February 28, 2001

February 28, 2001 | WebMemo on Missile Defense

Missile Defense: The Case Gets Stronger

It was apparent from his Tuesday evening address to Congress that President Bush has been following the news. "Our Nation also needs a clear strategy to confront the threats of the 21st century, threats that are more widespread and less certain," he said. "They range from terrorists who threaten with bombs to tyrants and rogue nations intent on developing weapons of mass destruction. To protect our own people, our allies and friends, we must develop and we must deploy effective missile defenses."

That the United States has no means to stop an incoming ballistic missile, ensuring the possible death of millions of Americans, should be reason enough to proceed promptly with a ballistic missile defense system. But, if more evidence is needed it can be taken from events in the news just this week.

Specifically, Tuesday's Washington Times sheds light on a CIA report that China - a major critic of missile defense - is providing substantial assistance to Pakistan'smissile program, and also aided missile programs in Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Three other events, as reported by National Review, strengthen the US position:

  1. North Korea announces that it may begin testing long-range missiles again;
  2. the hint of a nuclear-arms race developing between Pakistan and India;
  3. Russia has eased off their once strong opposition to an American missile defense system.

To put that in perspective: China and Russia already possess long-range missiles that can reach U.S. territory, and some 20 Third World countries have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile delivery systems. According to Jack Spencer, "North Korea could likely already strike U.S. territory with a ballistic missile and Iran and probably Iraq will be able to do so in the near future."

"It's time for the United States to get to work building a global missile-defense shield." Heritage's Baker Spring writes. "The primary threat to the United States comes no longer from a calculated strategic nuclear attack by the Soviet Union but from accidental or unauthorized missile attacks by established powers or from calculated strikes by rogue states such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea."

Russia's change in tone was reported in The New York Times, when Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov said, "We are ready and interested in starting a direct dialogue with the U.S. administration." A motivating factor, perhaps, was the early and consistent determination of this new Administration. In his Inaugural Address, President Bush said, "We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors."

The president isn't alone. A Memorandum of Law prepared for The Heritage Foundation, in 1998, says, "We believe that the ABM Treaty no longer binds the United States as a matter of international or domestic law. This is because the Soviet Union has disappeared, and there is no state, or group of states, that can be considered to continue its international legal personality (sovereignty) and that also are capable of implementing the U.S.S.R.'s obligations under the ABM Treaty in accordance with that agreement's original terms. ... Accordingly, the United States can again be bound to the ABM Treaty only if two-thirds of the Senate agrees to the revisions required by the transformation of the ABM Treaty, and the President then chooses to ratify them."

But revisions are not the way to go. As Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Bartley wrote earlier this month, "This relic of the 1970s [the treaty] still hampers our defense today. But perhaps not for much longer; asked early in the campaign by visiting Journal editors how long he would negotiate before moving unilaterally to revoke the treaty, George W. Bush had a succinct answer, 'months, not years.'"

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