- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

The Bush administration has undertaken its most aggressive diplomatic offensive in six years in office. The goal is to lay the groundwork for the future defense of Europe and the United States against missiles from the Middle East.

President Bush is showing that his ABM treaty withdrawal, missile defense deployment in Alaska and on Aegis ships, overthrow of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq were all part of a worldview in which national security is the highest priority. Further evidence is his determination to defend America and its allies against threats from Iran or elsewhere.

The plan to put missile defenses in Poland and an ABM radar in the Czech Republic faces bitter opposition from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite that opposition, complete with Cold War rhetoric and threats to our European allies, Mr. Bush is engaged in a full-court press to make his plan a reality.

Europe is overrun with U.S. emissaries. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Mr. Putin and offered Russia unprecedented cooperation in missile defense development and testing, including sharing early warning data. In other trips to Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Assistant Secretaries John Rood and Daniel Fried, Defense Undersecretary Eric Edelman, and Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency, have reassured our NATO allies and tried to reduce Russian angst.

This energetic diplomacy is getting results in Europe, but not in Moscow. The Polish and Czech governments remain firmly in support despite Russian opposition. NATO officials now agree the threat is real and suggest that planned missile defenses for NATO’s armed forces would be enhanced by a U.S. defense of population centers. President Bush is personally involved, planning a trip to Poland in June to discuss the issue with President Lech Kaczynski.

But Russia continues to oppose the U.S. plan. Moscow’s objections go beyond keeping America out of Europe. Mr. Putin has consistently fought the expansion of NATO to former parts of the Soviet empire. He got the U.S. military kicked out of Uzbekistan and resents NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

Awash in oil and gas money, Moscow is trying to re-establish control over Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Mr. Putin’s objection to U.S. bases complements his efforts to block NATO’s expansion to Georgia, Ukraine and other countries he considers in Russia’s sphere of influence. Building new offensive weapons, suspending the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, threatening U.S. allies, and restricting gas shipments are all intended to show the Russian bear still has teeth.

Despite Russian claims to the contrary, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran becomes more apparent as Tehran ignores U.N. sanctions and refuses to put its nuclear program under international control. In a recent editorial, the London Financial Times said it is increasingly urgent to find a response to a nuclear-armed Iran, and that the U.S. missile defense plan should go forward.

With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust and promising to wipe Israel off the map, while building longer-range missiles and developing nuclear weapons, additional sanctions on Iran are needed now. But with Moscow and Beijing opposing real sanctions, it is wise to build defenses against the growing threat.

Just as support is developing in Europe, some members of the Democratic-controlled Congress want to reduce funding for the sites there. The Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee has cut the administration’s $310 million request by more than half, to $150 million, which is the wrong message to send to our European allies. Subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher, California Democrat, explained earlier that some members think more operational testing is needed.

This is the fallback position of missile defense opponents. They used to claim missile defense would not work, but successful tests have shown them wrong. So now they say more “operational testing” is needed, a view advanced by Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This call for more testing before sites can be built or interceptors bought is a phony argument. The key hit-to-kill technology has been proven and a robust flight test program is planned. Conducting more tests than needed is a waste of money. Besides, Iran’s missile and nuclear programs won’t wait. Congress should authorize and appropriate the full amount requested for missile defenses in Europe.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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