U.S. Will Withdraw From 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
--Bush issues formal notification to Russia
By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- President Bush formally announced December 13 that the United
States is withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
"As provided in Article 15 of that Treaty, the effective date of withdrawal
will be six months from today [December 13]," White House spokesman Ari
Fleischer said in a formal statement.
Official notification was given to the Russian government at 4:30 a.m. EST
(0930 GMT) by U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, and at 9 a.m. EST (1400
GMT) similar notification was given to the governments of Ukraine,
Kazakhstan and Belarus, all former Soviet states that had signed memoranda
of understanding in 1997, during the Clinton administration, tying them to
the terms of the Treaty.
"I have concluded the ABM Treaty hinders our government's ability to develop
ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile
attacks," Bush said in his announcement. "Defending the American people is
my highest priority as commander-in-chief and I cannot and will not allow
the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing
By leaving the 29-year-old treaty, Bush said the United States will be able
to conduct the type of research, testing and development necessary to
determine if a workable anti-ballistic missile defensive system can be
fielded. The United States already has begun testing a ground-based system
designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in
mid-flight. The U.S. Navy has also been testing some components of a
shipboard missile intercept system.
"The Cold War is long gone," Bush said in the White House Rose Garden after
a meeting with the National Security Council. "Today we leave behind one of
its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day
for looking forward with hope of greater prosperity and peace."
Then-President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, on May 26,
1972, signed the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)
Systems, which entered into force October 3, 1972. This treaty was one of
two agreements reached during the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
(SALT I), which were intended to slow and eventually reverse the nuclear
arms race between the United States and Soviet Union.
The ABM Treaty prohibits the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems
for the defense of either nation's entire territory, but did permit each
side to deploy limited ABM systems at two locations, one centered on the
nation's capital and one at a location containing ICBM silo launchers.
However, a 1974 protocol further limited each nation to only one ABM site,
either at the nation's capital or around an ICBM deployment area. Russia
has a limited ABM system located around Moscow.
The ABM Treaty also specifically bans the development, testing, and
deployment of sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based ABM
systems and system components.
Bush said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin "have also agreed
that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine
our new relationship or Russian security. Beginning in Ljubljana and
continuing in meetings in Genoa, Shanghai, Washington and Crawford,
President Putin and I developed common ground for a new strategic
Bush said the United States is committed to forging a strong economic
relationship with Russia, and new bonds between Russia and the NATO
"I look forward to visiting Moscow to continue our discussions as we seek a
formal way to express a new strategic relationship that will last beyond our
individual administrations, providing a foundation for peace for the years
to come," the president said.
Putin, in a television address December 13, called the U.S. decision to
withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty a "mistake."
One major step in the relationship has been a pledge by the Bush
administration to reduce the U.S. operationally deployed strategic nuclear
arsenal from approximately 6,000 warheads to 1,700-to-2,200.