- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

George W. Bush is getting lots of advice these days. Congressional Republicans who spent the last eight years in hand-to-hand combat with the Clinton administration are urging him to keep his campaign promise to "build effective missile defenses … at the earliest possible date."

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, author of the National Missile Defense Act that requires NMD deployment as soon as technologically possible, points out that delay only increases our vulnerability.

But delay also does something else it gives opponents time to rally their forces. Last September, after President Clinton said he would leave a deployment decision to his successor, John Isaacs of the left-wing Council for a Livable World wrote a long article boasting how missile defense opponents had achieved a "clear victory." It was the result, he said, of targeted work by "numerous arms control organizations backed by generous support from major foundations." The effort was similar to the organized liberal attack that derailed the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.

Mr. Isaacs described how representatives of "many arms control organizations" met in Washington in June 1999 to "plot strategy" to get a deployment decision postponed. While Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Joe Biden, Delaware Democrat, led the effort against NMD in the Senate, the arms control group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Union of Concerned Scientists produced a report claiming missile defenses could be overwhelmed by simple countermeasures. Phillip Coyle III, Pentagon director of testing and evaluation, did his part by consistently questioning the adequacy of the flight test program.

The effort also was helped by former officials with high credibility, including former Sen. Sam Nunn, former Defense Secretary William Perry, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, 50 Nobel laureates, and 45 China experts, all of whom signed letters urging delay that were written by the Federation of American Scientists, the Carnegie and MacArthur foundations, and the Council for a Livable World. The press gave major attention to these letters, and most of the nation's leading newspapers, said Mr. Isaacs, echoed their call for delay.

One of those papers, the New York Times, now is urging Mr. Bush to delay. In a Jan. 10 editorial it said, "Rushing ahead with this project would be a serious mistake." The main concern stated by the New York Times is that deployment would require withdrawal from the ABM treaty and upset the Russians. It also would upset the NATO allies, whose opposition 15 years ago deterred Ronald Reagan from withdrawing from the treaty. Today, the socialist governments and parties in Europe are as opposed to NMD as the anti-defense liberals in this country.

Yet, an early announcement by the new president would be a dramatic signal that the Cold War policy of mutual assured destruction is dead and a new era is beginning. Such a bold step would immediately change the debate and mark Mr. Bush as a man of action. Russia and China would stop complaining and start negotiating to get the best deal they can. The allieswould stop whining and scramble to assure that they, too, will be defended. The arms control activists would be distraught, but Mr. Bush would give them something new to discuss by making deep reductions in nuclear weapons.

A national missile defense will protect against an accidental or unauthorized launch, or a failure of Russia's deteriorating nuclear command-and-control system. It also would remove the ability of China and North Korea to blackmail or intimidate, and defend against any state that may use the threat of missiles to prevent U.S. action. It will deter missile and nuclear proliferation and, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently said, it will give the president better options in a crisis.

Mr. Bush intends to deploy missile defenses and his appointment of Mr. Rumsfeld shows he is serious. No one is more committed to a national missile defense than the man who chaired the commission that defined the threat. The administration plan is to continue the current land-based NMD program, while modifying it to add sea-based and space-based elements, leading to a highly effective layered defense.

Initial defenses still could be fielded by 2005 if prompt action is taken. What is needed urgently is a directive to begin construction of the ABM radar in the Aleutians, which will take the longest to build. And since effective defenses cannot be built without casting off the yoke of the ABM treaty, notice of withdrawal should be given now. At the same time, the allies must be assured that they, too, will be protected, and Russia and China should be reassured that defenses do not threaten them.

Delay would give the opposition what it wants time to mount a concerted, international attack. George W. Bush has made a commitment to deploy. He should end the ABM treaty and order deployment without delay.

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