By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I really enjoyed those pictures of President Bush and President Vladimir Putin of Russia back-slapping and barbecuing down at the Bush ranch in Crawford the other day. It was heart-warming. You don't see that very often. But you know what else you don't see very often? Such a personal, important summit meeting that doesn't reach any agreement. Now that's unusual. But because the Taliban were falling at the time, no one paid attention. We should.
Houston, we have a problem here. And the problem can best be framed as: How much of President Bush's pre-Sept.-11 foreign policy agenda is he ready to abandon in order to advance his post-Sept.-11 agenda?
The Bush team came to office obsessed with building a ballistic missile shield. In order to test missiles for such a shield the Bushies insist they must remove the restrictions set by the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia. Many experts argue that the U.S. could do all the testing it needs now within the ABM treaty, but the Bush hard-liners don't care. Because what they really want is to get rid of the ABM treaty, and all nuclear arms control, so they can be free to pursue Ronald Reagan's fantasy of a total Star Wars missile shield.
The Russians initially resisted changing ABM. The ABM treaty is critical to Russia as confirmation of its superpower status, and for maintaining nuclear predictability. By keeping ABM, the Russians feel they have a legal barrier that would prevent the U.S. from developing something more than just the "limited" shield the Bush team claims to want. What the Russians fear is a total Star Wars umbrella that might make the U.S. invulnerable to missile attack and thus able to strike Russia without fear of retaliation. This would upset the nuclear balance that has kept the peace since World War II.
Now for a brief aside: While the Bush administration was pushing missile defense as its priority before Sept. 11, some of us were arguing otherwise. We began by asking a simple question. What are the real threats to U.S. security? The answers were: nuclear proliferation, missile proliferation, terrorism, mafias, rogue states and financial contagion. Then we asked: Is there any way the U.S. could effectively deal with any of these threats without a cooperative relationship with Russia? Since the answer was NO, we argued that missile defense, not to mention NATO expansion, should be subordinated to forging a strategic relationship with Moscow. Nothing has vindicated that view more than the events since Sept. 11, when Russia's support has been essential for fighting the Taliban, and would be even more critical for fighting Iraq.
Don't upset the mutually assured destruction (MAD) balance that has kept us 'safe' from nuclear attack all my life. MAD was good enough for Dad and it's good enough for me.