- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Now that Bush administration officials have returned from last weeks globe-trotting to explain why the United States wants to develop a missile defense outside the bounds of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, it is clear that numerous myths remain about what kind of protection such a system will provide. In order to be smart as we proceed down this path, we need to recognize not only what missile defense is, but also what it isnt.

At best, missile defense is an insurance policy within our overall effort to protect ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. The rest of the tool kit consists of deterrence emphasizing to those who might launch at us that we can destroy them in return; denial preventing technologies from falling in the wrong hands; and diplomacy weaning regimes away from the idea of developing these types of systems.

Each of these four Ds has its place. Missile defense would give us some protection if deterrence, denial and diplomacy fail. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has himself admitted, missile defense might work or it might not, but at least we would have done something so that the president had one last card to play in order to protect American lives.

But because missile defense will never be 100 percent effective, we should not make of it more than it is. When defending against tanks, stopping nine out of ten is a pretty good day´s work. Stopping nine out of 10 nuclear-tipped missiles is still a catastrophe. Those who argue that missile defense will allow a president to act confidently in a crisis are just plain wrong. They need to see the movie "Thirteen Days." Why didn´t President Kennedy authorize a strike against nuclear weapons in Cuba in October 1962? Because he knew he might not hit all of them, and a few would be left for retaliation. No president would ever act more boldly because he was confident that missile defense would work. But he would be thankful if he saved even one city from destruction.

Given this reality, we must be clear that missile defense is not a substitute for the three other Ds deterrence, denial and diplomacy. It is not even first among equals. If we had a defensive system in place, it would be our tool of last resort.

If this is so, then how should the Bush administration proceed? It is clear that the administration has no interest in being constrained by a treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1972. This position is quite reasonable. But it still needs an alternative approach. China and Russia have legitimate worries about any U.S. efforts in space that might enable us to eliminate their satellite capabilities, even as the United States has legitimate worries about defending its own space assets.

Trying to negotiate a new agreement will be difficult. The Russians will want some kind of treaty, if only because a signing ceremony would give them the bipolar moment they crave to remind the world of their status as the other major nuclear power. But it is hard to imagine that if the United States and Russia immediately start to develop a different treaty, then other nuclear powers Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan would not want to be part of it as well.

The Bush administration should therefore not work to create a new treaty right away. It should instead put its political resources into reassuring the world that the system it seeks to develop is purely defensive. But just saying so won´t be enough.

The Bush team needs to take four steps. First, it must show that it recognizes the inherent limits of missile defense, and make clear that this is only one part of a broader U.S. defense strategy against rogue threats one that includes the other three Ds. Second, it should be mindful of the need for greater transparency as it develops a new system, possibly by inviting observers from leading nations to participate in research (in the case of our allies) or observe tests (in the case of China and Russia). Third, President Bush should follow-through on his pledge to lower the numbers of offensive strategic nuclear warheads and go to a level of 1,000-1,500 a number still sufficient to deter any adversary from attacking but low enough to demonstrate that the United States is not trying to develop a first strike capability.

Finally, the administration should pledge that once it has figured out what kind of system to deploy a process that might take years it will work toward a formal agreement with other major powers on rules of the road. To be sure, many of Mr. Bush´s GOP friends will complain about any constraints on U.S. efforts. But if we do not show that we care about some rules to stabilize the nuclear chessboard, we are likely to produce the self-fulfilling prophecy we want missile defense to help us avoid uncertainty and instability.


Derek H. Chollet is a research associate at George Washington University´s Institute for European, Russian and EurTheasian Studies, and served in the State Department during the Clinton administration. James M. Goldgeier is associate professor of political science at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.


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