- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

Ronald Reagan left a legacy that will grow with time. He settled the central contest of the 20th century by winning the Cold War. He modernized the U.S. military and restored its sense of pride after stalemate in Korea and fiasco in Vietnam. And the Strategic Defense Initiative program he announced 20 years ago today helped collapse the evil empire. President Reagan's economic and political pressure led to the end of the Warsaw Pact, freed the states of Eastern Europe, and caused the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its empire.
That empire was built on fear and sustained by a power base of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. For decades, the Soviets poured their wealth into bigger missiles with more nuclear warheads and greater throw-weight. Economically weak, Moscow's superpower status was based on sheer military power.
When President Reagan announced his intention to develop technologies that could block Soviet missiles, Moscow was in a race it could not win. The Kremlin tried everything to kill SDI, with the support of Mr. Reagan's opponents in this country and most of the media. They complained that defenses cost too much, would undermine global stability, and would not work anyway.
But President Reagan knew what he was doing. He could see the Berlin Wall coming down and the Soviet empire collapsing when few others could. Some of his advisers failed to understand the strategic importance or moral imperative of defending the country and urged him not to withdraw from the ABM treaty. Most of America's allies were against it, they argued.
Mr. Reagan did not withdraw from the treaty, but he laid the groundwork by consolidating, developing and testing missile defense technologies. The first President Bush continued those programs, but failed to seize the opportunity to declare the ABM treaty dead when the Soviet Union went out of existence. President Clinton reversed course, called the treaty the foundation of strategic stability, and assured Moscow and Beijing he would preserve it. Then he tried to expand it to limit theater missile defenses as well as strategic ones.
Like President Reagan, President George W. Bush had a vision. Effective missile defenses could not be built under the ABM treaty and Mr. Bush was determined to be free of its restrictions. Facing near unanimous opposition, he set a course to convince America's allies and adversaries alike of his determination to withdraw from the treaty.
By repeating that intention for nearly a year, the opposition gradually came to accept the inevitable, while never liking it. When Mr. Bush announced his decision to withdraw in December 2000, Moscow and most other opponents accepted it meekly.
So while the SDI program started 20 years ago, the real effort to put defenses in the field began just a year ago. Now, free from the no-defense mindset imposed by the treaty, the Pentagon plans to deploy 20 missile interceptors in Alaska and California by the end of 2005, put a sea-based X-band radar in the Pacific, deploy missile interceptors on Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, and develop space-based missile defenses, all of which were blocked by the treaty. And other formerly banned technologies are on the way.
The proliferation of missiles is rampant around the globe, so defenses against them also must be worldwide. The goal is to have layers of defenses against long-range, medium-range and short-range missiles, with national and regional defenses alerted by sensors on satellites, at sea, and on the ground, and with everything linked into a worldwide network by satellite-based communications.
Not surprisingly, countries that feel threatened are clamoring to buy or borrow missile defenses. Patriot interceptors are now in Kuwait, where they were used successfully this week, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, Turkey, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. And Israel has its own Arrow interceptors, developed largely with U.S. funds, which are deployed in a layered defense that includes Patriots and a U.S. Aegis-equipped warship in the Mediterranean. This is a preview of the layered missile defenses of the future.
Japan and the U.S. are co-developing a sea-based missile defense, Italy and Germany are helping develop the MEADS system that will use the new Patriot PAC-3, Great Britain has agreed to work with the U.S. on missile defenses, and Australia, India, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark are cooperating. And Russian companies are actively participating.
President Bush's successful effort to defend the country, its troops overseas and its allies against the missile threat shows what can happen when a president has both a vision and the persistence to turn it into reality against overwhelming odds. President Reagan would be proud. His legacy is in good hands.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in San Diego.

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