April 23, 1999

April 23, 1999 | News Releases on Missile Defense

Heritage Publishes 'Citizen's Guide' to Missile Defense

WASHINGTON, APRIL 23, 1999-Pencils ready? It's time for a pop quiz on missile defense. The Patriot missile made famous during the Gulf War could effectively defend the United States or its allies against which of the following missile threats:

1. A Taepo Dong-2 fired by North Korea at Alaska or Hawaii.

2. A Shahab-3 launched by Iran at Israel.

3. An SS-27 accidentally fired by Russia at Britain.

As frightening as it may seem, the correct answer is none of the above. Even though scenarios such as these could develop at any moment, the United States currently has no way to defend itself or its allies against such missiles, including ones tipped with chemical or biological weapons. Yet polls show most Americans remain unaware of how easily many foreign nations could exploit this vulnerability.

Help is at hand. "America At Risk: The Citizen's Guide To Missile Defense," a new book published today by The Heritage Foundation, makes the case for a missile-defense system in a readable format that assumes no prior knowledge of military or defense issues. Heritage defense analyst James H. Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran with a doctorate in international relations, explains how such a system can be developed quickly and efficiently.

The threat of foreign attacks seems remote to most Americans, Anderson writes, but "impoverished, unpredictable states like North Korea are developing missiles capable of striking American soil in less time than it takes to watch the evening news." More than two dozen nations, including Iran, Iraq and Libya, have missiles either deployed or in development. Add in the possibility of accidental or unauthorized launches from Russia or China-which could strike anywhere on American soil-and the need for immediate action becomes clear.

Readers of "America At Risk" will learn how the United States got into its current predicament-through continuing allegiance to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The ABM treaty expressly forbade the United States and the former Soviet Union to develop nationwide missile-defense systems. But the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, Anderson notes, along with any obligation the United States had to the terms of the ABM treaty.

Anderson explores the main objections to missile defense ("it will never work," "it's too expensive") and shows them to be intellectually bankrupt. Given today's technological advances, an effective missile-defense system comprised of both sea- and space-based components is both practical and affordable. A sea-based system would upgrade the capabilities of the Navy's Aegis defense system, which was developed two decades ago to protect the U.S. fleet from cruise missiles. Space-based sensors would eventually be added to help detect missile launches. Such a system could be built in just four years at a cost of $8 billion, he writes.

Anderson recommends several ways (such as rejecting the now-defunct ABM treaty) that Congress and the White House can make up for lost time and restore missile defense to its rightful position as a top national-security priority. The book includes a glossary of terms and answers to a series of "frequently asked questions" about missile defense.

"At its core, protecting ourselves against missile attack is a sovereignty issue," he writes. "Our country has a unique political and legal identity dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These values are worth defending."

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