- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

What a difference a week makes. In this space last Tuesday, I reported that the top expert at the CIA had recently warned Congress that, by year's end, North Korea would have a ballistic missile that could reach the United States.

Then on Saturday came this news flash: The International Herald Tribune reported that "a senior North Korean scientist who reportedly defected to the United States has told South Korean authorities that the North has developed a missile capable of reaching California, a leading newspaper here reported Friday. The defector, Lim Ki Sung, said the missile had a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,725 miles), far longer than defense experts had previously estimated, Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest newspaper, reported."

If this defector's reported warning is accurate, the United States mainland is already exposed to the threat of a devastating missile attack a threat Pyongyang is perfectly capable of using to blackmail, if not to do incalculable harm to, our nation.

Could this dire prospect be accurate? Unfortunately, if past experience is any guide, the answer seems to be "Yes." In the course of a House Armed Services Committee's hearing last week with the director of the Clinton administration's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Lt. Gen. Robert Kadish, Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, established that U.S. intelligence had repeatedly been surprised by the pace of missile developments in North Korea and Iran.

We can only speculate as to the reasons for the intelligence community's chronic inability to estimate correctly what is, arguably, the most serious threat facing the United States today the potential for devastating attacks with weapons of mass destruction delivered by ballistic missiles in the hands of "rogue nations" like North Korea. Obviously, to some extent, this sorry record is a tribute to the lengths to which Pyongyang and other members of what former Under Secretary of State William Schneider has called "Club Mad" go to deny us information about their military capabilities.

A contributing factor, however, appears to be the product of the phenomenon psychologists describe as "cognitive dissonance" in layman's terms, not seeing what you don't want to see. If not the intelligence analysts, certainly their political superiors have no desire to learn about the growing ability of hostile or potentially hostile nations to exploit the United States' current, absolute vulnerability to ballistic missile attack.

Our vulnerability is, of course, the direct legacy of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, an accord that prohibited the United States from deploying a national defense against missile attack. The Clinton-Gore administration myopically insists that the ABM Treaty remains the "cornerstone of strategic stability." This is code for describing not only a foundation upon which the nuclear arms control house of cards has been fashioned with the Kremlin over the past 28 years. The administration also maintains that the ABM Treaty is the indispensable building block for future relations between Russia and the United States.

Information that conflicts with the administration's arms-control predilections is very unwelcome. Those who provide unwelcome intelligence to President Clinton and his minions have seen their careers blighted, if not terminated. It does not take long before the system adjusts: See no evil, hear no evil, speak about no evil.

In fact, it took a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Congress chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to lay bare the truth of the growing and near-term nature of the missile threat to the United States. Even so, the Clinton-Gore administration insists that the United States can only be defended against it to the extent that the ABM Treaty, or some minor modification thereof, will allow. As a practical matter, that means no national missile defense worthy of the name.

Mr. Clinton appears fixated on achieving a "grand compromise" with Moscow one that would substantially gut the U.S. nuclear deterrent (for instance, by so limiting the numbers of strategic forces permitted as to make it impractical, if not impossible, to maintain our time-tested "Triad" of missile submarine, land-based ICBMs and long-range bombers). He cynically hopes to sell such an unverifiable and ill-advised treaty to the Senate by tying it to a new anti-anti-missile defense accord one that would allow Gen. Kadish to expend many more billions of dollars on an exceedingly constrained defensive deployment in Alaska, but leave the American people permanently vulnerable to attacks involving more than a few missiles, or even less coming from the wrong quadrants.

This push coincides with a chorus calling for a delay in any decision by this president to deploy such a missile defense. Some of the proponents of that course of inaction like Henry Kissinger and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican appear motivated by an understandable lack of confidence in Mr. Clinton. They should, however, be insisting not that the nation's vulnerability be further extended, but that any decisions about new constraints upon missile defenses be deferred until President Clinton's successor is installed.

Others, like the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards, profess concern about fielding a missile defense that might not work unless and until outstanding technical issues are resolved. Their real fear, though, is that a decision to deploy whatever is at hand so as to provide any defense against a North Korean missile would, in the words of the Times, "dismantle a central arms control treaty in [President Clinton's] last days in office."

Fortunately, last week turned up one other relevant piece of information: On Feb. 14, a Zogby poll found that a significant majority of the American people according to Zogby, fully "60.6 percent of those queried" want "a viable missile defense system in place rather than relying on the diplomatic success of disarmament treaties." Of Republicans, 77 percent felt that way.

Thus, the bottom line is even clearer this week than last: There is no time to lose in defending the United States against missile attack. The Clinton-Gore team remains determined to trust in arms control, not effective anti-missile systems, despite the rejection of that approach by an overwhelming percentage of the American people. This is the stuff of which national elections and mandates must be made.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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