In his recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ) makes the case that the United States should not give Russian President Vladimir Putin guarantees, political or legal, that a U.S. missile defense system will not be effective against Russian missiles. President Obama recently indicated he will exhibit more “flexibility” after he is re-elected in accommodating Russian objections to the U.S. expanding its missile defense capabilities.
“The right to self-defense is not one for which we must negotiate; it’s certainly not something for which Russia would negotiate,” Senator Kyl states. This is correct. The United States should not hesitate to shoot down a ballistic missile en route toward its victims just because the launch location happens to be in Russia. In addition, as Kyl correctly points out, after the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to limit their respective missile defense programs in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, neither side gave up on expanding its strategic arsenal. The Soviets increased their arsenal from about 2,500 in 1972 to 11,500 in 1989.
The United States has been relentless in its efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, especially since U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, but such “cooperation has proven elusive,” Kyl points out. It is clear that Russia is more interested in limiting U.S. missile defenses than in genuine cooperation. The Russians proved partly successful in the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) negotiated by the Obama Administration. This treaty provides Moscow with a tool to obstruct the U.S. missile defense program: It contains provisions linking strategic offensive and defensive arms and limits some U.S. missile defense options.
Russia has voiced strong objections to the European Phased Adaptive Approach, President Obama’s plan to protect members of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance and U.S. homeland in its later phases. Recently, Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov stated, “A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation [regarding U.S. missile defense in Europe] worsens.” This attitude demonstrates why the United States must protect its allies and itself.
As Kyl reiterates, “Do the Russians provide us written assurances that their new mobile ballistic missile systems won’t be directed against Europe or the U.S.? Or that their nuclear bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles won’t target us? No, they do not.” If Putin wishes to engage the United States in an arms race, Senator Kyl says, let it happen—since it “didn’t work out so well for the Soviet Union, and it would be foolish now,” he emphasizes. He also made the same point during the recent annual Jesse Helms Lecture at The Heritage Foundation.