- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

President Clinton's decision to pass the National Missile Defense (NMD) decision to the next president is the only good decision he has made concerning missile defense.

Mr. Clinton has consistently failed to defend America and has politicized missile defense to the extent that any decision he made would not be credible. Mr. Clinton has again paced the polls and for the first time made the right decision for America on this issue although for the wrong reasons.

The Clinton administration has paced the polls, but not the threat. It has made the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the cornerstone of defense policy rather than considering all available options for an effective NMD, e.g., boost-phase, sea-based, space-based, and, the most effective of all, a layered defense consisting of a combination of these.

The ABM Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union was right for the times when only they had Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). It's now outdated since the Soviet Union no longer exists and several other unfriendly nations have or will soon have ICBMs. Most legal scholars agree the treaty is no longer valid, including Richard Nixon before he died and Henry Kissinger.

Mr. Clinton has consistently misled the American people on the possibility of missile attack from rogue states ("states of concern") like Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, indicating it is not possible before 2015. In June 1998, the bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission unanimously concluded that North Korea, among other nations, could build ballistic missiles "to inflict major damage on [the United States] within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability." The commission also concluded that, during several of those years, the intelligence community "might not be aware that such a decision had been made." The Clinton administration initially disputed the commission's findings. But, as if to emphasize this latter conclusion, North Korea launched a three-stage Taepodong I missile over Japan on Aug. 31, 1998, and nearly to U.S. territory surprising the intelligence community and discrediting its objections to the commission's findings.

The intelligence community does not dispute that the Taepodong 2 missile, when developed, will be able to deliver nuclear weapons at least to the American Northwest. Furthermore, if North Korea used the same staging technology demonstrated by the Taepodong I launch, it could reach all 50 states with chemical or biological weapons.Because the Taepodong 2 program existed in 1998, North Korea could threaten the United States with ballistic missiles at least by 2003.

On Sept. 1, Mr. Clinton acknowledged in his national security remarks delivered at Georgetown University that "North Korea has a missile that could pose a threat to America, that in a moment of desperation, such a country might miscalculate, believing it could use nuclear weapons to intimidate us from defending our vital interests or from coming to the aid of our allies or others who were defenseless and clearly in need, and, the system (his proposed NMD system) could be deployed sooner than any of the proposed alternatives."

The Clinton administration has never seriously considered any alternatives other than a single land-based site. Common sense, however, dictates that the nation should not arbitrarily restrict its options and then wonder why the system it deploys might not be effective. Administration policy precludes even unrestricted development and testing of a sea-based NMD system, not just deployment.

This policy makes it clear that the Clinton administration has pursued a policy of purposeful ignorance. It does not want to know which system(s) will really be the most effective. The administration's real goal has been to preserve an "adjusted" ABM Treaty by proposing a missile defense, however ineffective, that it hopes Russia would support. Mr. Clinton's September remarks are telling: "Now, here's the issue: NMD if deployed would require us either to adjust the treaty or to withdraw from it, not because NMD poses a challenge to the strategic stability I just discussed, but because by its very words, NMD prohibits any national missile defense."

The current sea-based version of theater ballistic missile defense, called the Navy Theater Wide (NTW) missile program, could be accelerated and built upon to provide a pathway to NMD capability years sooner. Indeed, this program is the only hope of beginning to defend American territory as soon as 2003. But this cannot be done under the current program. Instead, a top priority streamlined management approach is needed like the Navy used in the late 1950s to build in only four years our first strategic submarine and submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Just as then, the program must be funded at a technology limited pace. Skeptics and pundits say we can't build a ballistic missile defense because of the last failed attempt to intercept an ICBM target; they say the technology is not ready. But that failure had nothing to do with ballistic missile defense technology; it was a basic missile-engineering problem on an aging rocket booster that's been in use for 40 years. Even our best strategic missile systems are not perfect and even in its prime, the launch success rate was no better than 90 percent for that booster. Ballistic missile defense technology is ready. It's Mr. Clinton's policy that isn't ready. I am confident our ballistic missile experts can build an effective NMD if the president allows them to do so.

