One can argue that the United States won’t abstain from building an anti-ballistic missile “umbrella” even if Donald Trump becomes president. And the ABM Treaty is not at all the main sticking point between Russia and the United States.
Fourteen years ago, on June 13, 2002, the United States officially withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was signed in 1972.
The United States observed the formalities: six months prior to this date, in December 2001, Russia was notified of its transatlantic partner’s intention to withdraw from the agreement on limiting the production, deployment and testing of anti-ballistic missile systems.
Admittedly, it was obvious back in 2000 that the new White House administration would take such a step – Republican candidate George W. Bush made it part of his election campaign.
It was part of the so-called Bush Doctrine, which, in addition to the ABM Treaty, included two other clauses: a refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and reinforcing the United States’ right to unilateral action in the international arena.
The Bush Doctrine is often erroneously associated with the strategy of “preventive strikes on suspicious countries,” which was adopted by the White House following 9/11. In reality, the doctrine was first publicized as far back as June 2001 in a much talked about article by conservative political analyst Charles Krauthammer.
Among other things, the bill for the American Service-Members’ Protection Act was introduced under this doctrine, just about exonerating all military and auxiliary personnel, as well as civil servants and certain government representatives, from criminal prosecution by any foreign and international courts.
The American tourist could be prosecuted for theft or murder in the country where the crime was committed, but an American officer could not be prosecuted for military crimes.
Theoretically, of course, any country could attempt to prosecute such an officer, except that the United States would officially view this as an illegal prosecution of its own citizen and a pretext for implementing sanctions and even military force.
Washington’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and recognize the international jurisdiction of U.S. government employees triggered a wave of discontent across Europe. While Russia took on the obligation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in accordance with the protocol adopted at the 1998 summit in Kyoto, it was fairly unperturbed by the United States’ environmental nihilism.
At the time, our country held a broad discussion among scientists and political experts about whether CO2 affected the climate and, if it did, which was more important: the economy or the melting of the polar ice caps?
As for the various international courts, Moscow treated them with almost as much skepticism as it does now.
Moscow’s biggest misfortune was the United States’ refusal to adhere to the ABM Treaty. For completely understandable reasons, neither in 2002 nor at present did anyone in our country’s political leadership believe then or now that the American ABM system is directed against Iran or North Korea.
In the pages of influential political publications, many American experts, too, indicated that it was very difficult to believe that the global ABM system (and its component, the Euro ABM system) was “not directed against Russia,” since problems with Pyongyang and Teheran could be resolved in a far cheaper and technologically simpler way.
On the one hand, the resulting situation is rather comical. We know that they know that we know why they are building the ABM system. But knowing this does not lead to a meaningful conversation. In Washington, contradictory and, at times, absurd arguments are used over and over in favor of disrupting the global balance of nuclear deterrence.
On the other hand, it would be foolish to expect that, after hearing our arguments, Americans will agree with us and refuse to make their country’s territory strategically invulnerable to the extent that the technology at their disposal allows them.
Just like American exceptionalism, the country’s goal to be invulnerable to a foreign adversary is an absolutely consensual concept in American society and a part of the social contract between the elite and the electorate that no political upheaval could undermine.
In 2008 and 2012, my colleagues and I were often asked how the situation with the overall American ABM system would develop in the event of various outcomes in the presidential election in the United States. At the time, I replied that the United States would continue building the ABM system (quickly or a little slower) even if Ron Paul became president. Today, it may be asserted that the United States will not abstain from building an anti-ballistic missile “umbrella” even if Donald Trump becomes president. Or, unfathomably, Bernie Sanders. Otherwise, the voters will be simply confounded.
No appeal to international law, universal human values, common sense, God or the devil will force the United States to reject the idea of strategic invulnerability in the next hundred years. Which means that broaching the subject of limiting anti-ballistic missile systems as a whole is, alas, futile.
It must be acknowledged that today’s world is much safer than it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the ABM Treaty was in effect. And this is the result of negotiations, nuclear arsenal reductions, contacts on a wide variety of levels and collaboration in multiple spheres rather than that 1972 treaty.
Moreover, it is not at all the ABM Treaty that is currently the main sticking point in Russia-United States relations. The trouble is that there is not enough mutual understanding and respect.
We should not give up or count on the current level of Russia’s weapons of nuclear deterrence. There must be a normal process of military construction. There must be technological solutions, which would, brick by brick, devalue the superiority achieved by the United States.
But this alone is not enough. Russia must convince the world that the day when a reliable global anti-ballistic missile system is finally built will be the day the world ends.
The entire might of Russian diplomacy and foreign policy propaganda must aim to achieve this specific goal, and not to “express concerns regarding compliance with international agreements.” If such propaganda is successful, every step in executing the American ABM system will be complex, drawn-out and politically risky.
And let the United States strive for strategic invulnerability. Let this idea warm their soul. But it must always remain a distant, alluring prospect.
Let them build their ABM system. Forever.