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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

Braving the Juggernaut

Those who thought that in view of the tenuous nature of his presidential 'victory', Bush the Younger would seek bipartisan, bridging policies have been shocked at the ideological, uncompromising appointments and positions so far displayed. For the rest of the world, watching the Bush Administration settling in is a bit like having a massive juggernaut bearing down on us, and not being quite sure what level of control the driver has. Is the erratic swerving intentional - testing out the machinery, perhaps? - or is the driver drunk, delusional or even asleep? Powered beyond most people's comprehension, the US juggernaut looks set to mow down anything perceived to be in its way: collective security agreements, environmental and arms treaties, relations with Russia and China, non-proliferation efforts in North Korea, India and Pakistan...

Bush is already recolouring the political map of the world. China is not to be a strategic partner but a competitor and adversary. There is less tolerance for the troubles Russia is undergoing in its difficult transition from a totalitarian, military superpower; rather, Russia is portrayed as a greedy gangster, sucking up America's resources. The allies are treated almost as hangers on, required to support or get out of the way.

America's allies face a difficult dilemma. Our security depends not only on alliance with the US superpower but on collective approaches to dealing with international threats such as global warming, nuclear weapons, and so on. Indeed, these days many would argue that the sort of military threat that NATO is structured to repel is the least of our worries. By contrast, some of the directions that Bush the Younger's policy could take us pose far greater risks to our future security. It is not only individual treaties, such as Kyoto and the CTBT that are under attack: the United States' cavalier attitude risks undermining the system of treaty-based international laws and norms that has been built up over centuries. We face global problems, but the United States seems determined to prevent global responses. This is short term thinking at its worst.

What can we do? Which is least dangerous? To try to stop the 40-ton behemoth or to try and influence its direction in the hope of minimising the damage? Take national missile defence, for example. Previous attempts by US administrations to develop missile defences fell, through a

combination of technological inadequacy, financial constraints and political opposition. Bush is now sandwiched between opponents of NMD and Republicans who want a much more comprehensive missile defence programme than Clinton's phase one Alaskan plan, incorporating barely-researched technologies for air and sea-based interception and more. If the allies oppose outright, we may simply be sidelined or crushed under-wheel as the juggernaut drives on. So we should engage in dialogue. However, anyone trying to converse with the driver of a speeding juggernaut will know that dialogue is impossible until the vehicle has slowed down considerably and opened the windows. The following would be a useful starting point for the Allies in their discussions with the Bush Administration on missile defence.

  • First, the aim should be stability, not superiority, and in particular no development should contribute to weaponising outer space or heightening the risk of making space a future battleground.
  • Second, the aim should be to enhance and not to undermine international security.
  • Third, missile defences should not be viewed as a substitute for treaty-based security, so relevant treaty commitments would have to be followed through (e.g. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT) or negotiated with the relevant parties, as may be necessary with the ABM Treaty.
  • Fourth, defence programmes should be in the context of treaty obligations contained in the NPT to reduce and eliminate nuclear arsenals and to strengthen implementation of the prohibitions against biological and chemical weapons.
Too radical? All I have done is update and adapt the principles agreed between UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan at a meeting on the strategic defence initiative in December 1984.

Such appears to be the momentum of the Bush team's crusade against anything that might limit the United States of America that the prospect of opposing from outside seems daunting. Nevertheless, we must try, or forever carry the responsibility of a terrifying, predictable crash and pile-up, victims unknown.


© 2001 The Acronym Institute.