Interpreting the ABM Treaty

Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) has given us a fanciful account of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty negotiations in his article (Editorial Pages, June 15), which supports the Reagan Administration's new interpretation of that treaty.

An analysis by Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee points out that this rendition of the negotiating history, originally presented by State Department legal adviser Judge Abraham Sofaer, reaches a faulty conclusion by ignoring the distinctions between two separate subjects that were under negotiation.

The ABM treaty restricts the deployment of weapons designed to intercept long-range nuclear missiles, with specific numerical limits on the kinds of systems then under consideration. Those systems consisted of radars and interceptor rockets based at fixed sites on the ground. The current debate over the interpretation of the ABM treaty concerns restrictions on future ABM systems in other, mobile basing modes, in particular whether the United States can legally test "Star Wars" systems for deployment in space. Article V (1) definitively rules this out: "Each party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based." According to Nunn's analysis, the Soviets agreed to these restrictions as early as September, 1971.

The two sides did not agree until somewhat later on what restrictions to impose on possible future types of fixed land-based ABM systems using "other physical principles." In April, 1972, the Soviet delegation agreed to language that ruled out the deployment of ABM systems other than explicitly permitted by the treaty. They also agreed to attach an explanatory footnote, Agreed Statement D, stating that future types of ABM components could not be deployed without amending the treaty.

Sofaer has located a number of statements from the negotiations over fixed land-based exotic ABMs which, when taken out of context, could be misinterpreted to indicate continuing debate over mobile and space-based exotics and an eventual agreement to ban deployment but not testing of such systems. This is what one might expect from a courtroom advocate, trying to make the best case for his client's view. We ought to expect a more honest performance from a legal adviser to the State Department, a balanced analysis rather than a partisan charade. Fortunately, Sen. Nunn has stepped in to do the job that Judge Sofaer would not do.


Santa Barbara

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