The White House yesterday announced that global opposition to President Bush's missile-defense plan largely has collapsed in the wake of the war against terrorism, causing a "sea change" of views even in nations such as Russia, which once opposed the plan.
"We had a lively national debate about missile defense for 20 years," said a senior administration official. "That more or less appears to be settled."
Responding to questions from The Washington Times, the official added: "There really has been a sea change."
To mark the milestone, the White House last night formally codified its quest for a global missile-defense system in a document known as National Security Policy Directive 23, releasing an unclassified version that spells out the president's vision.
"Hostile states, including those that sponsor terrorism, are investing large resources to develop and acquire ballistic missiles of increasing range and sophistication," the document stated. "The United States and our allies lack effective defenses against this threat."
To remedy that, the Bush administration is accelerating deployment of the first stages of a missile shield in Alaska that would be able by next year to intercept any missile fired from North Korea, officials said. But the shield eventually would be extended to encompass many nations, a large number of which are scrambling to sign up for protection.
"We've seen a real change with regard to Russia," said another administration official. "You can see in Russia now a desire to cooperate in the missile-defense area. They want to cooperate, and so there's been a fundamental shift now."
The official pointed out that when Mr. Bush first proposed scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and replacing it with a missile shield, critics predicted a new arms race and a deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. But the two nations have become closer and have agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
Canada, which opposed the war in Iraq, also has signaled interest in the missile shield. Poland's largest military contractor has pledged its technology, and Japan has demonstrated a desire to beef up research and development.
Officials revealed late yesterday that the administration is close to reaching agreements for use of radar facilities in Britain and Greenland that would provide early warnings of missiles fired at the United States or its allies.
Domestic opposition largely has evaporated as well, with Democrats, who once defended the ABM Treaty, reduced to arguing over testing protocols for a missile shield. That is a major shift from two decades ago, when they labeled President Reagan's plans for a missile defense as "Star Wars."
The war on terrorism is not the only factor behind the shift in thinking. Equally important, in the eyes of the White House, is the end of the Cold War.
"The contemporary and emerging missile threat from hostile states is fundamentally different from that of the Cold War and requires a different approach to deterrence and new tools for defense," the new policy document said. "The strategic logic of the past may not apply to these new threats, and we cannot be wholly dependent on our capability to deter them.
"Compared to the Soviet Union, their leaderships often are more risk prone," it said. "These are leaders that also see [weapons of mass destruction] as weapons of choice, not of last resort."
Although the document does not specify the "hostile states," it appears aimed at leaders such as Kim Jong-il of North Korea, which recently has announced that it is pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of international agreements. Bellicose statements from Pyongyang have served only to intensify the administration's pursuit of a missile shield in the six months since Mr. Bush first comprehensively articulated his vision in a speech.
To accelerate the program, the administration has raised missile-defense funding from $8.3 billion in this fiscal year to $9.1 billion in fiscal 2004. There are plans for larger allocations.
Other nations also are pouring billions into research and development. Although the White House could not provide a comprehensive list of nations being considered for inclusion in the missile-defense system, officials left open the door to former foes such as Russia.
So many nations have expressed interest in the plan, once known as national missile defense (NMD), that the administration has changed the program's name.
"We dropped the N from NMD; we now simply call it missile defense," said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The primary reason is that our allies saw national missile defense as defense for the United States -- and not for the United States and our allies, and that just simply wasn't the kind of leadership that the president wanted to provide."
The administration acknowledged that it does not know when a comprehensive global missile-defense system might be deployed, or even what it might look like.
"There's an evolutionary approach that we're applying to missile defense," a White House source said. "We don't have a fixed final architecture that we know by date X will be in place."