BETWEEN THE LINES: Russia Won't 'Buy' Star Wars Program

As President Clinton considers whether or not to deploy a limited missile defense system later this year, the issue of national nuclear weapons policy has become a focus of the 2000 race for the White House. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, looking to bolster his foreign policy credentials, recently proposed that the U.S. build a missile defense system far larger than that being contemplated by the Clinton Administration. Bush Jr. envisions a national missile defense system similar to the "Star Wars" program first proposed by Ronald Reagan. Despite serious doubts about the viability of any missile defense, Bush wants a system that would cover all 50 states and could be extended to protect allies across the globe. The Texas governor says he would scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty if the Russians didn't agree to change it, while making large unilateral cuts in the numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Backers of these various plans, estimated to cost between $60 billion and $120 billion, say it will protect America from missile attacks launched by so-called "rogue states" such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. But Russia, China and many U.S. allies oppose deployment of all missile defense systems -- warning that it will spark a new global nuclear arms race between well-established nuclear powers and states like India and Pakistan.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke Luke Warren, media director with the Council for a Livable World Education Fund, who examines Gov. Bush's recent policy pronouncements on U.S. nuclear arms issues.

Luke Warren: Russia is the only nation on earth that could make the U.S. disappear. They are the only nation that has the military capability of destroying the United States. Sure, North Korea might get a couple of nukes, but that is not a threat to U.S. security.

Russia's nuclear arsenal is the only thing out there that can destroy us. In my mind, that should be our number one goal: trying to reduce that arsenal. The only way we can do that is by maintaining the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. And if we maintain the ABM treaty, we can't deploy missile defense.

Most of the proponents of missile defense want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to build missile defense and they want to see further reductions in the Russian nuclear arsenal. They don't want to see China engage in an arms buildup and they don't want to see all these other so-called rogue nations get nuclear weapons.

But in order to see the nuclear weapons reductions, in order to keep China from getting into a nuclear arms race with the U.S., we have to maintain the ABM treaty, which means we cannot have missile defense. (Some pundits are) saying, "Oh, it's an old Cold War treaty. Well, the fact of the matter is, we have Cold War level nuclear arsenals, and until we get rid of those things, we'll be stuck in a Cold War mentality, and that's just the bottom line. People say, "We don't want Russia to have veto power over U.S. security." Well, I'm sorry, but they do. Why? Because they've got all these nukes.

So our first order of business should be to see a vast reduction in those nuclear arsenals, and to do that, we cannot build a missile defense system and there's no argument about that. That's just a fact, the Russians are adamant about maintaining the ABM treaty.

Between The Lines: Luke Warren, assess for us what George W. Bush, the Texas governor and presidential candidate's recent proposal that breaks with long-standing nuclear arms control strategies.

Luke Warren: His recent proposal is the prime example of what I was talking about, which is the contradictory nature of the proponents of missile defense. What Bush is advocating is not only going down to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II levels now that both treaties are ratified, but actually going down below those levels and doing it unilaterally. It follows the example of his father, (President George Bush, who) in 1991 said, "I'm going to get rid of all the intermediate nuclear range weapons in Europe." He just did it. He didn't talk to the Russians about it, and he just did it.

Mikhail Gorbachev then followed suit, months later. He said, "That's a good idea, I'm going to do it too." So this is Bush Jr.'s blueprint. He wants to say, "OK, I want to get rid of that class of nuclear weapons." Or, "I want to reduce, say, a thousand strategic nuclear weapons. I want to get rid of some of our nuclear weapons in reserve."

He is also advocating de-alerting (missiles), in other words, taking our weapons off hair-trigger alert status. That may even include de-mating the warheads from the missiles. He might do something like that unilaterally because the situation in Russia is such they don't have the money to (maintain) their nuclear arsenal. So, they're looking for an excuse to get rid of their nukes.

If they see the U.S. acting this way, they would follow suit, that's (George W.'s) logic. But, then he has to deal with the fact that he wants this more robust missile defense largely based on Aegis destroyers, which is a definite violation of the ABM treaty. No doubt about it. This technology has not been proven to work because these systems were not designed to shoot down missiles, particularly long-range missiles, and that's his primary goal. He would also set up space-based lasers and satellites and more expensive ground-based radar systems, all of which are in violation of the ABM treaty.

And that's where the higher price tag comes from, estimated at bout $120 billion for the ABM system that he's advocating, over, say 20 years. So it's definitely not cheap. But again, back to the basics, you can't get missile defense and reductions in nuclear weapons at the same time.

I'm all for de-alerting and unilateral weapons cuts. I think Russia would follow suit but they're only going to follow suit if we maintain the ABM nuclear treaty.

Contact the Council by calling (202) 546-0795 or visit their Web site at

Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines.

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