- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Last week, one of the CIA's top experts, its National Intelligence Officer for strategic forces, gave Congress and the American people an important wake-up call.
In testimony before a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, Robert Walpole predicted that later this year North Korea may test its Taepo Dong-2 ballistic missile a long-range, three-stage missile believed capable of delivering a multiton nuclear payload to any location in the United States.
Such a test would be a problem in its own right, putting the U.S. squarely in the cross-hairs of the one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet. Worse yet, since Pyongyang sees its ballistic missiles as a "cash crop" one of North Korea's few products for which there is any export market at all this intercontinental missile capability is likely to appear shortly in the hands of several other "rogue" nations hostile to the United States. Past experience suggests these could include the likes of Iran, Libya, Iraq and Syria.
If Mr. Walpole's warning was a wake-up call, tomorrow's appearance before the House Armed Services Committee by Lt. Gen. Robert Kadish, the director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, should have the effect of throwing Members of Congress out of their beds. After all, the general will tell them that, under the Clinton-Gore administration's plan, it will take at least five years and probably more before the United States will be able to begin to deploy anti-missile systems capable of preventing North Korean missiles from lobbing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction at this country.
If legislators do their job, moreover, Gen. Kadish will have to explain an even more alarming fact: President Clinton has yet to decide to deploy even so tardy a defense, despite the clear and imminent if not actually present danger it is required to address.
Indeed, Mr. Clinton is not expected to make such a decision until, at the earliest, next summer. Even then, according to his administration's "National Security Strategy for a New Century" released last December, there are "four factors that must be taken into account in deciding whether to field this [single, ground-based anti-missile system in Alaska]: (1) whether the threat is materializing; (2) whether the system is affordable; (3) the status of the technology based on an initial series of rigorous flight tests and the proposed system's operational effectiveness; and (4) the implications that going forward with national missile defense deployment would hold for the overall strategic environment and our arms control objectives, including efforts to achieve further reductions in strategic nuclear arms under START II and START III."
In other words, President Clinton is taking the position that not only has no decision been taken to deploy missile defenses for the American people. He is actually saying that decision might be further deferred if he is not satisfied that such protection is "affordable" or beneficial for the "overall strategic environment." Unsaid is what measure will be used to judge affordability (How about "Is it cheaper to build a defense to protect an American city or to try to rebuild it after its destruction?") It is predictable, moreover, that the president's stated concern about "the overall strategic environment" will translate into an effective veto over American defensive measures by those, like China and Russia, who prefer this country's present vulnerability.
It is hard to see how Congress can accept such a stance. After all, last year both houses by veto-proof margins adopted legislation first introduced by Sen. Cochran declaring that it was the policy of the United States to deploy an effective, limited national missile defense "as soon as technologically possible." Faced with an inevitable override, President Clinton signed that bill, making it the law of the land.
Consequently, under our Constitution, the decision to deploy national protection against missile attack has already been taken. The deployment is to be accomplished as soon as the technology is available. Period.
To be sure, in opposing the Missile Defense Act of 1999, the Clinton-Gore Administration made the argument that other factors, like those enumerated above, should be taken into account. But overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate saw things differently. Faced with the sort of emerging missile threat the CIA now, belatedly, acknowledges, legislators have directed the President to proceed. Having signed that direction into law, he is now legally bound to implement it. Doing otherwise is not just an expression of Mr. Clinton's contempt for Congress; it is illegal.
More to the point, further delay in putting into place anti-missile defenses for the American people as well as for their forces and allies overseas is recklessly dangerous. It invites the sort of blackmail against Los Angeles that a senior Chinese military officer engaged in the last time Taiwan held presidential elections. It makes possible North Korea's strategic shakedown of the United States which has already prompted the Clinton-Gore administration to make America the top provider of foreign aid to the lunatic communist regime in Pyongyang. And it creates a market for North Korean and others' ballistic missiles among nations interested in similarly parlaying our vulnerability to missile attack into cash, political accommodations or military inaction in the face of their aggression.
President Clinton's open defiance of the law leaves responsible legislators and other supporters of defending America with no choice. In light of the yawning danger of missile attack, they must make an issue during this election season of the Clinton-Gore team's failure over the past seven years to deploy effective missile defenses. And they must move at once to prevent further, ever more dangerous delay in the needed deployment decision.
The way to accomplish this twin objective is by offering a clear and appealing alternative: Congressional direction promptly to begin modifying the Navy's AEGIS fleet air defense system so as to give at least some of its 55 cruisers and destroyers already paid for and operating today on all the world's oceans the near-term capability to intercept ballistic missiles aimed at our people here at home, as well as U.S. forces and allies overseas.
George W. Bush and John McCain have already publically expressed support for a sea-based missile defense. Since Al Gore has a long record of opposing the deployment of anti-missile systems to protect the American people and supports President Clinton's effort to defy the Missile Defense Act, offering voters such a clear choice could become one of the most important, defining issues of the 2000 race. It could even contribute to determining which party controls the Congress after November. But most importantly, it would set the stage for an electoral mandate to begin, at long last, realizing the goal set by Ronald Reagan 17 years ago an America defended against ballistic missile attack.

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

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