Mr. Clinton stated in his September remarks that, "Still, though the technology for NMD is promising, the system as a whole is not yet proven." Try and imagine how effective our Cold War defenses would have been if President Eisenhower had insisted that the Navy could not proceed building the Polaris Program until the "system as a whole is proven"? Do you believe we would have ever put a man on the moon in any decade with this approach?

NMD will never be perfect; there is no such thing as a perfect defense against anything, especially something so challenging and complex as ballistic missile defense. Even in defense against aircraft, a single missile interceptor has historically been successful less than 50 percent of the time. The solution to the air defense problem has been a layered defense, e.g., start shooting early and at a long range so that you have many independent opportunities to intercept the target. Layered defense works for aircraft, and it will work for ballistic missiles. True, the interceptor would periodically hit a decoy rather than the warhead; but the second or third shot will hit the target. The discrimination problem has not been fully solved, but workable solutions are available against the current threat and better ones are being developed to handle tomorrow's threat.

After returning to the Pentagon in 1991 from being assigned commander Sixth Fleet, I convinced the chief of Naval operations and secretary of the Navy that the country needed the Navy to take on the mission of theater ballistic missile defense. The Navy accepted that mission in 1992 and has developed a sound ballistic missile defense development program with the help of Congress and in spite of the Department of Defense. Ambassador Henry Cooper, then Director of SDIO (Strategic Defense Initiative Office), directed $4.85 billion in 1992 for the Navy's ballistic missile programs (DOD subsequently took more than $2 billion back). We knew at the time that the Navy's Exo-Atmospheric missile, now called the Navy Theater Wide (NTW) missile, had NMD potential and would someday be urgently required. That day has arrived.

Two congressionally mandated studies determined that the most effective national missile defense would be a combination of land and sea-based systems. Mr. Clinton's proposed land-based site is composed of credible and effective components, e.g., EKV (Exo-Atmosphere Kill Vehicle), radar, command and control; and we should deploy one land-based site. But a single site, or even adding the optional North Dakota site, does not provide effective missile coverage of all 50 states and territories, and provides no defense for our allies, forward-based NMD radars, and sea-based threats.

The next president should direct the Pentagon to conduct a thorough study of all possible options on how to best defend America against ballistic missiles (unconstrained by politics and the outdated ABM treaty). He should augment the proposed land-based site by building an interim/limited sea-based system by 2003 for less than $2 billion. This could be accomplished by using the existing NTW Standard Missile 3 Block I with a sensor external to the Aegis Cruiser. Testing has already begun.

Since Mr. Clinton has delayed the Alaskan NMD radar, a ship based NMD radar could be used as a sensor. He should also make the decision to deploy and start building one land-based site in the optimum location to be completed by 2006 for $30 billion (CBO estimate). The location should be determined based on the study considering combined sea and land-based systems. And he should build an improved sea-based system by 2005-2006 for $4-6 billion; this system, combined with the land-based site, would provide robust NMD.

Augmenting the land-based system with sea-based systems would result in a much more effective NMD system that could be deployed sooner for less money (a second land-based site is estimated to cost $22 billion and would not be ready until 2010). Sea-based systems would provide the following additional advantages: a layered defense consisting of boost-phase intercepts for some countries, increased shot opportunities, defense against sea-launched threats, coverage of our territories, mobility to mass along the threat axis, and effective coverage of the weak spots inherent in the proposed land-based site.

Rather than not build NMD and hope "they may not come," I recommend we pursue a policy of "build it and they will not come." We need a president who is committed to building NMD with a sense of urgency.

Ret. Vice Admiral J.D. Williams was deputy chief of Naval operations and former commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. He is considered the "father" of Navy ballistic missile defense.

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