- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

They're called leakers, and they're a Star Warrior's technological challenge. For diplomats, the threat they represent calls for new approaches to collective security.

Let's deal with the tech first. These leakers aren't Washington insiders slipping tips to the press, they're missile warheads penetrating a "layered" anti-missile defense.

In 1997 at Fort Bliss, Texas, I watched a "leaker" strike near a U.S. military unit. At least, I watched the attack in a detailed computer exercise conducted by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO).

SCUDs shot skyward. Sensors detected their launch signatures. USAF Airborne Laser started picking off SCUDs in boost phase. Moments later, Navy Aegis and Army Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) started intercepting warheads. As the warheads plunged, Patriots nailed the leftovers. Except for one, a red missile icon on the screen, seconds ticking off to Ground Zero.

Analysis revealed an ill-positioned radar failed to detect the bad guy.

Back to the drawing board? Facile fodder for critics who argue if one warhead gets through any missile defense is wasted effort?

Don't make it more than what it was: a "what if" examining ways to link decision-makers, sensors and weapons, part of the long process of creating effective defenses against missile attack (and the Discovery Channel videotaped part of the exercise).

I asked a spokesman if the "leaker" had been detected by satellites. Answer: "Yes." Could a satellite direct the interceptor missile? Cryptic response: "Not played in this scenario." Snooping revealed strict interpreters of the 1972 ABM treaty argue space assets can't target for ABMs, only treaty-sanctified ground radars.

The 1997 exercise focused on theater ballistic missiles (TBM), the shorter-range weapons forward-deployed U.S. military units face. Strategic defense of U.S. territory, or "national missile defense" (NMD), which the ABM treaty governs, wasn't examined. It was clear to me, however, BMDO played theater defense by strict ABM Treaty rules.

My BMDO experience underscored several truths missile defense advocates and responsible critics acknowledge. Hitting a bullet with a bullet is a tough mission. It's expensive. If you learn from mistakes, failure is part of the process of success.

But only the willfully blind ignore the message North Korea sent in August 1998 when Pyongyang fired a multi-stage missile and confounded Clinton administration risk estimates. That real-world launch demonstrated that the United States, like our allies in Europe, like Japan, like the rest of the world, is vulnerable to rogue missile attack, and it's false to argue otherwise.

No one on the planet escapes this threat which is why some form of "global missile protection" makes strategic sense, politically and militarily.

Are there technical difficulties? You bet. Though Patriot PAC-3 has demonstrated hit-to-kill capability against both ballistic and cruise missiles, missile defense is leading-edge technology. The Airborne Laser is no longer Buck Rogers it can blast but operational range is an issue. The ICBM that challenges a strategic defense is a much faster target than a TBM.

However, the technology is evolving failures have led to success and strategic thinking must evolve.

That leads to missile-defense diplomacy. Yes, threats in our Millennium Era are more spectral and discrete than those faced in the Cold War. We've moved from the Cold War's Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) overwhelming ICBM exchanges where ABM treaty limitations made sense to missile Blackmail, Intimidation, Terror and Extortion (BITE).

BITE is not as nifty an acronym as MAD, but it does describe the rogue's aim: to tear, threaten and corrupt the evolving global system of integrated trade and communications. Which is why missile defense is a diplomatic program for promoting as well as a military tool for protecting the wealth-producing global system.

Missile defense could be one of three "centerpieces" for a new collective defense. (The other two are counterterror cooperation and anti-proliferation regimens for weapons of mass destruction.)

The Bush administration should look beyond NMD to multinational defense, a system that protects the cooperative from the destructive. Joining this "defense club" becomes a mark of sanity and stability. Nations which remain outside the umbrella make an open statement about their long-range goals.

Mutually Assured Defense? Defense is never assured there will always be rogues and potential "leakers." But in order to have "leakers," there must be a defensive system in place, otherwise there is only naked vulnerability, a world where sociopaths are certain New York, London, Moscow and Beijing are names for Ground Zero.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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