September 21, 2001 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
The fires at the Pentagon and World Trade Center were still
burning when critics of America's missile-defense program began to
argue that the events of Sept. 11 meant President Bush would have
to abandon missile defense.
No high-tech shield would have prevented this attack, they said.
And assembling a worldwide coalition against terrorism takes
"If that means … postponing deployment of a theoretically
workable missile defense system against a theoretical 'rogue
nation' missile threat, then that is what realism requires of
Bush," one columnist wrote.
But if "realism" requires anything, it's that we speed up our
missile-defense timetable. The need has been obvious for some time;
the events of Sept. 11 merely cement the case.
Think about it. The devastating death and destruction we
witnessed in New York and Washington were the result of commercial
airliners, loaded with highly combustible jet fuel, crashing into
their targets at extremely high speeds. What if the next missile
aimed at America's heart carried a nuclear weapon?
Sound far-fetched? No more so than the specter of commercial
jetliners destroying the World Trade Center and the creating a huge
hole in the Pentagon. Like it or not, what was once unimaginable
has become all too imaginable.
If nothing else, the events of Sept. 11 should serve as a somber
wake-up call. We no longer can underestimate the capabilities and
craziness of those who wish us harm. We now have learned the hard
way that defending America means closing down avenues of attack
that once would have seemed the stuff of science fiction.
That's why I'm baffled by the continued resistance to missile
defense. Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., for example, said the day
after the attacks that "this type of incident … is much
higher on the list of threats than anything the president would
address with this national missile defense program."
But one look at the roster of rogue nations that are actively
developing long-range missiles -- including North Korea, Iran and
Iraq -- shows why the congressman's confidence is misplaced. We
must defend ourselves today against what likely will be the
terrorists' weapon of choice tomorrow: ballistic missiles.
In the meantime, of course, we're working to prevent a repeat of
the Sept. 11 attacks. We've tightened airport security, we're
putting armed sky marshals on commercial flights and we're
increasing our intelligence capabilities.
But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that some of the same
regimes that sponsor and support terrorism have aggressive
ballistic missile programs. Do we wait until the next tragedy to
move aggressively against this threat as well?
Make no mistake. If we don't act now to protect ourselves and
our allies from missile attack, we could face an even greater
tragedy in the future.
This is no time to pull back on missile defense. It's time to
move forward. Not since World War II has America come close to
enjoying the broad range of support for its war against terrorism
that it does today. Our allies understand that these new threats
are unpredictable and that our enemies are their enemies. Now's the
time to show the way to a safer world for everyone.
Let's not bet against the resourcefulness of terrorists -- and their supporters in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere -- any longer. Let's be ready next time. That means building a missile defense system. Now.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.