If Clinton Can't Prevail Over That Nuke Treaty, How About This?

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Suddenly, it seems as if every nuclear arms control agreement of the past 30 years is on the table. Days after losing a Senate vote on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Clinton administration is now trying a new tactic to get Russian approval to revise one of the baseline arms control documents, the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. The carrot, according to the New York Times: If the Russians agree not to squawk over plans to create radar-and-interceptor missile defenses in Alaska and North Dakota (a violation of the treaty), the U.S. will help Russia upgrade its own missile-tracking radar defenses. Although Russia, knowing it can't afford to enter an arms race it can't win, has so far been unmoved since the U.S. announced its plans in January, it has been considering an appeal to the U.N. for help in enforcing the existing treaty, something the U.S. would dearly love to avoid.

Is the American build-up really necessary? The White House thinks so, arguing that the ABMs will counter emerging threats from North Korea and China, countries that do not have an extensive nuclear arsenal but will within a few years have the capacity to deliver a small number of warheads to targets in the U.S. Republicans, reading this as Son of Star Wars, enthusiastically agree. On the other hand, the bang for the buck may be very small — the greater nuclear threat may come not from missiles but in small packages hand-delivered by terrorists — compared to the potential dangers that accompany dismantling years of hard-won nuclear arms treaties.