May 2, 2001

May 2, 2001 | News Releases on Missile Defense

President Takes Crucial Early Steps On Missile Defense, Heritage Says

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2001-President Bush performed the critical ground work necessary to get the United States on track toward constructing a missile-defense system in his May 1 speech at the National Defense University, say analysts at The Heritage Foundation.

In "Priorities for the President," Heritage's latest policy guidebook, missile-defense expert Baker Spring listed eight steps needed to bring missile defense to fruition. President Bush took or promised to take seven of those steps. The final step-determining the specific architecture of such a system-was left open pending further review.

Spring and others at Heritage praised the speech for providing some much-needed direction on the issue of missile defense.

"President Bush has set the table for a policy of deploying an effective missile-defense system by articulating how such a system contributes to a more secure world," said Spring. "A 'clean break with the past,' a past that has seen missile technology spread at an alarming rate, is exactly what's needed."

The United States adopted three different laws during the 1990s that called for development of a missile-defense system. But President Clinton, who never was enthusiastic about the program, stalled at critical junctures and finally declared, six months before the end of his term, that he would leave the decision on deployment to his successor.

In his speech, President Bush embraced policies developed and espoused by Heritage ever since the publication of its groundbreaking "High Frontier" report in 1982, which helped persuade the Reagan administration that a missile shield was needed.

He said it was time to "move beyond the constraints" of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which barred the United States and the Soviet Union from even testing a national missile defense. Heritage analysts have long called on the United States to declare the treaty null and void, arguing that neither the Soviet Union nor the geopolitical situation that prevailed when it was signed continue to exist.

President Bush affirmed America's decision, expressed most clearly in the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 and other legislation, to build national and theater missile-defense systems "as soon as is technically possible"-systems that would have global capabilities, Spring says. The president explained, as Spring recommended in his "Priorities" chapter, that missile defense would both defend the United States and its allies from missile attack and deter such attacks by making them far less likely to succeed.

President Bush also outlined, as Spring did in "Priorities," the relationship between missile defenses and other military capabilities. He noted that U.S. nuclear weapons once served both to deter the Soviets from firing missiles at us and to contain their conventional military forces behind the Iron Curtain. But now "we need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces," the president said.

Opponents of missile defense view it and offensive strategic arms control as "antithetical." But, Spring noted, the president not only explained why this isn't the case, he went so far as to call for cutting the American nuclear arsenal to only the level needed to defend the United States and its allies.

In another echo of past Heritage Foundation studies, President Bush called "mutual assured destruction"-the notion that the United States and Russia refrain from attacking each other with nuclear weapons only because they know it would bring an end to both nations-a thing of the past. And he outlined the new threats, from accidental launches and attacks from "rogue states," that make missile defense a strategic imperative.

"We couldn't be more pleased," said Spring. "President Bush has set America on a course toward security, independent of threats or blackmail, for this century and beyond."

About the Author