June 29, 1995 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

ED062995e: America is Vulnerable to Missile Attack

President Clinton may be willing to close the street in front of the White House to guard against fence climbers and potential truck bombers. But he resolutely sticks his head in the sand when it comes to the need to defend America against possible missile attack.

Recently, one of the president's top national security advisors told Congress, in effect, "don't worry, be happy," because there isn't any nuclear threat now and probably won't be one for many years to come. Thanks, I feel so much safer.

Apparently, if Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jan Lodal is to be believed, the administration's policy is to build a missile-defense system only after some rogue regime like North Korea or Iraq has in its possession ballistic missiles capable of striking Portland, Maine, Ogden, Utah, or some other U.S. town or city.

And even then, Lodal told lawmakers, according to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty -- a pact signed with the now defunct Soviet Union -- America could only erect "a limited defense." And by the way, he added, the ABM pact also means we would have to get Russia's permission before we start building!

The fact is that the threat of a ballistic missile attack against America's cities could become all too terrifyingly real very soon. And, presently, America is undefended.

Just last year the Pentagon's top intelligence experts told Congress for the first time that North Korea is developing a missile called the "Taepo Dong 2," with a range of up to 6,000 miles, which means it could strike New York or Boston.

Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria -- not exactly known for their love of America -- also are working on nuclear weapons and the rockets to "deliver" them.

The potential threat is real -- and complicated further by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Nobody knows for certain that disaffected members of the former Soviet Red Army won't sell some rogue nation or terrorist group some of the 1,300-plus ballistic missiles now "controlled" by Russia. All it takes is one.

The People's Republic of China has an estimated 100 ballistic missiles. Its CSS-2, with a range of 1,860 miles, was recently sold to Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally -- but can President Clinton guarantee that the next CSS-2 buyer will not be a Saddam Hussein? In a few years, the list of nations capable of threatening the United States and its allies with ballistic missiles is likely to expand to 20 or more. How long before somebody pushes the button?

Most Americans have no idea that if America's leaders decided to do so, we could erect an effective missile-defense system within five years, capable of protecting the entire United States at a cost of only $4 billion to $5 billion.

The United States should erect defenses against ballistic missiles regardless of whether it "violates" the ABM Treaty, or what the Russians think about it. America has a sovereign right to defend herself. She should do so, and quit pretending the threats aren't really out there.

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Note: Edwin Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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