off the ABM.
A reasonable explanation is that the Bush administration's present decision to choose withdrawal from the ABM actually is, in itself, the result of the US-Russian anti-missile negotiation since the previous six months, as well as the result of the new development of US-Russian relations after the September 11 incident.
First, it is the hope of President Putin that his policy of making concession to the United States on the issue of the ABM Treaty has always met with strong opposition from domestic military and left-wing political forces. If Russia easily agrees to revision of the ABM Treaty, it would mean a heavy blow to the Putin administration's domestic political prestige and its power foundation. In order to balance various domestic forces and voices, it is already very difficult for Putin to be convinced of making major concession on the anti-missile issue. The US present announcement of withdrawal from the ABM has made it possible to maintain the rock-firm image of the Putin administration's determination to maintain the anti-missile treaty.
Second, On November 13, at the summit talks in White House, Russia and the United States announced their plan to make a large-scale cut of strategic nuclear weapons to the level of 1,700-2,200 missiles. If Russia wants to maintain the reliability of its strategic nuclear power in terms of magnitude, there is all the more no reason for it to make concessions to the United States. Given this, it is likely that Russia will think that there is smaller room for choice on the ABM issue after attainment of the initial objective of in-depth nuclear disarmament, and it will even more be unwilling to openly agree to revision of the ABM Treaty. In other words, in order to strive for the signing of a treaty by the United States and Russia on the large-scale reduction of offensive strategic nuclear weapons in the new stage, Russia cannot but "acquiesce" in the US attempt to break through the restriction imposed by the ABM on its deployment of the NMD system by the method of "withdrawal from the Treaty".
The United States still has continued diplomatic expectation of Russia through "withdrawing from the Treaty", that is, it hopes, through this tough method of the United States, to speed up its diplomatic negotiation with Russia on the anti-missile issue, so that it can discuss the signing of a new disarmament agreement to "replace", not "revise" the ABM Treaty. Of course, this "substitution" treaty will comply with US demands to the maximum, so as to enable the United States to bypass the restraints which are likely impossible to side step under the circumstance of revising the ABM Treaty. Similarly, it is likely that Putin "cannot but" choose to allow the United States to first declare breaking off the Treaty, then through a new round of Russian-US negotiation to fulfill, in a "curve" way, the task of the revision of the US-Russian ABM Treaty or of substituting the "old treaty" with a "new treaty". For this, it is likely that the United States and Russia would sign a new military control agreement in summer next year.
In short, the United States' choice of this time to declare breaking off the treaty, to a large extent, is the result of the fact that both the United States and Russia have already had a "base line". But this is essentially different from the US August declaration of its plan to withdraw from the treaty.
The "September 11 incident" and the US anti-terrorism" military actions have, without a doubt, enhanced the Bush administration's sense of urgency in speeding up development and deployment of the NMD system and have, to a certain extent, strengthened the US domestic persuasion in the establishment of the NMD system. The Bush administration, of course, will not miss this political opportunity for pushing forward its missile defense program. On December 11, in his speech delivered in a military academy in Carolina state, Bush explicitly said that the NMD system is an "effective means" for anti-terrorism" action. At the same time, the poll support rate for Bush witnessed a sharp rise after the "September 11 incident". A recent survey shows that the poll approval rate for Bush has reached 90 percent, the supporting rate for his diplomatic policy has also reached 75 percent. Such a "golden" domestic supporting rate has spurred Bush to make up his mind to declare breaking off the ABM Treaty without avoiding the opposition of his political opponents and divergent domestic opinions.
"Withdrawing from the treaty" is the first choice for the United States. No matter how the ABM Treaty will be revised, the United States will be subject to its restriction. The ABM Treaty is invariably a hindrance to the Bush administration that already has a colossal missile defense development plan and is bent on realizing its deployment as quickly as possible. As a matter of fact, the United States had planned to break off the ABM Treaty as early as August 2001 and had set the deadline for this in December. The Bush administration's major worry about its choice of "withdrawing from the treaty" was Russia's reaction. Now that the United States and Russia have established a "new relationship" in their anti-terrorism" cooperation, and Russia has agreed to get away from the shadow of Cold War together with the United States and eliminate the remnants of the Cold War, so it is now the "best" time for the United States to decide to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. After the withdrawal, the United States can go ahead with the establishment of the NMD system without scruple.
Bush's decision to "withdraw from the treaty" indicates an end to the White House's debate on policies on the anti-missile issue. But it means a telling blow to US Secretary of State Colin Powell's policy idea and his personal policy status. Powell always advocates revising the Treaty through negotiation with Russia, but maintenance of the ABM Treaty can also allow the United States to deploy a certain kind of anti-missile system. In contrast, "the hawk", represented by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has once again taken the upper hand in policy decision, National Security Affairs Advisor Condoleeza Rice stands on the side of Rumsfeld in the present choice. The New York Times said openly on December 12 that "withdrawal from the treaty" represents Rumsfeld's victory.
History sometimes is good at playing jokes. In 1976, it was Rumsfeld, who held the post of Secretary of Defense in the then Ford administration, ordered the closure of the anti-missile base in north Dakota state; 25 years afterwards, when Rumsfeld again serves as the defense secretary, he declares re-establishing the US missile defense base and he himself spells an end to the ABM Treaty that has existed for 30 years. Will "withdrawal from the treaty" really represent Rumsfeld's "victory"? History will give the answer.
(People's Daily December 14, 2001)