- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

There is a strange disconnect between recent developments in the Middle East and here in the U.S. Senate. In early May, Iran newly dubbed by the State Department as the number one terrorist nation conducted a successful test of its 800-mile-range Shahab-3 missile. There are reports that Iran is now set to begin domestic production of the missile, which will be able to reach Israel, as well as U.S. troops deployed in the Middle East and South Asia.

On May 7, the Associated Press, citing an administration official, reported that Iran is continuing development of a longer-range missile, the Shahab-4. With an estimated range of 1,200-1,800 miles, the Shahab-4 will be able to reach deep into Europe. That means the fanatical mullahs in Tehran will be able to put a multitude of U.S. allies and tens of thousands of U.S. troops within striking distance.

These developments represent a dramatic increase in the worldwide missile threat, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the United States might want to accelerate its efforts to build defenses against such weapons. Yet on May 9, the Democrat-led Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill that would seriously hamper our ability to do just that. The annual defense authorization bill passed by the committee makes deep and damaging cuts to the president's proposed budget for missile defense. Unless remedied, these cuts will erode our ability to end our vulnerability to ballistic-missile attack.

The threat from ballistic missiles continues to grow. Today, nearly three dozen countries have or are developing ballistic missiles of increasing range and sophistication. This includes Iran's fellow "Axis of Evil" members Iraq and North Korea, as well as the terrorist-supporting regimes of Syria and Libya.

This is precisely why a January 2002 national-intelligence estimate warned that, "[t]he probability that a missile with a weapon of mass destruction will be used against U.S. forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War, and will continue to grow as the capabilities of potential adversaries mature."

After September 11, which demonstrated the willingness of our enemies to exploit our weaknesses, we dare not willfully remain vulnerable to this threat. But, that is essentially the impact of the partisan vote of the Armed Services Committee. Though the bill still authorizes several billion dollars for missile defense, its cuts are carefully designed to gut the Pentagon's plans to protect the American people from missiles.

Having liberated us from the constraints of the ABM treaty last December, the Bush administration has proposed an aggressive transformation of the previous administration's missile-defense program. The new approach features: a single, integrated architecture to command and control all of the various components of a missile- defense system; multilayered defenses capable of intercepting missiles in all phases of flight; and the ability to deploy defenses rapidly in the event of an emergency. To accommodate these goals, the administration has reformed the Missile Defense Agency and given it wide latitude to pursue innovative approaches.

The Armed Services Committee majority has taken aim at each of these worthy efforts. Its bill cuts by two-thirds the Missile Defense Agency's staff. The critical functions of system integration and command and control are reduced by a similar amount. Programs to intercept missiles in the boost phase, particularly those employing new basing modes and technologies, are virtually wiped out. And funding for 10 test missiles, which could be deployed in an emergency, is eliminated.

So, essentially this bill leaves the old, piecemeal approach, with many of the most promising technologies starved of funding and a variety of impediments to early deployment. Interestingly, just as this saga is unfolding, the ABM treaty is set to lapse on June 13. This bill appears to be an attempt to revive the spirit of the treaty by those who have never accepted President Bush's decision to opt out of it. If this is the case, they are in dwindling company.

A year ago, there was much hubbub over how any decision to renounce the ABM treaty would alienate our allies, cause a major rift with Russia and spark an arms race. None of those dire predictions have come true. Dozens of countries are side-by-side with the United States in our war on terrorism. Mr. Bush has just inked a new nuclear-reduction treaty with Russia, which in turn has entered into a new partnership with NATO. To be sure, Russia and many European countries would have preferred that Mr. Bush not renounce the treaty. But it seems that these countries were not quite as wedded to this outmoded document as some of its American supporters.

We have entered a new era in international relations in which the threats to this nation are increasingly complex and difficult to predict. That reality was brought home with horrible abruptness on September 11. Imagine if that day were to repeat itself, but this time with a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead. The only responsible course of action to deal with that possibility is to proceed with the most robust program of missile- defense development we can muster.

That will entail restoring the missile defense funds cut by the Armed Services Committee majority.

Sen. Jon Kyl is a Republican from Arizona.

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