- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

Three months shy of Ronald Reagan's historic speech announcing his Cold War-winning Strategic Defense Initiative and one year after announcing America's withdrawal from the anachronistic Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, President Bush ordered the Pentagon this week to begin deploying an ABM system by 2004. Notwithstanding the fact that it will be by necessity a modest, rudimentary system at the outset, the president's bold decision represents a major development in U.S. defense policy at the dawn of the new millennium.

"Throughout my administration," the president declared on Wednesday, "I have made clear that the United States will take every necessary measure to protect our citizens against what is perhaps the gravest danger of all: the catastrophic harm that may result from hostile states or terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them." In an era of massive ballistic-missile proliferation among rogue states and their trading partners, it has become all the more imperative to defend against such an attack, which is capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction nuclear, biological and chemical over thousands of miles to the American homeland. Today, the United States cannot defend itself against a single ballistic missile, whether it is launched our way intentionally to inflict horrific damage or by accident.

September 11 made clear how vulnerable the homeland is to attacks by those whose sole mission is to inflict the maximum amount of harm upon America. Some critics of deploying an ABM capability argue that September 11 proved the nation is more vulnerable to internal terrorism actions than to ballistic-missile attacks. Yet, the events are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, several recent incidents involving North Korea, an indisputable member of an axis of evil and arguably the world's most nefarious missile proliferator, prove how dangerous the threat of ballistic-missile attack is. These North Korean incidents include: the discovery of its hidden nuclear-weapons-development program; its continuing clandestine trading of ballistic-missile technology with Pakistan in exchange for nuclear-weapons technology; North Korea's reported ongoing development of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range in excess of 6,000 miles; and North Korea's delivery of Scud missiles to Yemen.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made clear that the initial deployment will be the first stage of a very robust, multi-layered (land-, sea-, air- and space-based) system. Yet, rudimentary though the ABM system will be in its earliest stage, Mr. Rumsfeld also emphasized that it will be "better than nothing."

Critics also complain that the systems scheduled for early deployment such as the six ground-based interceptors to be based at Fort Greely, Alaska, and the four interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are still in their testing stage. Mr. Rumsfeld, however, reminded those critics that the hugely successful Predator, the unmanned aerial vehicle that recently launched a Hellfire missile killing a top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen, entered service during the war in Afghanistan before its testing was completed.

Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, who first revealed that the president's decision to begin ABM deployment will be in 2004, also reports that the Navy will deploy its SM-3 missile on Aegis-equipped warships. These missiles will be capable of shooting down medium-range missiles. Additionally, nearly 350 Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems will be deployed to defend against short-range missiles, including several versions of the ubiquitous Scuds.

Clearly, Mr. Bush intends to fulfill his campaign commitment to transform America's national security strategy and defense capabilities to meet the threats of the 21st century.

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