If President Bush, in the wake of 9/11,
announced that the United States had been deliberately leaving the
country vulnerable to attack by airplanes, most Americans would be
incredulous - and angry. Yet this is exactly our situation when it
comes to ballistic missile attack. We're completely vulnerable to
any state or terrorist group armed with a ballistic missile.
Fortunately, Bush is moving to eliminate this vulnerability by
constructing a limited ballistic-missile-defense system and
declaring it operational as soon as possible.
Following a scrubbed test of this system on Dec. 15, though, its critics are saying that we should put it on hold indefinitely. They say the technology isn't ready and won't be ready for a long time.
But the ability of many of these critics to make accurate predictions is suspect. In the past, many have argued that the U.S. should never deploy such a system because it would start an arms race or provoke an attack.
The arms race didn't happen. The U.S. and Russia are moving to reduce their nuclear arsenals at the same time that Bush is moving forward with missile defense. In fact, the real provocation is U.S. vulnerability. The terrorists of 9/11 used a means of attack - hijacked airliners - because they suspected it would work. Others will try to use ballistic missiles, unless the U.S. can counter them.
The critics also once said that the Patriot missile, which was used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 with only limited success, would never work. But during Operation Iraqi Freedom last year, the Patriot went nine for nine in destroying Iraqi missiles.
Yes, the missile-defense system we're pursuing right now is limited. Future tests may reveal problems. But this is an argument for moving quickly to make the defense better, not giving up.
Even with its initial limitations, the system we're building now will keep our enemies guessing. That's exactly what we need. So let's take what we've learned from this scrubbed test and use it to improve, not end, this vital program.
Baker Spring is the F.M. Kirby research fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in USA Today