Chicago Journal of International Law


Whether the United States should initiate construction of a limited national missile defense system became a significant issue for the Clinton administration in the summer of 2000. Central to the national defense system discussion was a concern that such a move would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ("ABM Treaty") signed with the Soviet Union in 1972. The administration considered a number of different approaches to build a national missile defense system, including the possibility that the ABM Treaty could be interpreted to allow preliminary stages of construction to begin without technically violating the treaty. After considerable deliberation, the Clinton administration decided not to insist upon such a broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty. However, the discussion surrounding that possibility highlighted an important problem in international law: what happens when one party to an international treaty unilaterally changes a long-standing and previously universally accepted interpretation of the treaty? [CONT]