FEULNER: Decade after the ABM Treaty’s end

Obama’s neglect of missile defense jeopardizes homeland safety

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

“Unnecessary, unwarranted and unwise.” That’s how Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, described it when President Bush announced that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The arms-control crowd seemed certain that our “go-it-alone” attitude would only antagonize Russia, China and all of Europe, leaving us without a friend in the world.

Today, 10 years after our withdrawal became official, we can see that these dire predictions were wildly overblown. In fact, the ABM Treaty was making the world arguably less safe by enshrining the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD, aptly enough). The idea was that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would launch a missile attack if it knew it would suffer a devastating retaliatory strike.

Only by the most generous definition of the term could such a stalemate be considered “peace.” With both sides officially prohibited from building a missile defense, an arms race was the natural result. The only way in that situation to keep the other guy from firing first: Maintain missile superiority - and that meant building more and more of them. You don’t shoot first if you think you’ll be immediately wiped out in return.

But what about the possibility of accidents? What about the cost of building and maintaining larger and larger arsenals of long-range weapons? Clearly, the ABM Treaty was not cultivating peace, but maintaining an uneasy status quo: a Cold War that could turn hot at the press of a button.

Barely a decade after the pact was signed in 1972, President Reagan realized that this situation was untenable and that the MAD doctrine that inspired it was blocking the road to the more reliable peace that could flow from weapons reduction and missile defense. He became the first U.S. president to decry its faults and declare that America needed out of it.

So the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was born. Reagan’s determination to build a missile shield that the Soviet Union knew it couldn’t afford to match or counteract was one of the key reasons the Cold War ended as it did. Why settle for standoffs such as the Cuban Missile Crisis when you can achieve an actual victory?

As the Independent Working Group, which included a wide range of missile experts, concluded in a 2009 report: “The enduring lesson of the ABM Treaty era is that the absence of defenses, rather than their presence, empowers the development of offensive technologies that can threaten American security and the lives of American citizens.”

However, the victory that the United States achieved in the Cold War is by no means permanent if we’re unwilling to construct the missile shield Reagan envisioned. We have a rudimentary system in place today - some long-range, land-based interceptors and shorter-range ones mounted on ships at sea. But it’s nothing like the comprehensive, multilayered system we would need to take down a missile at almost any stage of flight.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is chronically underfunding missile defense. Indeed, it should increase overall funding for the missile-defense program in the next fiscal year to $11 billion. That’s a lot of money, to be sure. But what can be more important than making sure our national defenses are as capable as possible - especially when countries such as Iran, China and North Korea are busily expanding their nuclear-missile capabilities?

Today, a full decade after we ditched the shackles of the ABM Treaty, we should be much further along in developing the kind of land-, sea- and space-based missile defense needed to keep ourselves safe against modern threats.

The era of MAD is long over. It’s time to pursue wholeheartedly the sanity of comprehensive missile defense.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts