Missile defense offensive abroad

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is currently in Moscow attempting to assuage Russian concerns regarding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 as the United States proposes to amend the treaty. The United States hopes to alter the treaty to allow the development and construction of a missile defense system. The risks involved in this course of action are greater than the perceived advantages, and the United States should halt this process before permanent damage is done.
Alteration of the treaty will cause countries such as China, Pakistan and India to build up their nuclear arsenal, remove all incentive for Russia to ratify START II and add to the instability of international order.
The ABM Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union, prohibited the development of missile defense systems in order to prevent an extended arms race between the two nations. The absence of such defense systems provided an impetus for START I and the reduction of both superpowers’ nuclear arsenals.
Although a renewed arms race between Russia and the United States is unlikely, the advantages a defense system would give to the United States might force China to improve its own arsenal. This in turn forces Pakistan and India to improve their arsenals, leading to an Asian arms race that is not conducive to world peace.
The Clinton administration, however, is determined to force the subject, citing concerns that rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq can strike U.S. troops or overseas installations, as well as the continental states.
The United States contends that the proposed alterations to the treaty do not violate the treaty as a whole and do not pose a threat to other nuclear powers. The alterations concern the Theatre High Altitude Anti-Missile Defense (THAAD) program. The THAAD system, according to the United States, would be used to defend against ballistic missiles that travel at speeds of 5 kilometers per second or slower, which are defined as “theatre” missiles rather than “strategic” missiles. The ABM Treaty prohibits missile defenses that could be used to defend against strategic missiles, which travel at roughly 7 kilometers per second. A strategic missile, such as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile armed with a nuclear warhead, could destroy a large city. A theatre missile, on the other hand, is slower and carries a lighter payload.
But a recent study done by the Federation of American Scientists — the only detailed public analysis of the proposed alterations — states that a missile defense system capable of defending against theatre missiles could do an adequate job against strategic missiles as well, effectively violating the ABM Treaty.
If the United States disregards the treaty and the principles upon which it was built, we risk increased international instability and alienating other nuclear nations. With a missile defense in place, these other nations might refuse to sign any other nuclear arms reduction treaties, as we have demonstrated that they in fact need their nuclear weapons and that we cannot be trusted to honor our treaties in the long run.
A frightened China is more dangerous than a starving, secretive North Korea or a decimated Iraq.