March 23, 1998 | Executive Summary on Missile Defense
On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and raised the possibility of a new deterrence policy for the United States. Instead of deterring a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union through the threat of nuclear retaliation, President Reagan proposed using advanced technology to destroy enemy missiles in flight, to "save lives rather than avenge them." Since 1983, the missile defense program has been an important feature of the national security debate. Despite enormous progress in ballistic missile defense (BMD) technology over the past 15 years, Americans still are vulnerable to the world's most destructive weapons--ballistic missiles armed with nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads. Moreover, these weapons are proliferating among countries hostile to the United States.
The investment of 15 years and nearly $50 billion has produced the means to build effective missile defenses at an affordable cost. In fact, if the political will and leadership were present, Americans could have an operational defense today. And yet, as a matter of deliberate policy, ballistic missiles remain the one class of weapon against which the United States deliberately has decided not to defend itself. This is an unprecedented and morally indefensible choice for a great military and economic power.
The failure to deploy defenses against weapons that directly threaten the United States must be attributed to both Democrat and Republican Presidents and to Democrat- and Republican-controlled Congresses. This delinquent mindset is shared also by defense and foreign policy and defense elites in academia, think tanks, and the news media. Their failure can be traced to the following factors:
The failure to establish a unified or specified command dedicated to the mission of strategic defense. The only current missile defense mission is research and development. Without an operational mission, no forceful advocacy exists in the Department of Defense for deploying a national missile defense.
Arms control extremism. The arms control establishment has an irrational belief in the efficacy of negotiations and agreements and makes arms control treaties an end in themselves, not a means to security.
The official corruption of language and meaning, which, in turn, corrupts thought. A prime example is President Bill Clinton's calling the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the "cornerstone of strategic stability."
The ABM Treaty constitutes the primary obstacle to deploying a national missile defense as well as effective theater missile defenses. It codifies the proposition that "defense is bad." It made highly restricted research and development the only legal activity. It crippled SDI from the outset by imposing unnecessary costs and testing obstacles to meet overly stringent guidelines to comply with the ABM Treaty.
Insist that Clinton's proposed ABM Treaty amendments, which would broaden the defunct treaty and impose new legal obligations and limits on the United States, be sent to the Senate for ratification as a new agreement and not buried in a larger arms control measure.
Thomas Moore is former Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.