- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 1999

Missile defense an expensive and often repeated mistake

James T. Hackett ends his column admonishing those who question the feasibility, legality or necessity of nationwide ballistic missile defenses by comparing the risk and difficulty of the current endeavor to President Kennedy's call in 1961 to send a manned mission to land on the moon and return safely to Earth ("Sorties against missile defenses," Commentary, Dec. 27). Mr. Hackett then argues that had Mr. Kennedy followed the Clinton administration's approach to missile defenses, "we probably would still be waiting" to go to the moon.
But there are many obvious and critical differences between journeying to the moon and attempting to thwart a ballistic missile attack of even modest size. For starters, the moon follows a predictable orbit; we always know precisely where it will be at any given time. Not so with either a deliberate or an accidental missile launch. The moon's predictability also means that we have lots of time to plan a launch and, if we miss the launch window, we can always try again. With missile defenses, you only have one chance to get it right, and you don't have the luxury of being able to decide when to try.
There also is only one moon. Our astronauts would never discover en route that there suddenly are a dozen or more moons one real and the rest decoys launched by Earthling-wary citizens of the moon. With missile defenses, however, a variety of simple and inexpensive decoy measures are available to anyone with the ability to build a ballistic missile, meaning that the job of identifying and destroying all the real warheads in the limited time available is significantly complicated.
Finally, the cost of failure with missile defenses is much, much higher. A failed moon mission would kill several astronauts. Reliance on a missile defense system that could never be fully tested under actual combat conditions, on the other hand, could jeopardize the lives of millions of Americans.
It's worth bearing in mind that since the mid-1950s, the United States has spent more than $120 billion attempting to defend against ballistic missile attacks, including some $23 billion for the ill-fated nuclear-tipped Safeguard system deployed briefly in North Dakota in late 1975. More than half of the total has been spent since Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983.
Before we repeat the expensive missile defense mistakes of the past, we should consider carefully whether expending additional billions for easily defeated systems of marginal effectiveness is in the national interest and whether other, nonmilitary measures might offer greater long-term security at less cost.
STEPHEN I. SCHWARTZ
Publisher
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Chicago
Stephen Schwartz is also the editor and co-author of "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940" (Brookings Institution Press, 1998).

Shrinking choices in the political arena

I find much irony in Monday's article regarding the Freedom in the World survey ("Liberty expands in century," World, Dec. 27). It mentions countries with "restricted democratic practices," defined as "countries with systems in which a single party exercises long-term political dominance and the role of opposition parties is limited."
In America, our system is dominated by Democrats and Republicans. Because there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two, they have effectively morphed into one party. Demopublicans advocate government as the solution to every problem. (Republicans mouth other sentiments but consistently vote for bigger government.)
That these Demopublicans do everything in their power to keep voters from having a real choice is irrefutable. Third parties such as the Libertarian Party must jump through hoop after hoop just to get their candidates' names on the ballot. Once on the ballot, such candidates are excluded routinely from media debates. While Demopublicans spend their money on saturating the airwaves with the same old rhetoric, third parties must spend their own money fighting the system Demopublicans have created just to be heard.
One must wonder: Are the Demopublicans afraid that Americans would reject them once given a true choice? When we have more choice in toothpaste brands than in the voting booth, how free are we?
NOELLE STETTNER
Falls Church

Bush's faith and the intolerance of the secularists

When Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, mentioned in an Iowa debate that Jesus Christ had changed his heart, little did he know how his comment would cause waves of fear to sweep the secular landscape.
Visions of veiled women and female genital mutilations compelled political pundits and liberal clergy to quickly denounce his comment as exclusionary and a turnoff to the patchwork of diversity that makes up the American quilt.
Chasing God from the public schools, and now the public square, requires a certain diligence. There is no guarantee the ensuing void won't be filled with something far more pernicious to our freedoms than Christian morality.
Society cannot operate in a moral vacuum for long. While liberals fret over the thought that somewhere in America, at any given moment, a conservative Christian is spoiling someone's fun, in march the environmentalists, fully intent on indoctrinating our youth while they impose their peculiar beliefs on the rest of us. Should they prevail, the restrictions these modern-day pagans place on economic growth, private property, what we eat and how we get around will make the Taleban green with envy.
You surely can bet that in the not-too-distant future, Americans will look back to the days when Christian values ruled the culture, and they will yearn for a return to the freedoms that offered.
THOMAS M. BEATTIE
Mount Vernon

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