- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

Recent evidence of the Clinton-Gore administration's wholesale mismanagement of nuclear strategy and related matters adds urgency to what amounted to a recent "stop-work" order conveyed in a letter to the president from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and 24 of his colleagues.

At this rate, Congress may feel compelled to issue an actual injunction directing Mr. Clinton to cease and desist before this pursuit of a presidential "legacy" at seemingly any price translates into additional, real and lasting harm to America's capability to deter and, if necessary, to defeat attacks on its vital interests.

Consider a few of these worrisome developments:

• Last Monday, representatives of what is, arguably, the most anti-nuclear American administration in history agreed to a joint statement with Russia, China, Britain and France to ban the bomb. To be sure, the utterly addled idea of ridding the planet of nuclear arms has been a rhetorical goal of the U.S. government for some time. This pointed affirmation of an "unequivocal commitment to complete disarmament," however, is certain greatly to intensify pressure on the United States to take concrete, near-term steps in this direction and, thus, set an example for others to follow.

Never mind that others will not follow America's lead, should it make the mistake of actually eliminating its nuclear arsenal certainly not the rogue nuclear wannabes we currently have to be most worried about deterring. It is, moreover, inconceivable that Russia and China would actually comply with such an obligation, either, given its inherent unverifiability.

But now, as always, for the West's anti-nuclear crowd, the idea is to disarm the one you're with. And the United States' actual or potential adversaries are only too happy cynically to promise to do the same. After all, they stand to benefit from a huge shift in what the Soviets used to call the strategic "correlation of forces" should America actually follow through with this sort of unilateral disarmament.

• Last week, the New York Times released the text of the "Grand Compromise" to which the Clinton-Gore administration hopes the Russians will agree. It proposes to purchase Moscow's assent to a ground-based U.S. "national missile defense" that is so limited it will not cover all of the country or protect against more than a handful of incoming ballistic missiles. The price: reductions in U.S. nuclear forces to such low levels that it would be impracticable to maintain a strategic "Triad," long understood to be essential to a robust deterrent posture.

Worse yet, in their effort to sell the Russians on such a "compromise," the administration is resorting whether out of incompetence or by design is unclear to arguments likely to make it even harder either to provide credible nuclear deterrence or competent missile defenses.

Specifically, the administration has advised the Russians they can always rely upon a "launch on warning" strategy to mitigate stated concerns that American defenses could presage and enable a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear strike. By dignifying this absurd proposition even before the end of the Cold War made such fears preposterous, the idea was inconceivable the Clinton-Gore team is only reinforcing the Kremlin's propaganda line that nuclear war will be made more imminent by our pursuit of protection against missile attack.

One upshot of this gambit is renewed energy behind another hardy perennial on the anti-nuclear community's agenda: the idea of "de-alerting" of U.S. and, ostensibly, Russian nuclear forces. Were American weapons on day-to-day alert to be dismantled or otherwise disabled, however, more than a "launch on warning" option would be foreclosed: The deterrent value of the United States' arsenal would be eviscerated since, as a practical matter, it would be politically (if not technically) problematic to restore these weapons to operational status.

• The Clinton-Gore administration also is inflicting unnecessary injury on America's alliance relationships with its approach to missile defense. This is the effect of allowing the desire to preserve the obsolete 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to drive policy and programmatic decisions, rather than a goal of optimizing the coverage, cost-effectiveness or speed with which anti-missile systems can be deployed.

The latter considerations argue for an aggressive near-term effort to adapt the Navy's AEGIS fleet air defense ships for this purpose. By so doing, the United States could make clear that its "national" missile defense system will actually be a global capability, thus denying critics and those who would divide America from her allies the argument that the former will be protected at the latters' expense. These risks could be even further reduced if, thanks to the generally excellent ties maintained by our Navy with those of allied nations, opportunities for cooperation in adapting various friendly countries' ships for missile defense purposes are fully exploited.

It looks as though differences between the Gore and Bush camps on foreign and defense policy are going to feature prominently in the 2000 election, after all. The radical and/or reckless disarmament policies being pursued by President Clinton, with the aggressive support of his vice president, offer the Texas governor a particularly promising opportunity to showcase a contrasting vision of an American deterrent that remains strong and credible and that is complemented as quickly as possible with a global, anti-missile defense, starting at sea.

In the meantime, it behooves Gov. Bush and like-minded members of Congress to find ways of compelling President Clinton to refrain from further compounding the damaging legacy in these areas now being left to his successor.



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

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