Leadership: June 13, 2000

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: Somewhere behind, or under, all of the rhetoric by Presidential Candidate George W Bush, there may (or may not) be a radical news arms control policy: never mind about arms control, let everyone build what they want. It is unclear if Bush really means this (he HAS been somewhat vague) or if this is merely a stalking horse for a different policy or perhaps even a bluff to get the Russians to go along with US plans. The basic premise is that the US should build what it wants for its own defense, regardless of what the Russians think. Current treaties stop the US from testing the super-fast interceptors needed to stop ICBMs (which come down at 5km/second), since these might reduce the value of the Russian nuclear deterrent. But the US wants and needs just such interceptors in order to protect itself against North Korea (and perhaps someday Iran or India). Russia says if we build them, they will drop out of all arms control deals. Bush says, in effect: "so what?" Bush seems to feel that the Russians can take confidence in our lack of interest in attacking them, just as we take confidence in our own defenses. This may be true, but it is likely to make the Russians very nervous to know that they are at the mercy of a country once their sworn enemy. The W Bush Theory, or perhaps W Bush Doctrine, is that no country can afford to build a huge nuclear arsenal that it would never use, and the US can maintain a relatively inexpensive nuclear arsenal that would be an adequate deterrent against any attack along with a defensive system able to protect it from attacks by everyone but Russia. The Russians, Bush is confident, cannot afford to maintain their current arsenal, and it is not
reliable enough to use in a first strike. No one else could build enough missiles to overwhelm our defense system. Consequently, if arms control is in the way of building missile defenses, the US should be the master of its own fate and build the defenses and let the treaties go the way of the Cold War. The W Bush Doctrine is, in some ways, fueled by the traditional Republican distrust of arms control. The Russians, by any measure, cheated on every treaty they signed with the US, and all to no avail. They still could not build a nuclear force powerful enough to win a nuclear war without suffering devastating losses. Even now, the Russians are violating the treaties prohibiting the export of missile technology and technology related to weapons of mass destruction. Bush feels that in such a world, where every rogue nation can, somewhere, find for sale whatever weapons it wants to own, the US would do better to rely on defensive interceptors than treaties. It remains unclear whether those interceptors are any more reliable than the treaties.--Stephen V Cole

 


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