May 28, 2004
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Sports fans often cite the cliché "The best defense is a
good offense," but it's not true. Teams that want to win need
No one doubts that the United States has the best offense in the
world. Just weeks after 9/11, our military went to war in
Afghanistan. Some said it would be a quagmire. After all, during
the 1980s the Soviet Union was bogged down for years in Afghanistan
and eventually withdrew in defeat. But our troops won an
overwhelming victory in a matter of weeks.
The same thing is true in Iraq. Our military swept forward so
quickly the opposition seemingly melted away. Within weeks Saddam
Hussein disappeared into his hole in the ground, the war was over
and the rebuilding process was under way.
In fact, whether we're talking about weapons systems, personnel,
equipment or any other measure, there's never been a military as
offensively dominant as ours is today. And nobody is likely to
catch up for decades.
But that dominance carries a price. Because no nation can beat us
on the battlefield, our enemies are drawn to non-conventional
weapons. That's why al Qaeda's terrorists hijacked airliners and
turned them into weapons of mass destruction. And it's why, some
day, a rogue nation or terror group may decide to strike with a
ballistic missile. We need a good defense, so we'll be ready if
that attack comes. Yet, today it's impossible for us to shoot down
even a single incoming missile.
This is hardly an idle threat.
The Central Intelligence Agency says North Korea already has a
ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States. Pyongyang
also boasts of a growing nuclear program -- and that's a dangerous
combination for any American living on the west coast. The
International Atomic Energy Agency indicates North Korea has sold
excess uranium to Libya. North Korea also exports its missile
technology: Syria and Iran, among others, have purchased weapons
from Pyongyang's "Dear Leader" Kim Jung Il.
Elsewhere, Pakistan is expected to test a long-range ballistic
missile in June. China has at least a dozen nuclear-tipped missiles
aimed at the U.S. And the end of the Cold War helped spread Russian
missile technology around the globe.
Our two oceans no longer provide the safety cushion they once did.
Luckily, the first pieces of a national missile defense will be in
place by year's end. The military will deploy 10 long-range missile
interceptors in Alaska and California this summer. These are
designed to knock down incoming warheads while they are still in
The overall system is still in the testing stage, of course. In 14
tests conducted in 2002 and 2003, long- and short-range
interceptors have taken out 11 target missiles. Deploying these 10
interceptors will help us work the bugs out of the overall
missile-defense screen and offer some defense against possible
attack. Remember -- until the interceptors are activated, we have a
0 percent chance of blocking an attack. If a warhead were heading
for Los Angeles, we wouldn't even have time to evacuate, let alone
bring it down.
Plus, these interceptors are merely a start. The military also is
working on a system of land- and sea-based interceptors, which will
destroy enemy missiles during their "boost phase," when they're
moving more slowly. We're also working on a third layer of defense,
which would target any missiles that survived the first two
attempts to shoot them down.
All of this will cost money, of course. The Bush administration is
asking Congress for about $10 billion to fund missile defense next
year. That seems like a lot, but it's actually only about 3 percent
of the entire $422 billion defense budget.
Most of our spending still will be devoted to offense, to ensure
the United States maintains the best fighting force on the planet.
And we'll have the best defense as well. Now, there's a winning
Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation
(heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research
No one doubts that the United States has the best offense in the world. Just weeks after 9/11, our military went to war in Afghanistan. Some said it would be a quagmire. After all, during the 1980s the Soviet Union was bogged down for years in Afghanistan and eventually withdrew in defeat. But our troops won an overwhelming victory in a matter of weeks.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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