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U.S. Should Opt Out of '72 Missile Pact

Weaponry: The Soviet Union no longer exists and America now faces other threats.

April 08, 1998|BRUCE HERSCHENSOHN | Bruce Herschensohn is a distinguished fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank based in Claremont

Fifteen years ago, President Reagan gave a speech to the nation in which he asked, "Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them?" He then appealed to Americans to turn their great talents to development of an anti-ballistic missile system capable of destroying missiles before they could reach their targets.

I believe it was the greatest idea in the history of defense: a system not designed as a weapon, a system that would not kill one living creature but rather meant to destroy an incoming missile after it was launched, but before it hit its target.

To this day, the system does not exist. The greatest stumbling block has been the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, signed as an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. That agreement put severe restrictions on both nations from deploying anti-missile technology, in effect, freezing both nations into what is called "mutual assured destruction."

There is, however, a provision in the treaty that is often overlooked. That provision is Section 2 of Article 15, which reads:

"Each party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other party six months prior to withdrawal from the treaty. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying party regards as having justified its supreme interests."

Let's do it. Let's give six months' warning. What are the extraordinary events related to the subject matter of the treaty that have jeopardized our supreme interests? They should be obvious: The party with whom we signed the treaty no longer exists. There is no Soviet Union. Further, when there was a Soviet Union, that government continually violated its provisions, a fact now admitted by no less than the president of Russia. Moreover, ballistic missiles have proliferated throughout the world, well beyond the two nations that signed the treaty.

To appease a power that no longer exists, we are gravely jeopardizing our ability to defend ourselves from other threats that do exist.

Unless all hostile governments are willing to sign such a treaty, and unless a new treaty has foolproof verification techniques that today do not exist, our government should be done with such agreements. Instead, our government should do what it is obligated to do by virtue of the U.S. Constitution: provide for the common defense.

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