December 23, 1999

December 23, 1999 | Commentary on Missile Defense

Defending Missile Defense

Pretend for a moment you're a homeowner who's heard about a string of robberies in your neighborhood. You decide to install a home-security system. But before you can, a bunch of your neighbors-many of whom have been trashing your yard and harassing you for years-pass a "resolution" urging you to leave your doors and windows unlocked, on the theory that security devices actually boost crime. Would you listen?

Of course not. But they do things differently at the United Nations, where the General Assembly recently voted 80-4 (with 68 abstentions) to exhort the United States not to deploy a national missile defense any time in the near future. It seems the assembly-which includes a long list of countries that are only too happy to collect U.S. foreign aid-would rather we left ourselves open to attack.

The assembly's reasoning, if you can call it that, is that U.S. missile defenses by their very existence would only provoke rogue states to build more missiles. Far better, U.N. members said, to "preserve and strengthen" the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which all but outlawed missile defenses on the notion that vulnerability leads to peace.

But like the United Nations itself, this argument appears stuck in a time warp. So conditioned are U.N. members to view global events through a Cold War prism that they seem oblivious to the fact that the world is a vastly different place today. If they'd consult the nearest map, they might discover that the Soviet Union no longer exists. In its place, they'll see Russia and more than a dozen other countries, none of which has the legal standing-let alone the physical ability-to replace the Soviet Union as America's "partner" in the ABM Treaty.

As many missile-defense proponents-including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, one of the ABM Treaty's original architects-have argued, any obligation the United States had under the treaty ceased in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart. The United States doesn't have to wait until June 2000 to decide to deploy a missile defense, as the Clinton administration would have us do. Nor do we have to give Russia the treaty's required six-months' notice to withdraw. The United States can proceed with national missile defense today.

Besides, professions of concern for the ABM Treaty are basically a smokescreen for U.N. members who consider U.S. self-defense an inherently provocative act. A U.S. missile-defense system "could lead to disruption of strategic equilibria and a new arms race," sniffs President Jacques Chirac of France. And Sha Zukang, China's director of arms control, said it would "tip the global balance, trigger a new arms race and jeopardize world and regional security."

Let's see: By "strategic equilibria," is Chirac referring to the ability of rogue nations such as North Korea-which has already tested a long-range missile experts believe can reach Hawaii-to threaten the United States and its allies? And with states such as India and Pakistan arming themselves with bigger and better missiles, what "new arms race" should Sha be worried about?

Even as the United States endures the slings and arrows of international opinion for considering a missile defense, the nuclear saber-rattlers get a free pass. Consider the not-so-veiled warning Russian President Boris Yeltsin delivered while in Beijing recently to meet with Chinese leaders: "Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has … forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons." Where are the U.N. resolutions condemning Russia for such belligerent rhetoric?

The idea that America needs the blessing of the United Nations to protect itself is ludicrous. That's why Congress passed legislation earlier this year making it the official policy of the United States to build a missile defense "as soon as is technologically feasible." The question is, will the president listen to the elected representatives of the American people or to the United Nations?

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), 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
Founder's Office

Distributed nationally by the Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service