It didn't get much media attention, but earlier this year China reminded the United States once again that its nuclear missiles are fully capable of reaching our shores. Mere saber rattling, you say? Perhaps. But a timely reminder, nevertheless, that the United States remains defenseless against missile attack, no matter where the missiles come from.
Relax, say opponents of missile defense. With our retaliatory capabilities, no country in its right mind-not China, nor Iran, nor Libya, nor North Korea-would lob a missile our way. But that assumes every regime will always act in a sober, rational fashion. Don't bet on it.
The theory of Mutual Assured Destruction was MADness even back in the days when U.S. and Soviet negotiators were trading stares across the bargaining table. It makes even less sense now that the nuclear club includes places such as Pyongyang and Baghdad, whose leaders might be insane enough some day to try to take out an American city.
The notion that mutual vulnerability is the best means of providing protection just doesn't wash. If it were, cops wouldn't wear helmets and kevlar vests. They'd stroll unprotected into dangerous neighborhoods, confident that their ability to overwhelm the bad guys with superior firepower would deter criminals from taking the first shot. In the real world, such policies would result in more dead cops.
Arms-control advocates will protest that such an analogy is dangerously retrograde, that the global stage can't be divided into good guys and bad guys. Such "sophisticates" refuse to acknowledge that the United States still has real enemies who wish us harm, and that it's legitimate for us to protect ourselves.
Return to China for a moment. While I support free trade with China because it will help loosen the grip Beijing's communist rulers hold on the country, I harbor no illusions about China's hostility toward the United States. If the warning issued earlier this year wasn't enough to convince most people, remember that in 1996 China was even more explicit, threatening to nuke Los Angeles if we came to the defense of Taiwan.
So why don't we do something about it? Why don't we build a defense against missile attacks? Because the Clinton administration considers the 28-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty-which enshrined the MAD doctrine and barred the United States from building a national missile defense-more important that our actual defense.
Never mind that MAD is indeed mad-the equivalent of saying the best defense is no defense. And never mind that the ABM treaty was signed with a country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which, if you'll consult your nearest atlas, no longer exists. No, for the Clinton administration the ABM treaty is the "cornerstone of U.S. strategic stability," meaning that we purposefully allow ourselves to remain vulnerable to missile attack.
For arms-control advocates, the ABM treaty has become a fetish, a talisman to be rubbed in the hope that it will ward off the "warmongers" who can't see how "destabilizing" it would be to build a missile defense. Maybe it's time we "destabilize" the immoral arms-control regime that leaves Americans permanently at risk of nuclear annihilation.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally by the Associated Press.