- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2000

Some missile-defense opponents appeared all too eager to accept North Korean President Kim Jong-il's recent offer to scrap his country's missile program in exchange for U.S. help launching satellites. Since North Korea is the driving force behind our missile-defense timetable (Pyongyang is expected to have missiles capable of hitting U.S. soil in place by 2005) critics thought this might take missile defense off the table.

But it turns out we underestimated Mr. Kim's sense of humor. His missiles-for-satellites proposal was made "laughingly" in a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he now says. Indeed, he is surprised anyone took it seriously.

Unfortunately, the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by countries such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran is all too real and it is certainly no laughing matter. Recent U.S. intelligence reports show that weapons of mass destruction are proliferating throughout the rogue world and illustrate why a missile defense would be necessary to protect ourselves and our allies even if North Korea miraculously became our staunchest ally tomorrow.

Start with Iran, which according to CIA reports is actively seeking to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons from abroad. Iran has already tested a missile with an 800-mile range enough to reach Israel, Saudi Arabia and parts of Russia and Turkey. Another Iranian missile in development, known as a "Kosar," has a range of 2,485 miles, which means it could threaten parts of Western Europe.

Iran's neighbor, Iraq, is trying to catch up, the CIA says. It has rebuilt key portions of its chemical production infrastructure and has activated numerous missile production sites since the Gulf war. And considering that no U.N. inspection teams have visited Iraq since December 1998, Iraq could be well on its way to deploying these weapons.

Then there is Libya, which has "continued to obtain ballistic missile-related equipment, materials, technology and expertise from foreign sources," the CIA notes. Syria, meanwhile, "has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and apparently is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents." Of course, we cannot overlook China, which today houses about 1,500 missiles in its arsenal. Last year, it tested one with a range of 5,000 miles bringing the U.S. Northwest well within range. Beijing is also developing two new missiles that could be outfitted with multiple warheads in a few years. This nuclear evolution indicates China's willingness to use its nuclear capabilities to expand its power in Asia. It already has vowed to inflict nuclear strikes on any nation that aids Taiwan in the event of a war between Beijing and Taipei.

And let us not forget Russia. Our former Cold War adversary still has more than 2,300 missiles in its arsenal, and it continues to conspire with other nations to counter American power abroad. In fact, Russia is largely to blame for the spread of missile technology to other countries, with Iran (to cite but one example) modeling its long-range missiles on Russian prototypes.

Missile-defense critics often respond by saying America's nuclear arsenal can still deter any nation contemplating a missile strike. But consider the following real-world scenarios where traditional deterrence would have little, if any, effect:

• Armed with a few long-range missiles, Saddam Hussein decides to re-invade Kuwait. Saddam warns the United States that any attempt to intervene will be answered by a nuclear strike on Jerusalem. The United States is prevented from defending a friend as Saddam finishes the job he began in 1990.

• An aging Russian nuclear missile (many of them are well past their prime) is accidentally launched at the United States. Or worse: A terrorist gains control of a Russian nuclear missile and threatens almost any country at will.

• The United States is about to win a regional conflict. The losing country's leader decides that, if his regime is going down, he's taking a few million Americans with him and lobs a missile toward Los Angeles or New York.

In short, the drive to defend America against missile attack is not only a reaction to the whimsical leader of North Korea. It is the only sensible response to a world where a growing number of states are acquiring long-range missiles with deadly payloads. A national missile defense must be built as soon as possible and, no matter what Kim Jong-il says, that is no joke.

Jack Spencer is a defense policy analyst in the Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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