- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

Defenses against ballistic missiles are in place in Alaska and California, and missile interceptors soon will be on Aegis ships in the Sea of Japan and the North Pacific. They will protect the Western United States and U.S. bases and allies in the Pacific. But what about the East Coast, especially al Qaeda’s prime targets, Washington and New York? A missile defense base in Europe is planned to meet that need, but the budget is tight.

In 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center killed six people. Eight years later, Muslim terrorists struck again and killed nearly 3,000. That attack also hit the national capital area, where one plane crashed into the Pentagon and the other, which crashed in Pennsylvania, reportedly was aiming for the White House.

Al Qaeda clearly considers New York and Washington prime targets and would like to strike them again with even greater death and destruction. One way to do so would be with a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear weapon. Yet, missile defense of the Eastern U.S. has been a relatively low priority.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) properly is concentrating on getting the most urgent missile defenses in place first. Those now are being deployed to protect against the hostile regime in North Korea. They also will help prevent China from using its nuclear missiles to pressure this country and its Asian allies to allow the intimidation of Taiwan.

But defenses in Alaska cannot effectively protect the Eastern United States against missiles from the Middle East. It is true terrorists do not have ballistic missiles, but prior to September 11 they did not have airliners to fly into buildings. There are hundreds of aging ballistic missiles and thousands of nuclear warheads in Russia, and it is not certain all can be kept out of the hands of terrorists. The Muslim fanatics who strike frequently within Russia are allies of al Qaeda.

Then there is Iran, which appears determined to produce both long-range missiles and nuclear warheads. Iran is believed by various observers to be anywhere from a few months to a few years from having a nuclear bomb, and the Tehran government persists in fighting U.S. and European efforts to prevent it.

Using Nodong missile technology from North Korea, Iran is producing ballistic missiles, including the medium-range Shahab-3 that threatens Israel. Last May, Iran tested the Shahab-3 with a solid-fuel rocket engine, which also is likely to be used as the second stage for a longer-range missile Iran is developing that could deliver a nuclear weapon to most of Europe. Add a third stage, as North Korea did with its Taepodong-2, and it could reach the United States.

MDA plans to defend against a missile from the Middle East by building a third ground-based site, like those in Alaska and California, in Europe. Prime locations to defend both Europe and the Eastern U.S. would be in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary or Romania. A missile defense site there would be well located to defend against a long-range missile heading for North America and a medium-range missile targeting Europe.

It would be a political and military plus to put the third site in Poland, which has a newly elected pro-American, conservative government. Long a friend of this country, Poland is emerging as an important member of the New Europe. A site there would strengthen our military alliance with Poland and move toward the goal of a global missile defense.

Moscow treats Poland as though it were still part of its lost empire. Paranoid Russian generals complain about possible missile defenses in Poland, claiming they would be aimed at Russia. But a base in Poland would be strictly defensive and its only threat to Russia would be to stop an unauthorized or accidental missile launch. Besides, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has just confirmed a contract to sell more than $700 million worth of sophisticated air defense missiles to Iran, leaving Moscow no right to object to missile defenses in Poland.

MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering has said he wants to “move out” and build a site in Europe. The goal is 2008, but the MDA budget is inadequate to meet that timetable. White House budget officials working on the 2007 defense budget should provide enough money to get the third site built in 2008, before President Bush leaves office. That will assure a missile defense for the East Coast.

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

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