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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NMD Devil Is in Lack of Details

LONDON — It is not surprising that the U.S. administration's new effort to persuade Russia to scrap the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty has received a chilly reception in Moscow.

It fails to address Russia's central concern: to ensure there are strict limits — or at least clearly defined ones — on the development and deployment of anti-missile systems.

That way Russia can ensure that an American missile shield can never become effective enough to neutralize Moscow's nuclear deterrent and that there are some constraints on how much the United States can exploit its technological and economic advantages.

But the latest proposals from U.S. President George W. Bush's administration are silent on this count. Instead of new limits on defensive systems, it offers the Russians less vital inducements: joint anti-missile exercises, arms purchases and funds to repair Russia's early warning network. Few of these suggestions are new and some are already in effect.

That does not mean that a new understanding on missile defense cannot be reached with Moscow or that the administration's proposals may not prove useful. But it suggests that if a compromise is to be reached permitting the United States to build a limited nationwide defense, the administration's proposals are at best only part of the solution.

When the Bush administration took office it appeared to have little interest in wooing Moscow. That may still be the administration's real thinking. But politics at home and abroad requires that the White House make a diplomatic effort — or at least be perceived as trying.

With the Democrats taking control of the Senate, there will be little support for money for an anti-missile defense if Washington does not try to talk to Moscow.

As for the allies, they seem prepared to go along grudgingly with a missile defense, but only if a way can be found to maintain a working relationship with Russia and preserve a modicum of arms control.

A senior White House official seemed to concede the new political realities when he acknowledged, "If we are going to make this work, the Russians have to agree to the plan."

The paradox is that having acknowledged the growing importance of securing Moscow's assent, or at least acquiescence, the administration's proposals are not sufficient to close the gap.

Consider the offer to conduct joint exercises of tactical anti-missile systems. That is not a new idea; the program is already under way. Two exercises involving computer simulation have been held in Moscow and Colorado, and a team of Russian officials visited the United States in February to plan a field exercise next year at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Another offer is to share early warning data on missile launches. But the Clinton administration and the Kremlin reached an agreement in 1998 to do just that, and a center to share such data is to be established in Moscow.

The Bush administration is also ready to finance improvements in Russia's early warning system, but one example suggests that is not sufficient to win the hearts and minds of the Russian military.

The Clinton administration offered assistance in constructing an early warning radar in eastern Siberia and in launching Russian early warning satellites. In return, the Clinton team sought the right to build a limited nationwide missile defense. Moscow rejected that offer. Now the Bush team is recycling the Clinton plan, but it wants the right to build a much larger anti-missile system than the Clinton administration contemplated.

Finally, the Bush administration is offering to buy S-300 anti-missile systems, which the Russians have offered to install in Europe. These would provide a defense against medium- and short-range missiles within the strict limits of the ABM Treaty. Because the sale of the S-300 was essentially a Russian idea, Moscow can hardly object. But it is unlikely that the purchase of the systems will be decisive in overcoming Russia's concerns about a multitiered U.S. missile defense.

The key questions are clear: What sort of defensive system does the Bush administration propose to build? Will it be ground-based or sea-based, or will some elements be based in space (a big worry for Moscow)? How long will it take to develop? And when does the program bump up against the limits of the ABM Treaty?

And if the ABM Treaty is abandoned, does the Bush administration plan to negotiate new binding limits on anti-missile defenses and offensive nuclear arms? In short, what is the new strategic framework Bush has called for (but never defined)?

Until the administration fills in those blanks, it will be hard not only to hammer out an agreement, it will be hard even to have a serious discussion.

"In order to hold a discussion, you have to have some subject for it, a plan, a concrete understanding of what the other side wants," said Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. "For now, there are no such plans."