The Missile-Defense Mistake: Undermining Strategic Stability and the ABM Treaty

Among the global challenges of the twentieth century, none was more important than eliminating the danger of nuclear war. Together, Russia, the United States, and other countries substantially minimized this threat and began the process of limiting and reducing nuclear arsenals. This effort resulted from

a universal recognition of the strategic stability concept, the cornerstone of which is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Strategic stability stemmed from mutual renunciation of strategic defense systems against intercontinental ballistic missiles, which eliminated incentives for the Soviet Union and the United States to build up offensive nuclear capabilities. Both states switched instead to a policy of mutual deterrence, at reduced levels of strategic armaments. In other words, the rejection of the nuclear "shield" made the nuclear "sword" less dangerous.

With the abm treaty as its root, a system of international accords on arms control and disarmament sprang up in the past decades. It includes the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties -- salt i and salt ii -- as well as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminating two classes of nuclear weapons -- intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. There followed the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaties -- START I and START II -- the implementation of which will reduce nuclear warheads fourfold. Coming next is the drafting of start iii to achieve still deeper cuts in strategic offensive arms.

Inseparable from this process is the creation of global and regional regimes of nuclear nonproliferation and the conclusion of agreements on the prohibition of nuclear tests, the elimination of chemical weapons, and the reduction of conventional armed forces and armaments. These agreements, comprising the modern architecture of international security, rest on the ABM treaty. If the foundation is destroyed, this interconnected system will collapse, nullifying 30 years of efforts by the world community.

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