Judge says 'no' to ABM treaty

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972 has been relegated to the trash heap by President Bush. Determined to pursue a vigorous missile defence programme to combat current threats, he has decided that this agreement is no longer in the best interests of his country. He gave Moscow the required six-month notice in December 2001. (Another source says it was a mutual decision between the U.S. and Russia to abrogate the agreement.)

As long ago as last June, 32 members of the House of Representatives took legal steps to stop their president from taking what they considered an unconstitutional step. It is their contention that since international treaties are ratified by the Senate and considered the law of the land, the president has no power to repeal them without the approval of Congress.

Last December 28, U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out the attempt to reactivitate the ABM Treaty with this surprising finding: "The court concludes that the treaty termination issue is a nonjusticiable political question that cannot be resolved by courts. Accordingly, this action will be dismissed."

At least some consider this -- the judge's statement that his court will not look at political decisions whose constitutionality is questioned -- to be a remarkable piece of judicial backsliding. It is a step in the direction of reversing the fundamental ruling in another case (Marbury v. Madison) which effectively declared that executive action could not be protected from court review.

No longer constrained by the ABM Treaty, Bush announced in December that he will use a missile shield to protect the U.S. against attack by terrorists or such "rogue" nations as North Korea, Iran or Iraq. This will involve the deployment of 16 ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, by the end of 2005. Also, the Pentagon has said that as many as 20 sea-based weapons, capable of intercepting missiles in the boost phase of flight, will be put aboard ships equipped with Aegis battle management systems.

With information from the January 3 Agence France Presse and a U.S. news researcher.