- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

As luck had it, I had the chance to visit briefly with the president 10 days ago on the question of missile defense.I thanked him for his leadership on this front but warned him that I was concerned the initiative was getting away from him. He responded confidently, "Actually, we are making more progress than you might think" and cited as an example his conversation earlier that day with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Perhaps we are making considerable "progress." I am worried, however, that the "progress" we are making appears increasingly to be in the wrong direction.
This concern has only been aggravated by reports in recent days in the New York Times to the effect that Mr. Bushs administration has decided to try to "buy" Russias support for his pursuit of protection against ballistic missile attack for the nation, its forces overseas and allies. The paper actually quoted "one senior White House official" as saying "If we are going to make this work, the Russians have to agree to the plan."
Specifically, the Bush team is said to have made an offer to share with Russia early warning information, to conduct joint anti-missile exercises and to purchase Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. A "senior administration official" told the Times: "Think of it as exercising their missile defense with ours, to see whether they could be made interoperable. Our systems could be interconnected. It makes a lot of sense."
Actually, it only makes sense if you make several dubious assumptions.
First, you have to believe the Russians will be more accommodating if they think the United States will only proceed with missile defenses if they approve, than would be the case if the Kremlin knows it has no say in the matter. In fact, for most of the past 17 years, successive American administrations have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Moscow to accede to U.S. anti-missile deployments. This experience suggests that if in the future, as in the past, we accord Russia a de facto veto over our missile defense programs, they will happily exercise it.
As the New York Times noted: "The evolving strategy is in strong contrast to that of the administrations early weeks, when Mr. Bush and his national security aides said they were preparing to speed ahead alone to undo the treaty." In fact, the first approach was the right one. The only hope for making the Russians (and, for that matter, our allies) tractable is to persuade them that the United States is going to do whatever is required to defend itself, whether others concur or not.
Second, you have to think collaboration with the Russians on missile defense systems will not result in the compromise of U.S. anti-missile technologies. In fact, at the very least, the Kremlin will use any insights garnered from joint exercises and missile-sharing programs to improve the ability of their ballistic missiles to overcome such defenses. We may or may not worry about improved penetration capabilities being in Russian hands. We cannot ignore, however, the virtual certainty that these capabilities will be shared in short order with the many countries Moscow views as clients from China to Iran, from North Korea to Libya to whom it is feverishly proliferating its missile technologies.
Third, you have to believe American military officers and defense-minded congressional leaders already anxious about the adequacy of Bush administration spending on the promised rebuilding of the military will be happier if money is being spent buying Russian hardware than U.S. equipment. This is all the less likely if reports in The Washington Times prove correct, namely that the lions share of the projected infusion of some $30 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon is earmarked for necessary improvements in medical care and housing for the armed forces leaving practically nothing for needed procurement of modern weapons.
Fourth, you have to ignore the fact that the Russians already have a territorial defense against ballistic missile attack. Their S-300s are upgraded versions of the nuclear-capable SA-10 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of which have been deployed across the former Soviet Union. When integrated with many older SA-5 SAMs, a number of large missile-detection and -tracking radars and an up-to-date ABM complex around Moscow, the Kremlin is in the enviable position of denouncing our prospective national missile defense system while preserving (in fact, while modernizing) its own extant one.
Finally, you have to assume that the new Democratic leadership of the Senate will be more willing to support the presidents missile defense program if given an opportunity to slow, encumber or otherwise derail it. There is no evidence to support this thesis. To the contrary, Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Carl Levin of Michigan and Joe Biden of Delaware the new majority leader and the presumptive chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, respectively have been vocal opponents of efforts to defend America against missile attack since long before Mr. Bush came to town. All they need do to prevail now is to maintain the status quo of no anti-missile deployments, and they will seize any chance afforded them to do just that.
In short, President Bush has a choice to make. He can make further "progress" on missile defense by heeding the advice and respecting the sensibilities of those who have kept this nation defenseless against missile attack to this point. Or he can make the only kind of progress that matters by initiating deployments forthwith, first from the sea (as he intimated in his address last Friday at Annapolis was his intention), and pursuing thereafter whatever cooperation makes sense with the Russians and whatever dialogue is constructive with the allies and congressional Democrats.
The difference between the two approaches may determine whether the United States deploys effective anti-missile systems before we need them, or only after we do.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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