- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

In March 5 testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Joseph Cirincione, president of the the Ploughshares Fund, said missile defense was the biggest scam ever run by the Defense Department. Missile threats to the United States were falling so fast that missile defenses were no longer necessary. “Deterrence” and “diplomacy” — but not missile defenses — can defend the United States and its allies.

Now Russian ballistic missiles have indeed fallen from Cold War numbers. This is due to arms-control agreements — START I and SORT (the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty signed by President Bush and Soviet President Vladimir Putin). Ironically, Mr. Cirincione supported the nuclear freeze — a position that if it had prevailed would have fixed Russian ballistic missiles at levels some many hundreds greater than those that exist today.

But Mr. Cirincione seems remarkably sanguine about the 700 missiles he admits remain aimed at the United States from China and Russia. He ignores completely the 800 missiles aimed at Taiwan from China, although he claims to have considered threats to our “Asian-Pacific allies.” In his estimates, he also misses the ongoing deployment of upwards of 70 new long-range missiles in China.

Mr. Cirincione makes no mention of the transfer to Iran from North Korea of BM-25 missiles, which have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles), giving Tehran the capability to strike all of Europe. And he remains oblivious of the CIA’s 1998 National Intelligence Estimate, whose principal analyst explained that the absence of a robust test program in countries such as Iran and North Korea did not mean missile threats were not present and would not soon materialize.

The NIE explained that the 1998 North Korea missile launch demonstrated Pyongyang’s ability to do staging, and that with some technical fixes the third stage of the rocket (which failed), could be made to work. North Korea could then target the continental United States. When coupled with the growing cooperative efforts between Iran and North Korea, it means that as one achieves a ballistic missile capability to strike the United States, so does the other.

Mr. Cirincione and other missile-defense critics remain fixated as well on the cheap rhetorical device of dismissing long-range ballistic missile threats to the United States by the assertion that such missiles have a return address. This means that the United States will know where the missiles are launched from and can therefore quickly retaliate. Wow, who would’ve guessed?

This rhetorical two-step sounds sophisticated, yet it is nothing but blather. The absence of missile defenses: (1) locks the US into a mutual-assured-destruction relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as with North Korea and Iran; (2) allows nuclear brinkmanship and blackmail, leaving the United States naked to nuclear aggression and forced to play a game of nuclear “chicken” with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and (3) leaves American cities hostage to the whims of people that former CIA Director James Woolsey describes as unstable and maniacal despots.

Absent willingness on the part of either Iran or North Korea to eliminate their nuclear programs, the United States and its allies are stuck with rewarding their rogue behavior in the hope that sufficient “carrots” can somehow entice them to give up weapons which are only being developed for purposes of blackmail and coercion. Missile defense deployments help free the United States and its allies from this position, and give an American president sufficient leverage and maneuverability in a crisis while not forcing U.S. leaders into a corner where the only options are surrender or retaliation in which millions of innocents held hostage will suffer. It is not a coincidence that Mr. Cirincione himself has repeatedly said the United States would initiate a “devastating” response to a North Korean attack, apparently oblivious to the moral considerations in incinerating innocents.

Any wonderment at his rhetorical slight of hand dissolves when we realize his own contradictory view that short-range missiles, aimed at U.S. allies and U.S. military forces, can in fact be defended against with missile defenses. But why should this be the case when these missiles also have a return address? Why does not deterrence work just as well? The obvious answer, of course, is that such missiles have been repeatedly launched at the United States and its allies, most notably Israel, Lebanon, South Korea and Japan. Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein attacked with missiles both the U.S. and Israel, return address or not, in 1991 and 2003.

Finally, Mr. Cirincione makes the absurd claim that most of the missile defense budget is being spent on defending against long-range missiles. Baloney. Roughly $2.7 billion (less than 30 percent) is being spent for the interceptor deployments in California and Alaska. It’s an investment that is making America secure.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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