April 18, 2001 | Commentary on Missile Defense
Good thing. Since the late 1960s, foes of ballistic missile defense have successfully blocked the United States from deploying an effective missile-defense system. As a result, our armed forces today cannot stop even one ballistic missile launched at U.S. territory. And we possess only the most limited ability to protect our allies and our troops stationed abroad.
Such vulnerability may not have appeared quite so serious in the Cold War era, when both the United States and the Soviet Union had enough missiles to make a "first strike" seem suicidal. But no longer are we sparring with leaders such as Leonid Brezhnev over ways to cut long-range arsenals. Today's missile threats come from countries long referred to as "rogue states" -- North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria and others -- who are only too happy to exploit this chink in our national armor.
Indeed, the missile threat to America has grown even since a 1998 congressional commission, chaired by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, first warned of this danger to U.S. security. The latest global threat assessment by the National Intelligence Council says the risk of the United States being attacked by a missile carrying chemical, biological or nuclear warheads is greater today than during most of the Cold War.
And U.S. intelligence sources expect it will get worse, with potential terrorist attacks getting "increasingly sophisticated and designed to achieve mass casualties." After all, it's been more than two years since North Korea, a world leader in the export of missiles and weapons technology, fired a three-stage rocket over Japan, and the news since then has brought more reports of missile proliferation. About two months ago, the United States discovered a Chinese firm had sold to Iran equipment critical to the manufacture of ballistic missiles.
Which is why all Americans should appreciate the signals being sent by the Bush administration on this crucial issue. Secretary of State Colin Powell has endorsed missile defense as "an essential part of our overall strategic force posture," and Secretary Rumsfeld has pressed our allies in Europe to join the United States in supporting missile defense.
Here are a couple of additional pointers for the administration:
But the most important thing is to act -- and now. Because the other side is hardly standing still.
Baker Spring is a research fellow in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
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