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Monday, April 17, 2000

Putin wins approval
of nuclear agreement

Bullet The issue: The lower house of the Russian parliament has ratified the START II nuclear weapons reduction pact at the urging of President Vladimir Putin.

Bullet Our view: The United States should not let Moscow use the START II agreement to block deployment of a missile defense system.

NEWLY elected President Vladimir Putin demonstrated his clout in winning ratification of the long-delayed START II nuclear weapons reduction pact, despite opposition in the Duma, the lower house, by the Communists and their allies. Prompt action is expected to follow in the upper house. The U.S. Senate approved the treaty four years ago.

Much as Washington sought ratification, the action brings with it problems. SALT II approval was tied by the Russians to preserving the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty intact.

The Clinton administration wants to amend the treaty to permit deployment of a limited missile defense system, but so far has had no success getting Moscow to agree.

Washington should be patient with the Russians on this issue, but make it clear that in the end it intends to deploy the missile defense system with or without Moscow's consent.

The Russian tactic of raising the prospect of voiding the START II treaty is an empty threat. Many Russian missiles are past their useful life and will have to be scrapped soon anyway, START or no START. The government can't afford to maintain its current nuclear arsenal and has no real use for it. The cost of replacing the 3,500 missiles allowed under START II will be a lot less than building 6,000 new ones, as allowed under the previous START I accord.

Unlike the situation in the Cold War era, the U.S. missile defense system isn't intended as a shield against Russian attack, which no one anticipates. It's supposed to guard against so-called rogue nations such as North Korea. So there is no reason -- except national pride -- for the Russians to make an issue of this. Moreover, the treaty was negotiated with the Soviet Union -- a government that no longer exists.

The Clinton administration is willing to respect the ABM treaty but wants to amend it to permit deployment of the new system. In view of Russia's many problems, it should be possible to give Putin an incentive to go along that he couldn't refuse.

There are still questions about the missile defense's reliability and effectiveness. If they can be resolved and the Russians still balk, the United States should proceed with deployment anyway.

The time when the United States had to contend with Moscow in making decisions about defense issues has ended.

THE nation faces other threats today, and deployment of a missile defense system is widely acknowledged as necessary. Hawaii's congressional delegation supports deployment out of concern over North Korean missiles that have the range to strike Hawaii and Alaska.

Holocaust denier
loses libel suit

Bullet The issue: David Irving, who claimed that the Nazis killed far fewer Jews than is generally believed, has lost his libel suit against a critic.

Bullet Our view: It is important that the facts of the Holocaust be learned by later generations.

THE Holocaust, the slaughter of millions of people -- Jews and other despised persons -- by the Nazis is the grisliest fact of the 20th century if not of all history. Yet there are some who deny that it happened.

As the horrors of the Holocaust recede into time, it is easier for the deniers to seem plausible to generations born in later decades. That is why the verdict in a libel suit heard in London last week is important.

David Irving is a self-described historian who contends that far fewer Jews were executed in the Holocaust than the 6 million that is generally accepted and that none died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book branding Irving a Holocaust denier and accused him of distorting the truth about Nazi Germany. Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel. Irving claimed that after the publication of Lipstadt's book his work was shunned by publishers and agents.

The British court ruled in Lipstadt's favor. Justice Charles Gray found that "Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence.

"For the same reasons, he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favorable light, particularly in relation to his attitude toward and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews." Irving will bear the costs of Lipstadt's defense, which may top $3 million.

Eldred Tabachnik, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, observed that "Although the Holocaust itself was not an issue at the trial, we welcome the fact that attempts to manipulate the truth about the tragic events of that time have been shown to be baseless."

THE horrifying degree to which the Nazis succeeded in their attempts to exterminate the Jews was not widely accepted until the death camps were opened by the Allied forces. The fact that the Holocaust happened must never be forgotten, for if it is the same thing could happen again -- if not to the Jews, to other peoples.

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