July 23rd 2001

By Bruce Gagnon

The Bush - Putin meeting in Genoa, Italy on July 22 seems to have created an agreement to link discussion of American plans to deploy a missile defense system with the possibility for big cuts in both sides' nuclear arsenals. Such an accord could replace the 1972 ABM Treaty but negotiations are still to come.

Since returning home to Moscow, Putin has been criticized as "surrendering" to the U.S. by major Russian media and he spent the morning explaining his position to his cabinet and advisors.

We have long been waiting to see how Putin would ultimately respond to the increasing pressure from the U.S. and parts of Europe -- particularly the British. Putin needs money badly for his crumbling economy.  Russia can't afford to maintain its costly large nuclear weapons force.  The question has always been whether Putin would ultimately turn to China, as he appeared to just last week when he signed a security pact with the Chinese, or toward the more prosperous Europe and the U.S.

Putin and Russia appear to be trying to have it both ways.  They appear to be trying to reassure China that they will hold out with them against the U.S. becoming the singular military superpower in the world.  China, with only 20 nuclear warheads capable of hitting the continental U.S., fears deployments of Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) systems that the U.S. is threatening to station in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and on ships throughout the Asian-Pacific region.  These deployments would help to "manage China," the Washington Post reported in May, 2000.

It is possible that Putin has come to accept George W. Bush's oft - stated claim that "missile defense" is not pointed at Russia.  Quite possibly Putin has been offered a deal by the U.S. and the Europeans (G8) to turn away from China.

One thing appears certain.  George W. Bush wants to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal and transfer money into space weapons development.  By doing so he will appear on the world stage as a great "disarmament" leader but he will keep enough nuclear weapons (and update them) to still give the U.S. the nuclear sword to go along with the Star Wars shield.  This first-strike capability will certainly be used to prod some nation(s) into submission.  Again, it is possible Putin is convinced that Russia is not the target.  After all they are already under control as NATO expands to virtually surround them and their economy continues to shrivel.

China though has much to fear.  Its economy is expanding and Bush knows that China is the one great "competitor" not yet under the total control of the global corporate machine.  Thus China's eagerness to sign some kind of a mutual pact with Russia, weak as it might be, hoping to form some wall of protection from the expanding U.S. megapower.

For the peace movement, this development further underscores our need to broaden the campaign on "missile defense" to include the TMD component that most certainly is now Bush's and the Democratic Party's preferred deployment option.  It will be TMD that becomes the destabilizing key that will drive a new arms race as China is forced to respond to being surrounded by new U.S. systems.

Watch closely in coming weeks the discussion about the ABM Treaty and new NMD testing facilities in Alaska.  This debate will tell us much about any future Bush - Putin deal.  Will the Democratic politicians signal their "bi-partisan" support for billions of research and development dollars for NMD, TMD and space-based lasers?  Will there be quiet "bi-partisan" support for TMD deployment as soon as technologically feasible?

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