- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Embroiled as Washington is this summer in battles over the president's proposed Department of Homeland Security and corporate America's scandalous misdeeds, it hardly caused a blip on the capital's radar screen when the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty expired last month. There were indeed a few celebrations among the treaty's critics, but its supporters were remarkably silent. As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush had announced his intention to withdraw from the ABM treaty, which had been signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972, and as president, he followed through on his promise.

The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin had pragmatically realized that fighting for the ABM treaty was a losing battle, deciding instead to extract whatever advantages it could in return for its acquiescence. As the Russian position collapsed, so, more or less, did that of European politicians and Democrats, who had predicted dire and dreadful consequences from the Bush administration's actions, indeed the end of arms control, as we know it. (Which a lot of us might not think was so bad.) But the extraordinary lack of controversy belies the importance of June 13. For from that day forward, the United States was freed from any constraints on efforts to construct an effective national missile defense. Such constraints, enshrined in the ABM treaty, had been accepted by the Clinton administration as inevitable. During the decade of the 1990s, this policy had prevented the United States from protecting itself against the growing threat of ballistic missile proliferation among the rogue nations of the world and non-rogue nations, for that matter, too.

No one who attended last week's conference, "Defending the Homeland Against Ballistic and Cruise Missiles," organized by the Heritage Foundation and the McCormick Tribune Foundation, could come away without a sense of the tremendous number of threats out there that could face the United States. Fortunately, we now have the possibility for a measure of protection if President Bush chooses to pursue it.

Just how far the proliferation of missile technology has gotten out of hand was shown in disturbing detail. Ever more advanced missile technology is spreading from the "axis of evil," primarily from North Korea, whose three-stage Taepo Dong intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) will be able to reach parts of the United States. Another equally troubling and even more difficult threat to anticipate is represented by cruise missiles or unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs), which are widespread and which could fall into terrorist hands. Any one of these hitting the U.S. homeland armed with a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead would be horrendous. By one estimate, a nuclear surface burst hitting St. Louis would kill almost 9,000 people on impact and another 51,000 from radiation. Exasperating as the number of nightmare scenarios is, it should be obvious that we must protect the United States and its allies against the dangers we can counter. While low-flying cruise missiles will be very difficult to intercept, the ballistic missile threat is one we can handle. The shame is that we are looking at a wasted decade in the 1990s where the Reagan/Bush missile defense programs were abandoned in favor of conventional arms-control.

The missile defense program that was finally started in the late 1990s, and inherited by the second Bush administration, is a limited combination of sea- and land-based interceptors. It will be far from adequate, according to the experts meeting at the McCormick foundation's Cantigny estate outside Chicago. This, despite the fact that the Bush administration is proposing to increase spending on research, development and testing by 70 percent ($30 billion was spent between 1993-2000).

As noted by one conference participant, a big difference between the "hand-me-down" Clinton Ballistic Missile Defense, the program inherited by the current Bush administration, on the one hand, and the missile defense systems pursued by Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, on the other, is that the Clinton program was planned to be deployed in compliance with the treaty; the others were not. The Clinton BMD plan was designed not to be a challenge to Russia's nuclear arsenal; the Reagan/Bush programs were designed to withstand the heaviest possible attacks.

An effective system missile defense has to include space-based interceptors, which is the only comprehensive way to shoot down missiles in their boost phase as well as in mid-flight. That means going back to the concepts of the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative and first Bush administration's "brilliant pebbles" concept. That idea still causes much heartburn among the Russians and Chinese not to mention various domestic opponents of the "militarization of space."

But space was already militarized when the Soviets tested their first ICBM half a century ago. By placing our defensive weapons there, we would only be following their lead.

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