From an arms control perspective, the first 100 days of George W. Bush's presidency have been a disaster. President Bush has demonstrated that he believes, and intends to implement, his campaign rhetoric condemning past arms control accomplishments and even the concept of arms control itself. Unless he changes direction, Bush will have effectively demolished the arms control regime that has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years.
Bush's intentions became clear when he surrounded himself with advisers drawn almost exclusively from a small circle of individuals who share the belief that arms control is fundamentally contrary to U.S. interests because it places limits on U.S. development and deployment of weapons. Supremely confident of U.S. economic, technological, operational, and moral superiority, these advisers would prefer to forego constraints on the military programs of potential adversaries than to reduce U.S. military flexibility.
The principal target of this undisguised animosity toward arms control has been the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This treaty, negotiated by President Richard Nixon and overwhelmingly ratified in 1972, stands in the way of Bush's announced intention to move as quickly as possible to deploy a robust national missile defense (NMD) system. Such an NMD system would be antithetical both to the treaty's blanket prohibition on systems to defend the entire territory of either the United States or Russia and to practically every specific provision of the treaty.
Recognizing that the ABM Treaty cannot be amended to accommodate a robust defense, Bush has set the stage for withdrawal from the treaty. While this is within a president's constitutional powers, it is not a trivial act. In fact, there is no precedent for U.S. withdrawal from a formal ratified and deposited arms control treaty. President Ronald Reagan, despite his enthusiasm for a "Star Wars" defense, never proposed withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
Bush's distaste for treaties has not been limited only to the ABM Treaty, but has also extended to formal restrictions on strategic offensive weapons. He calls for unilateral reductions, claiming formal treaties take too long to negotiate. Were he willing to use his influence with Senator Jesse Helms, START II could be brought into force promptly and START III negotiations could be undertaken immediately. Vague promises of unilateral reductions reflect the desire to maintain maximum flexibility in structuring U.S. forces with no constraints on future deployments. Freedom of action is given higher priority than the START II provisions eliminating Russia's 150 remaining 10-warhead SS-18 ICBMs as well as MIRVed SS-24s and SS-19s, and banning deployment of future MIRVed Topol-M land-based ICBMs.
In rejecting formal treaties, Bush abandons agreed verification procedures that will become increasingly important at lower force levels, as will specific provisions to guard against rapid breakout changing the strategic balance. In charting the nuclear future, Bush has apparently forgotten the admonition of President Reagan: "Trust but verify."
True to campaign rhetoric, the Bush administration states it will not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the spurious grounds that testing is required for stockpile safety and reliability. The administration apparently wishes to be in a position to test new types of weapons for new missions, such as low-yield earth-penetrating weapons.
As further evidence of his disdain for arms control agreements, Bush chose not to continue the promising negotiations, inherited from the Clinton administration, aimed at eliminating North Korea's ballistic missile development program and its missile exports. His personal public rejection of even attempting a diplomatic solution to this important problem was widely seen as reflecting not only a lack of interest in arms control but also a desire to maintain North Korea as a threat to justify his costly missile defense plans, as opposed to eliminating the threat at little or no cost through diplomacy.
The proposed 2002 budget for the Department of Energy includes substantial cuts for programs to reduce the leakage of materials and personnel from the Russian nuclear program. Coming on the heels of an independent bipartisan commission's recommendation to increase substantially the funding for these programs, one wonders about the administration's commitment to meaningful unilateral actions.
To say the least, the first 100 days have not augured well for arms control. The promised light at the end of the tunnel is not a glimpse of a new post-Cold-War, laissez-faire military paradise where the United States can do whatever it pleases, but rather an oncoming locomotive portending a disastrous collision with reality. Surely, President Bush does not want to be remembered as the man who killed arms control and replaced it with an ineffective defense in a world of military anarchy.