Bush Assembles Pro-Missile Defense National Security Team

January/February 2001

By Wade Boese

Assembling his Cabinet and White House staff in December after a protracted election process, President-elect George W. Bush put together a national security team that is expected to support building a robust U.S. national missile defense. Bush nominated Colin Powell to serve as secretary of state and Donald Rumsfeld to serve as secretary of defense, and he appointed Condoleezza Rice to be his national security adviser.

During his campaign, Bush called for building "effective" missile defenses "at the earliest possible date" to protect all 50 U.S. states, U.S. allies, and deployed U.S. forces abroad from accidental launches or "rogue state" ballistic missile attacks. He suggested his administration would pursue not only land-based defenses, as the Clinton administration has, but also would explore all available technologies and options, such as sea-based and laser defenses. Rice, who served as the Bush campaign's chief foreign policy adviser, told The Washington Post in September that Bush had yet to decide on the specific details for a missile defense.

Nominated December 16, Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was Bush's first Cabinet appointment. At the press conference announcing his nomination, Powell said a missile defense is "an essential part of our overall strategic force posture" and that "we're going to go forward." Powell was one of several former high-level officials that flanked Bush in May when he first outlined his case for a national missile defense in a speech to the National Press Club. (See ACT, June 2000.)

Powell cautioned, however, that the United States would "spend time discussing" its defense plans with U.S. allies, many of whom worry that U.S. deployment of a missile defense could spark a renewed arms race and spur proliferation. He also implied that Washington would hold talks with Moscow and Beijing, both of which object to U.S. plans. While noting that the talks would be "tough," Powell said other countries "will have to come to the understanding that we feel [a national missile defense] is in the best interest of the American people."

Bush named Rice his national security adviser the following day. Rice has spoken and written of the need for a missile defense and has termed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes national defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, a "relic." Bush has stated that, if Moscow refuses to modify the treaty to permit a U.S. defense, he would withdraw from the accord.

In nominating Rumsfeld to head the Pentagon on December 28, Bush underscored that Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense for President Gerald Ford, chaired the congressionally mandated "Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States." The commission publicly released a report in July 1998 warning that long-range ballistic missile threats against the United States were "more mature and evolving more rapidly" than U.S. intelligence had estimated. Such missiles might be deployed with "little or no warning," according to the commission. Missile defense advocates seized on the report to increase pressure on the Clinton administration to deploy a missile defense.

Speaking December 28, Rumsfeld described the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems as "extensive across the world," and he said "a number of nations" are helping others in "bypassing the normal period of years it would take to develop these capabilities." He said this, among other threats, would "need to be addressed." In announcing the nomination, Bush tasked Rumsfeld with ensuring that missile defense "receives the priority we think it must receive in future Pentagon budgets."


Russia Reacts to Bush Win

In its congratulations to Bush on his election victory on December 14, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs referenced a statement President Vladimir Putin made in November calling for deep strategic arms reductions and the "preservation and strengthening" of the ABM Treaty. Putin subsequently won Canada's endorsement of the same language on December 18 when he and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien signed a joint statement calling for "far-reaching reductions in strategic offensive weapons while preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty."

At a joint press conference in Ottawa that same day, Putin warned that U.S. deployment of a national missile defense "will do considerable harm to the established system of national security." However, he said he believed that Russia could continue "positive" talks with the Bush administration on the issue. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the Russian press December 29 that Moscow intended to immediately start a "serious dialogue with the new U.S. administration on the entire range of disarmament problems," including "preservation" of the ABM Treaty.

Over the past several months, Russian officials have also proposed addressing U.S. concerns about missile proliferation by cooperating on theater missile defenses, which are not prohibited by the ABM Treaty. But Rice wrote in The Chicago Tribune on December 31, "It would be foolish in the extreme to share defenses with Moscow if it either leaks or deliberately transfers weapons technologies to the very states against which America is defending." An unclassified CIA report released in August identified Russia as a key supplier in 1999 of "ballistic missile-related goods and technical know-how" to Iran, India, and Libya.

Spencer Abraham Nominated for Energy Secretary

On January 2, President-elect George W. Bush announced the nomination of former Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) for the post of energy secretary. Abraham, who lost his bid for re-election in November, has twice co-sponsored legislation to abolish the Energy Department, but the Bush transition team has given assurances that its nominee no longer espouses that goal.

If confirmed, Abraham would become responsible for a broad range of contentious issues, ranging from nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship to the management of U.S. oil and gas reserves. Abraham, who does not appear to have substantial experience on nuclear weapons-related issues, would also be responsible (along with the defense secretary) for annually certifying the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile.

Like most of his former Republican colleagues in the Senate, Abraham voted to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October 1999. Abraham was cited the day before the Senate's vote arguing that "the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty does nothing to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and could diminish America's national security." Bush has said he does not support ratification of the treaty, but he has pledged to maintain the testing moratorium instituted in 1992 by his father, former President George Bush. P.C.B.