June 7, 2000
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday June 7, 2000
Lame duck Clinton is a poor pitchman; World security: Anti-missile scheme dubious at best
The politician versus the statesman. That’s our take on the Moscow talks between American president Bill Clinton and Russian president Vladimir Putin concerning nuclear arms. The Russian leader has a stronger claim to the high road on arms control with his opposition to Clinton’s support for a dubious, expensive and potentially destabilizing U.S. anti-missile defence system.
Putin will have made a significant contribution to preventing a new arms race if his skepticism convinces the U.S. to take a sober second look at the scheme. Politics, more than prudent planning, appears to explain Clinton’s arguments in favour of a proposal to base 100 interceptor missiles in Alaska to destroy a limited number of missiles from so-called rogue states such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. This multi-billion-dollar scheme will be a windfall for defence contractors who find it harder to win contracts with the end of the Cold War. For his part, Clinton is afraid of running the risk of the Democratic party being perceived as soft on defence in a presidential election year. George W. Bush, presumed Republican presidential nominee, has endorsed an even more ambitious anti-missile system.
It is virtually certain that nuclear arms control will be dealt a major and perhaps terminal blow if the U.S. plan goes ahead. Anti-missile shields of the type proposed are banned under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia, China and other aspiring nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan will be sorely tempted to increase their arsenals to match what will be perceived as a move by Washington to upset the balance of power. Americans may feel more protected if a shield, even a small one, can be built at high cost to thwart an atomic attack by a terrorist regime, but at what price? It will be a false security if it results in an accelerated nuclear race.
This is not to dismiss the hypothetical menace that long-range missiles would pose in the hands of North Korea, for instance. However, the threat is better addressed through a collective international approach rather than by the U.S. going it alone in a way that smacks of American isolationism. The challenges of coping with terrorism in today’s high-tech era go well beyond missiles, and encompass everything from biological weapons to the spread of public health threats like AIDS. More effective, state-of-the-art defences, perhaps including a role for a reliable system of defensive missiles if it can be developed — that’s a big if — might eventually be required. In any case, the financial, technical and political obstacles are steep. It makes more sense for the U.S. to engage the international community in countering the threat than to act unilaterally.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in good position to bridge the gap between Moscow and Washington. Now is the time for Blair to support Putin and urge the U.S. to realize that its anti-missile plan will start an arms race that could undermine world security. (Source: Hamilton Spectator Editorial)