- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

So you thought the Cold War was over? You would never know it. Since mid-October Russia has carried out a flurry of missile flight tests and satellite launches, even while fighting a ground war in Chechnya.

First came the flight test of an SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), followed by a test of one of the 100 missile interceptors that form a defensive anti-ballistic missile ring around Moscow, then the test of an SS-21 theater ballistic missile, and finally the launch of two SS-N-20 strategic missiles from a Typhoon submarine in the Barents Sea north of Murmansk.

Not done yet, on Dec. 14 Moscow conducted a flight test of its new mobile ICBM, the Topol-M, with Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the launch. Mr. Putin, referring to Western opposition to Russian attacks on Chechnya, told the missile troops a dangerous trend has emerged as some countries, under the mantle of international organizations, try to interfere in the internal affairs of others. Moscow television reported Russia's new leader as saying "we will not tolerate this," and then adding that Russia has military levers at its disposal.

Those levers include the new Topol-M nuclear missile, the second regiment of which Moscow deployed in December (the U.S. has not deployed an ICBM since 1988). Russia also is building a large new ABM radar in the adjoining republic of Belarus, and has made it a "top priority" to extend the service life of enough nuclear weapons to keep six warheads on each existing multiple warhead missile, and to add more warheads to the new Topol-M missiles if a decision is made to do so.

Also in December, the commander of Strategic Missile Forces proudly announced that Moscow had completed its 1999 satellite program, launching 35 satellites into orbit. Russia then proceeded to launch two more, a naval intelligence satellite to monitor surface ships and submarines down to 180 feet, and an Oko early warning spacecraft to join three others watching for U.S. missile launches. Col. Gen. Vladimir Yakovlev also revealed that Russia has adopted a new nuclear strategy that allows a nuclear first strike if Russian forces are attacked with chemical or biological weapons, or if they are outnumbered.

Commenting on this significant change in Russia's nuclear policy, Vladimir Sokirko, writing in the paper Moskovsky Komsomolets, noted that the new Topol-M is "not just a deterrent, but also a massive nuclear stick to frighten the whole world." It is, he added, "enough to make people treat us like a great power." Even in Russia, nuclear missiles are mainly to gain respect and intimidate others.

Frozen in Cold War thinking, the Kremlin seems determined to spend its scarce resources on modernizing its strategic nuclear missiles, maintaining large numbers of nuclear warheads, and producing satellites to keep an eye on the United States.

The concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is alive and well in Moscow today. But the attitude of the Clinton administration, clinging to a policy of mutual terror and a defenseless America under the ABM treaty, is not much better.

New thinking is badly needed. The military news of the past decade is the growing importance of satellites and space systems, and the emergence of "smart" bombs and missiles that can achieve pinpoint accuracy with the aid of satellite navigation. Pinpoint accuracy with conventional weapons can substitute for nuclear weapons. It replaces a blunderbuss with a rifle equipped with a telescopic lens. What's more, smart weapons can actually be used, while nuclear weapons almost certainly cannot.

Opponents of missile defense invariably claim that if a missile lands in America "we will nuke them." But not if it is an accident or an unauthorized launch. Not if it is unclear what group launched it. And what if it means the death of millions of innocent civilians? The president deserves better alternatives. Advancing technology is providing them. Threats now can be contained and countered with a synergistic combination of missile defenses, highly accurate smart weapons, and a small nuclear deterrent in reserve.

The recent missed intercept in the missile defense program does not reduce the need. Misses are part of the normal development process, which must continue. The deployment of a national missile defense combined with a robust non-nuclear force armed with smart weapons could allow the U.S. to safely make deep reductions in nuclear forces. It is time to bury the Cold War, abandon the illusory "stability" of nuclear terror, and move toward a combination of defenses and mainly non-nuclear offenses.

The administration should pursue such a course and drag Moscow along with it. It will make the world a safer place.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

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