- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

During the inaugural European trip of his presidency this week, George W. Bush will receive a baptism of fire on his top national security priority missile defense. It will come in a succession of group and bilateral meetings with allied leaders and subsequently with Russias Vladimir Putin.
As the president sets off for these sessions, the first thing he should remember is that he is traveling in the capacity of leader of what continues to be the Free World not, as most of his interlocutors would prefer, as the representative of a country that is merely first among equals.
It follows from the fact that the United States is, indeed, the worlds only superpower that it has certain unique responsibilities. Among these, the most important is to lead with respect to matters that bear on its security and that of friends who rely upon American strength and resolve to provide for the common defense.
This leadership role requires the United States to take steps that are sometimes opposed by others even, ironically on occasion, its closest friends. In the past, for example, America has deemed it necessary to challenge communist aggression in Europe, Africa, Asia, Cuba and Central America. For many years, it has deployed missiles, carrier battle groups and ground forces all around the world, and even gone to war when it believed the dangers posed by enemies of freedom demanded it. In the process, successive U.S. administrations have had to brook often intense criticism, including from time to time that served up by people on whose behalf it was taking such expensive and daunting steps.
By and large, though, Americas actions have been proven by history to have been justified. The world is a far freer place than it would have been had U.S. presidents listened to those who caviled against our maintenance and projection of power worldwide, who urged that negotiations with adversaries and, by implication, trusting them was a surer way of securing not only our own interests, but those of our friends and allies. Its called leadership.
Unfortunately, for most of the past decade, U.S. security policy has largely been made by individuals who were leery of, if not actually embarrassed by and opposed to, forceful American leadership in international affairs. In particular, the Clinton administration tended to embrace the agenda of those who wanted to reduce the United States to the status of just-another-nation. It reflexively subordinated U.S. forces and sovereignty to the dictates of multilateral organizations and agreements; it recoiled from pursuing policies defined by national interests in favor of the lowest-common-denominator arrangements usually dictated by those in the United Nations, NATO or foreign capitals least friendly to this country.
The new American president is clearly being encouraged to follow suit by allies led by left-wing activists, who pride themselves on their past anti-American agitation; by the former KGB operative who runs the Kremlin; and by congressional Democrats who cut their teeth opposing U.S. Cold War security policies. He is also under pressure to perpetuate Clintonesque policies from some within his administration, the latter reportedly being abetted at least occasionally by Mr. Bushs father. Still, it would be a singular mistake to accede to such urgings and, thereby, to perpetuate our present vulnerability to ballistic missile attack.
To Donald Rumsfelds credit, during his own trip to Europe last week, the defense secretary set the stage for Mr. Bush to lead in a very different direction on missile defense. In meetings with NATO allies in Brussels, the Pentagon chief reinforced a message he had first imparted during a visit to Munich last February: The United States has decided to deploy missile defenses. He made clear that the obsolete, Soviet/Russian-violated and legally defunct 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty "stands in the way of … deployment of a defense that can deny others the power to hold our populations hostage to nuclear blackmail." According to the New York Times, he also signaled that "the U.S. is likely to deploy certain anti-ballistic missile systems before testing on them is completed."
It now falls to President Bush to make clear that this approach enjoys his strong support, and to explain why. Here are some of the points he should make:
The United States believes there is a serious and growing danger that places it cares about for example, Taipei, Rome, Seoul, Tokyo or Paris and, in due course, American cities may be subjected to attack by ballistic missile-borne weapons of mass destruction. If such a terrible thing should happen, the U.S. would certainly do everything humanly possible to put into place anti-missile capabilities to ensure that it could not happen again.
This sort of effort would, inevitably, involve starting with weapons already in hand. Specifically, the skippers of the U.S. Navys Aegis ships would be immediately authorized to use their sophisticated air defense system to provide early, if necessarily very limited, anti-missile capabilities. That system would be modified and improved as quickly as possible and complemented by other air-, land- and space-based defenses. In the wake of a missile-delivered disaster, few complaints would be heard about the cost or lack of testing or incompatibility of such activities with the ABM Treaty.
Mr. Bush can then point out that, if this is what we would do after a devastating attack has occurred, why would we not do it now especially if, by taking that step, we might prevent the missile strike from taking place in the first instance?
In this fashion, the president can underscore both his commitment to defend this country, its forces and allies overseas and to doing so at the earliest possible moment. He can make clear this is a missile defense program that will be as good as we can make it. But, as is true of any emergency deployment, the system need not and, indeed, cannot wait until it is certifiably perfected before it is brought to bear.
Most importantly, Mr. Bush can establish the leadership that will command support at home and abroad. In the words of an unnamed NATO official quoted in last Fridays New York Times: "When you know that they are going to build it no matter what, is it really worth the fight? I dont think so."


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

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