13 December 2001
Senior Senate Democrats Criticize Bush ABM Treaty Withdrawal,
Warn It Could Trigger New Arms Race, Harm U.S. Security
Ralph Dannheisser, Washington File Congressional Correspondent
Washington -- President Bush's historic decision to withdraw from the
1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has drawn sharp criticism from senior
congressional Democrats, who say it carries the potential for
unleashing a new arms race.
But while Democrats who commented on the president's announcement of the
step December 13 said it could harm, rather than improve, U.S. security,
Republicans tended to be supportive in their reaction.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan)
warned that possible retaliatory steps by Russia in withdrawing from other
arms control treaties would "likely lead to an action-reaction cycle in
offensive and defensive technologies, including countermeasures." And,
Levin said, "That kind of arms race
would not make us more secure."
Expressing similar sentiments, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Democrat,
South Dakota) termed abrogation of the treaty "a high price to pay for
testing that's not required this early in the schedule for
Bush had justified the step by noting that staying within the bounds of
the treaty would block the United States from conducting types of testing
expected to be needed shortly, as the administration continues
developing missile defense technology. A treaty provision allows either
side to withdraw upon six months' notice.
Daschle said he is concerned that the action "could rupture relations
with key countries and governments around the world. And, he said, "It
presents some very serious questions with regard to future arms races
involving other countries, and sends the wrong message to the world with
regard to our intent in abiding with treaties."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware)
agreed with Daschle on the timing issue. "I'm at a loss to understand
what the urgency of having to pull out of the AMB Treaty
is. I'm at a loss to understand how the tests that they believe they have
to conduct now are necessary to determine whether or not a system is feasible,"
Biden told reporters at a news briefing held December
12, when reports that Bush would act the following day surfaced.
Going a step further in questioning the rationale for development of a
missile defense shield, Biden opined that "The thing we remain the least
vulnerable to, the least vulnerable to, is an ICBM
[inter-continental ballistic missile] attack from another nation with
a return address on the nation firing that, knowing that they will, in
fact, be annihilated and obliterated."
Biden speculated that the administration's move would reverse the trend
of increasing cooperation with Russia on a range of issues. "Although
they have no veto right on that, they can make it more
difficult on our European allies to go along with us on expansion of NATO
-- all the way from that to determination of cooperation with Iran and
Iraq in terms of limiting their potential capability to do
damage to that region or to us," he said.
Beyond that, the Foreign Relations chairman speculated, the move could
induce China to develop an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles
"considerably larger than it would have been," and that in turn will "put
incredible pressure on India and Pakistan and eventually will begin --
mark my words, within five years there'll be a debate in Japan about whether
or not they should be a nuclear power."
Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican, Nebraska), appearing at a joint news
conference with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Republican, Texas) December
13, said he supports the Bush decision to provide formal
notification that the United States will withdraw from the treaty.
"This announcement fulfills the president's stated commitment of America's
defense," Hagel said. "The world has changed since the ABM Treaty was
signed in 1972 and formed the cornerstone of our nuclear
Hagel noted that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the lead U.S.
negotiator when the treaty was developed, believes it has lost its relevance
in a world in which more potential adversaries possess
nuclear weapons, and also supports the president's decision.
"The Senate supports a missile defense system," Hagel said, citing a 97-3
vote on the issue in 1999. "By stating our intention to withdraw from
the ABM Treaty, the president is moving forward with the
necessary steps to build one," Hagel said.
On the House side of the Capitol, Majority Leader Richard Armey (Republican,
Texas) issued a statement in which he said, "I applaud the president for
opening a promising new chapter in our nation's
"The threat of attack from rogue states and organizations grows every
day. The president understands that America must be prepared to defend
against new threats from new enemies of freedom," Armey said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)