- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

The successful test of a prototype anti-missile interceptor Dec. 3 moves the United States another step closer to the creation of a missile defense system. Such a system could shield the country from the most devastating form of attack known to the world today; missiles fired from the far corners of the Earth armed with weapons of mass destruction.
More sophisticated tests, needed to refine the system against the kind of weapons a determined enemy may devise, will run into the limits set by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1973. Therefore, President George W. Bush has wisely announced the U.S. will withdraw from the treaty.
Attempting to head off such a move, 50 Nobel Laureates recently sent a letter under the banner of the Federation of American Scientists calling on Mr. Bush to trust the old treaty rather than any new technology to protect America from attack. Those who signed the FAS letter were mainly physicists, with a sprinkling of chemists, medical doctors and economists.
Their argument, however, was not based primarily on science. Instead, they argued in terms of military strategy, a tactic that did not play to their strength.
They claimed that "the inherent advantages of the offense exceed the inherent advantages of superior American technology." While true at the moment in regard to missiles, the lack of historians among the signers may explain why they fail to understand how dynamic the see-saw struggle between offense and defense has always been. Sword and shield, gun and armor, cavalry and infantry, radar and stealth. The seeking of military advantage has been one of the most dynamic aspects of human civilization. It is rather brash of these Nobel Laureates to assume that ingenuity reached its peak with the award of their prizes and that no further turns of the wheel can be expected despite the acceleration of technological development.
The FAS writers do know there are threats to American security, but they suffer from a post-September 11 myopia. They call for concentrating on anti-terrorism measures to the neglect of any defense against what they call "a strategically improbable Third World ballistic missile attack." This posits the false "either or" choice that has become common among opponents of missile defense. Osama bin Laden is not America's only adversary. The threats that existed before September 11 are still there and still need to be faced.
America is fortunate that bin Laden chose to locate in Afghanistan, a country without ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or for that matter, even a conventional army of any size. U.S. forces could counterattack with impunity.
Of the seven states identified by the State Department as the principle sponsors of terrorism, five (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea) do have ballistic missile programs seeking longer-range weapons. The desire to acquire ballistic missiles and WMD is an attempt to guarantee regime survival by providing a deterrent against the kind of action Washington is taking in Afghanistan. It is a capability that gives rogue states the belief that they can sponsor terrorism without fear of the kind of sweeping reprisals that could remove them from power. And given the lesson of Afghanistan, terrorists will seek the protection of more powerful regimes; and those regimes will seek to improve their military capabilities.
The danger is not that some morning a Third World despot will wake up and decide it's a good day to die, and thus launch a "bolt from the blue" missile attack at American cities the way al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The FAS writers are right to consider this to be "improbable."
But the FSA writers are also only knocking down a straw man when they make this argument. The purpose of rogue state missiles is to constrain American action while giving themselves more freedom of action.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld understands this connection. He chaired the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. Among its findings reported in 1998, "the capability to combine ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction provides a strategic counter to U.S. conventional and information-based military superiority."
The failure to understand this connection leads the FSA writers to their final and most dangerous conclusion: "abrogation of the ABM treaty would also undermine nonproliferation." What makes proliferation tempting to even poor regimes is the belief that a defenseless America can be intimidated by even a handful of fairly simple weapons.
North Korea demonstrated to the world how useful a missile program can be. President Bill Clinton, clinging to the ABM Treaty and stalling missile defense, made previously unthinkable concessions to Pyongyang. Mr. Clinton's policy was to save the failed communist regime rather than risk a "death ride" attack by missiles that could not be shot down.
The United States cannot continue to provide progressive world leadership if it is vulnerable to an increasing number of radical states hostile to American values and interests. Ensuring the vulnerability of hostile regimes to reprisal and possible overthrow by U.S. and allied forces is crucial to deterring such states from sponsoring terrorist groups or committing other acts of aggression. Missile defenses at both the theater and national levels are vital to maintaining a balance of power favorable to the United States in divided and dangerous world.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation.

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