The Lessons of the ABM Treaty
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The Lessons of the ABM Treaty


46 years ago, August 3rd 1972, the U.S. Senate ratified the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was one of the first agreements of its kind between two global superpowers. Let’s remember what the treaty was about, what it gave to both sides, and how the lessons of the ABM treaty are applicable for the modern day.

ABM was an arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile systems used in defending areas against ballistic missile-delivered nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the treaty, each party was limited to two ABM complexes, each of which was to be limited to 100 anti-ballistic missiles. This was a real achievement, especially considering the fact that only 10 years earlier the U.S. and the Soviet Union almost collided during Cuban Missile Crisis, which posed a threat not only to the countries involved, but to humanity in general. The number of warheads both sides could use against each other could’ve caused a true “Fallout”. Good thing both sides managed to come to an agreement. Great thing – 10 years after they decided to stop the arms race, at least for some time.

Signed in 1972, it was in force for the next 30 years. In 1997, five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, four former Soviet republics agreed with the United States to succeed the USSR's role in the treaty. In June 2002 the United States withdrew from the treaty, leading to its termination.

1972 was a difficult year for the U.S.: it was the beginning of the Watergate scandal, the year it became absolutely clear American wouldn’t be able to not only win, but not even to save face following the Vietnam War. Eventually, that was the year the U.S. basketball team lost to the Soviet team in Munich, also – losing the golden medal at the Olympics. In such a political, social and cultural atmosphere, the signing of such a “peaceful” document was more than needed so as to bring some relief to the American people. And also – which is even more important to some extent — it was a means of building trust between the global superpowers.

What shall we learn from the ABM treaty, how can we apply those lessons to our days, the days of “New Cold War”? Well, first of all, we should remember both Russia and the U.S. are still capable of destroying the whole world with only one push of a button, which is basically not what the whole world wants. Second, and we should admit it, diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. are now even worse than they were at the moment ABM treaty was signed: Americans blame Russians for “war crimes in Syria”, suppress their media (including USA Really), arrest Russian citizens for some contrived reasons etc. Russia, in its turn, is trying to challenge the unipolar system of American domination, which was formed as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. So, what we should remember is both Russia and the U.S. are still able to communicate, to sign treaties and stay away from mutual conflicts and blames, but it seems like we have to relearn all of these lessons from our past. 

Yet, Russia and the U.S. aren’t even able to cooperate on the war on terror in Syria, despite the fact that both countries have one common enemy, namely global terrorism. Neither side is interested in the spread of radical ideas across the world, and this is pretty obvious. Why should America blame Russia for all the sins, fighting in Syria, trying to overthrow legitimate political power there etc.? The diplomats of the past could solve this problem straightforwardly. The diplomats of the present seem to be not that smart and flexible. Why should Russian diplomatic facilities get closed in the U.S.? This is something very unusual even for the true Cold War era. Why can’t we just get to some agreement, which would satisfy both sides?

This question is rhetorical.

Author: USA Really