December 13, 2001 | Commentary on Missile Defense
It looks like Santa's come early this year for those of us who
know America needs to build a missile-defense system as soon as
But then, President Bush's announcement that the United States
is finally pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty
is, from a standpoint of national security, a gift to every
What a welcome change from last month when the headlines blared
"No progress on ABM Treaty" as President Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin departed the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Even
though our commander-in-chief had called back in May for America to
"move beyond" the treaty's outdated Cold-War mindset, outright
withdrawal seemed a distant possibility.
Still, disaster was averted in Texas. President Bush didn't
foreclose the possibility of withdrawing from the treaty in the
near future. Nor did he agree to some half-baked scheme that would
have permitted us to continue testing some of our more-advanced
radars and interceptors until the Russians cried "foul." That set
the stage for the president's withdrawal announcement.
What other choice did he have? Signed in 1972, the ABM Treaty
prohibits the United States and the Soviet Union from testing or
deploying a national missile-defense system. Despite the demise of
our treaty partner, America was continuing to honor the treaty's
provisions. We even employ a team of attorneys at the Pentagon to
ensure our continued "compliance."
But the president realized this couldn't go on much longer.
Pentagon officials recently altered two critical missile-defense
tests because those attorneys determined the initial test designs
would violate the treaty.
They wanted to use two high-tech radars -- one in California,
one on a ship -- to monitor the tests, so they could review what
happens more closely and see what roles these radars can play in
spotting incoming missiles and finding ways to shoot them down. But
under the ABM Treaty, these extra radars aren't allowed, so the
latest test (which occurred Dec. 3) didn't include them.
The problem was only going to get worse. At least a dozen
different types of missile-defense activities -- each essential to
making progress toward deployment -- can't be performed without
violating the treaty.
Americans are honorable people. We don't violate treaties, even
if we're told to expect only a nod and a wink in return. So the
agreement had to go.
Why the urgency? Because time is growing short. Our enemies are
working furiously to build the very types of weapons that make
missile defense a national priority.
Osama bin Laden, for example, says he wants to develop a missile
for the express purpose of launching it toward America. Iraqi
strongman Saddam Hussein has shown he will suffer any indignity --
10 years of sanctions, economic catastrophe for his people, loss of
oil revenues -- to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
of mass destruction.
That pair would be more than enough to justify a missile
defense, but they're hardly alone. North Korea is developing a
long-range missile (one with a possible range of 6,000 miles) that
could be targeted against the United States. And let's not forget
Libya, Syria and other state sponsors of terrorism, all of whom
could upgrade their own missile stocks with relative ease to
threaten America's allies.
So we all can be grateful that we're about to bury the ABM
Treaty (as Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Krushchev once promised to
bury us). This agreement is a relic of a bygone era, and we've
shown that we're smart enough to get out of the line of fire.
After all, we've seen the death and destruction that fuel-laden commercial airliners can cause. Imagine what a nuclear-armed missile could do.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.