US violates anti-missile treaty

Wednesday, May 1, 1991

By Conn M. Hallinan

While most of the US media were transfixed by the Gulf War, the Bush administration quietly carried out a violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

On January 28, the US fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific an Eris missile that successfully intercepted an ICBM warhead launched from California. The Eris employs a special infrared sensor that reflects a major breakthrough in ABM technology.

Amid the smoke and fog of war, the test got little play in the media, and the New York Times did its level best to obscure just how alarming the incident was. In a front-page article, Times science writer William J Broad waxed eloquent about the Eris and how the Patriot missile successes in the Gulf War had created a favourable climate for the Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars.

Not until the second-to-last paragraph did Broad even mention the ABM treaty:

"From the start of the Eris program the government had said the flight test would not violate a 1972 treaty in which the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to limits on developing or deploying improved anti-missile devices. But some private experts have suggested that the advanced Eris sensor might violate the treaty."

But what the government says does not violate the treaty, of course, has nothing to do with what the treaty says.

In 1985 the Reagan administration unilaterally declared that the ABM treaty allowed development and testing of "new technology", a position still held by the Bush administration. In a letter to the Times in October 1985, Gerard C Smith, chief negotiator of the 1972 treaty, insisted that any development or testing of ABM technology was a violation of the agreement, quoting Article 5 section 1: "each party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea based, air based, space based, or mobile land based".

The idea behind the treaty was that the ABM systems were inherently destabilising because they might tempt one side to launch a first strike, hoping that their ABMs could absorb a weakened retaliatory blow. The treaty's preamble argues "that effective measures to limit anti ballistic missile systems would be a substantial factor in curbing the race in strategic offensive arms and would lead to a decrease in the risk of outbreak of war involving nuclear weapons".

That was why the 1972 treaty not only blocked all development and testing, but limited land-based systems to 100 launchers and missiles in a single site.

If the 1972 treaty is scuttled, the world can kiss control of long range ballistic missiles goodbye.
[Abridged from Lies Of Our Times.]