- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

With the beginning of the new millennium, as ballistic-missile technology proliferates at an alarming rate, it is long passed time for vigorous action in pursuit of reaching the goal that President Ronald Reagan established with his visionary Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

In one very important respect, the payoff of SDI has already been extraordinary. As former Reagan administration arms-control official Ken Adelman reminded us in a Wall Street Journal essay last year, no less than Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the late Soviet Union, has attested to the fact that it was Mr. Reagan's refusal to bargain away SDI at the 1986 Reykjavik, Iceland, summit that precipitated the Soviet Union's eventual collapse five years later, having bankrupted itself attempting to compete with American technology.

Unfortunately, however, ridding the world of the Evil Empire has not ridden the world of evil. As welcome as the Soviet Union's collapse was, it did not eliminate the need to pursue a national security policy based on saving lives rather than avenging them. Regrettably, the Clinton-Gore administration has spent its eight years in office decimating the U.S. defense budget, embracing the outdated, anachronistic 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and limiting or canceling much of the promising missile-defense research programs it inherited.

Given the Clinton-Gore administration's deeply ingrained, reflexive opposition to the idea of missile defense, it should hardly be surprising that the national missile defense program it may reluctantly adopt would prove to be the least robust and least effective available. The minimalist approach the administration favors would deploy by 2007 a mere 100 interceptor missiles at a single site in Alaska and only one high-resolution radar. It would be designed to destroy a handful of warheads launched by nations the administration has redefined as "states of concern" formerly known as rogue states or to defend against an accidental launch from Russia or elsewhere.

It is true, as The Washington Times has vigorously argued in the past, that a sea-based ABM capability would be much preferable to the land-based option. Among the advantages of sea-based ABM systems: They would be cheaper and quicker to deploy; they would protect our allies; and they could more easily target a ballistic missile in its much-more-vulnerable "boost phase." Nevertheless, despite its limitations, the land-based system favored by the administration represents a welcome development.

Of course, the ideal long-term deployment of ABM systems would incorporate several overlapping layers based in the air, at sea, on land and in space. They would be designed, deployed and constantly upgraded not only to defend against an accidental launch from Russia or an intentional, limited assault by a rogue nation but also to defend against a concentrated attack from any potential aggressor. Ideally, America's missile-defense system would protect not only the United States but any other peaceful nation subjected to an unprovoked ballistic-missile attack involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. In short, an integrated ABM system worth having is the one Ronald Reagan envisioned.

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