Although President George W. Bush expressed satisfaction during a mid-June visit to Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin and other European leaders had showed “receptivity” to his intention to develop a new strategic framework, including missile defenses, Putin and key NATO leaders reiterated their concerns with U.S. plans and warned the United States against pushing ahead alone.
On his first visit to Europe since winning the presidency, Bush traveled to five nations in five days, beginning with Spain on June 12 and capping the tour with his first meeting with Putin June 16 in Slovenia. In between these stops, Bush attended a NATO heads-of-state meeting and a summit with the 15-nation European Union.
At each stop, the president delivered the same message, urging his counterparts to “think differently” about preserving their security in the post-Cold War era, when Russia is no longer a NATO enemy, and rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, are seeking long-range ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
The president further argued that this new world necessitates building ballistic missile defenses that would require Washington and Moscow to “set aside” the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prohibits nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. However, Bush presented no specifics on his missile defense plans or the other elements of his nascent strategic framework, such as unilateral strategic reductions. “We are open as to what form [the new strategic framework] takes,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice explained to reporters June 15.
Speaking at a joint press conference after their meeting, Putin welcomed Bush’s premise that Russia and the United States were no longer enemies in a changing world with new threats, but he said that those threats needed to be “defined” before it could be decided how to tackle them. He later implied they could be addressed through means other than strategic defenses, such as diplomacy and nonstrategic or theater missile defenses. Putin, who had warned earlier in his remarks that “any unilateral actions can only make more complicated various problems and issues,” concluded by saying, “I think we can work out a common approach.”
In an extensive interview with selected U.S. journalists in Moscow two days later, Putin called for further consultations with the United States and appeared to open the door slightly on amending the ABM Treaty. Putin twice stated that Washington and Moscow should look at what specific provisions in the ABM Treaty prevent the United States from countering perceived threats. He noted that the treaty can be amended and that it does not rule out all defenses, originally allowing the two countries to deploy two regional defenses. A 1974 amendment to the treaty trimmed this allowance to one regional defense per country.
The Russian president further said that the two sides should discuss what the United States sees as the threat, what can be done about it, and what the Bush administration means when it says the U.S. defense will be “limited.”
If the United States acts independently and opts to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Putin declared that Russia would pull out of START I and START II, which limit the number of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads. If that happened, he explained that Moscow would be free to keep multiple warheads on its land-based ICBMs, an action proscribed by START II, and that Russia and the United States would lose the ability to monitor each other’s nuclear reductions. Top Russian officials have recently stated that more than 30 strategic accords are tied to the ABM Treaty.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have both dismissed the specter of a new arms race with Moscow, asserting that Russia must cut its arsenal because it cannot afford to maintain its forces at current levels and that U.S. missile defenses will be limited, thus posing no threat to Russia’s deterrent and removing any reason for Moscow to build up or alter its strategic forces.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 20, Powell explained that Russia should not worry about a limited U.S. defense because the two countries will remain vulnerable to each other’s missiles. “You can’t entirely do away with what has been known as mutual assured destruction [MAD],” Powell said. Bush, however, has equated MAD with the ABM Treaty, calling them both bankrupt relics of the past that should be left behind.
Putin was not alone in expressing concerns about U.S. plans during Bush’s European tour. French President Jacques Chirac warned that missile defenses could prompt other countries to step up efforts to acquire ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in order to overwhelm a U.S. defense, while Dutch Prime Minister Willem Kok counseled that a unilateral U.S. abrogation of the ABM Treaty “would not be the right approach.” Emphasizing the need for continued U.S. consultations on its missile defense plans, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that there are a “host of issues that need to be clarified,” a message Berlin has voiced repeatedly in the past several months.
After his June 13 meeting with the NATO allies, Bush acknowledged that “there’s some nervousness” about U.S. plans. But Bush also said that he thought he had made progress in convincing other leaders to accept his approach, claiming that their worries are “beginning to be allayed when they hear the logic behind the rationale.”
Rice seconded the president in a post-trip June 17 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asserting, “We’re bringing people along with us.” U.S. officials have named Spain, Turkey, Britain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary as places where they say the Bush initiative received a positive reception.
Some of those countries, however, have cautioned that U.S. actions should not divide the alliance and that Washington needs to proceed cooperatively, not unilaterally. And some, particularly Britain, have said only that they understand why the United States is looking at missile defenses and that they are reserving judgment until they know program specifics. In the NBC interview, Rice said winning allied support would be needed to permit the United States “the full range of options in missile defense.”
Bush disputed accusations that the United States is acting alone, saying June 13, “Unilateralists don’t come around the table to listen to others.” Nevertheless, Bush officials have repeatedly declared that Washington will move forward with missile defenses.
The president vowed the United States would continue its foreign consultations, which have been universally welcomed, and he specifically charged Powell and Rumsfeld with carrying out “regular, detailed” discussions with their Russian counterparts. Putin noted that expert working groups would also be established to discuss specifics, such as identifying the threats. By the close of June, these proposals had not been given any shape yet, according to administration officials.