Giving Missile Defense a Chance
President Bush calls it a "modest" first step. True-but it's one
that promises to make Americans much safer in the long run.
Specifically, the president's decision to deploy a missile defense
means that our total vulnerability to missile attack-yes, total; we
could do nothing in the event of an accidental or deliberate
launch-will soon go the way of the Berlin Wall.
The 10 land-based interceptors the president plans to put in Alaska
and California by 2004, along with 10 more interceptors by 2005 or
2006, will provide us limited protection from long-range missiles
fired from North Korea and other rogue regimes. More importantly,
as technology progresses further, this initial set-up can serve as
the foundation of a more complex system designed to stop other
types of missiles.
Critics call the president's move a mistake. Sen. Carl Levin,
D-Mich., the outgoing chairman of the Armed Services Committee,
says it "violates common sense by determining to deploy systems
before they have been tested and shown to work."
He's wrong. Yes, the most recent test, conducted Dec. 11, was a
flop; an interceptor rocket failed to separate from its booster
shortly after being launched from an island in the central Pacific.
But some context, if you please: Five of the last eight tests have
been successes, including the four that preceded the Dec. 11
And that doesn't even count the successful tests that have been
conducted on shorter range missiles, including the Navy's Standard
Missile-3 and the Army's upgraded Patriot system called
"When you look across the board, we have made, I think, significant
progress in our overall hit-to-kill technology," said Lt. Gen.
Ronald Kadish, head of the Missile Defense Agency. Critics who used
to say that hitting "a bullet with a bullet" is impossible are
reduced to grousing about the fact that we don't have a perfect
system ready to go yet.
Sorry, but perfection is a thinly disguised excuse for inaction.
Besides, the critics don't seem to realize that deploying a system
now will bring us more quickly to the best system we can deploy.
"The reason I think it's important to start is because you have to
put something in place and get knowledge about it and experience
with it," in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Other critics deride missile defense as a distraction from the war
on terrorism -- something that will waste billions of dollars that
could go toward other defense efforts. On the contrary: As
increased security and heightened alertness make a Sept. 11-style
attack harder to mount, we can expect to see terrorists turning to
missiles capable of delivering the chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons they're trying to obtain.
Critics also complain that missile defense will help fuel an arms
race -- that it will undermine efforts to reduce the number of
missiles aimed at U.S. targets. They prefer to put their faith in
outdated agreements such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)
Treaty, which prohibited a territorial defense against ballistic
President Bush has proven this argument to be utterly false. At the
same time he was moving forward with his missile-defense program
and withdrawing the United States from the ABM Treaty, he was
concluding an arms-control agreement with Russia to reduce
offensive strategic arsenals on both sides to levels not seen since
the early 1970s.
But, critics may reply, what about diplomacy? Won't missile defense
hurt that? As Lisbeth Gronlund, a physicist with the Cambridge,
Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says, the Bush
administration is "not going to do the other things they should be
doing to deal with emerging threats, like negotiate with North
Perhaps Ms. Gronlund doesn't realize that we have negotiated with
North Korea. The Agreed Framework, signed in 1994, called on North
Korean officials to freeze their nuclear program in exchange for
two civilian light-water nuclear reactors. They got their reactors
… and, as they themselves recently revealed, kept moving
their nuclear program forward. Indeed, the long-range missile
capability of their nuclear program makes the deployment of missile
defense even more urgent.
The American people should be heartened by what President Bush has
done. Last December, he brought 30 years of deliberate
vulnerability to a close when he pulled us out of the ABM Treaty.
Now, a year later, he's decided to give missile defense a chance to
show how much it can do to protect us all from attack. His initial
plan may be "better than nothing," in Secretary Rumsfeld words, but
it's exactly what we need: A start.
Baker Spring is the Kirby research fellow in national security
policy at The Heritage Foundation a Washington-based public policy
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire