- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

Missile defense - as the term might suggest - is defensive, not offensive. Brilliant American scientists have developed sophisticated technologies to prevent missiles, including those armed with nuclear warheads, from reaching their intended victims. If we are willing to share this capability to protect people around the world, Sen. James W. DeMint, South Carolina Republican, asked, “What is controversial about that?”

I’d like to take a stab at answering the senator’s question, raised at a Heritage Foundation forum in which I was privileged to participate this week, but first, a little context is in order.

Iran’s ruling mullahs have the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East; simultaneously, they are working overtime to develop nuclear weapons. This poses an increasing threat to Israel (Tehran’s explicitly stated goal is to “wipe Israel off the map”), to the United States (a “world without America is attainable,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said) and to Europe as well - the softest targets are often the most tempting.

Stopping Iran’s nuclear and missile development would be the best option. But the George W. Bush administration outsourced negotiations with Iran to European diplomats who made no progress. The Obama administration has offered Iran direct negotiations. Mr. Ahmadinejad and associates have said they’ll be glad to talk about “respect for the rights of nations” and stuff like that, but not about ending their weapons programs.

A strong bipartisan majority in Congress has prepared legislation that would impose what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called “crippling sanctions” - a cut-off of Iran’s gasoline imports. So far, however, President Obama has been in no rush to find out whether such pressure might prove productive.

To defend Europe and American troops stationed there against a missile attack from Iran will require a “third site.” The United States currently maintains one ground-based missile site in Fort Greely, Alaska, and a second at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The third site would be in Poland (10 missile interceptors) and the Czech Republic (a radar installation). This would provide “the fastest and most cost-effective protection against the long-range missiles that Iran is projected to have by 2015,” Lt. Gen. Trey Obering (ret.), former head of the Missile Defense Agency, and Eric Edelman, fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis noted in a recent Op-Ed.

They noted, too, that such interceptors have been thoroughly tested and that, while they would be sufficient to block a limited number of Iranian missiles, they could not possibly threaten Russia, which nonetheless adamantly opposes their deployment.

The Kremlin’s objections almost certainly stem less from its security concerns than from its ambitions for regional domination. Russian officials are not the only opponents of missile defense, however. Also making this a controversial issue is a curious coalition of what might be called the ideologically misguided, the incorrigibly naive and the terminally myopic.

In the first category are those who believe that most of the problems in the world are caused by the United States and Israel and that the cure is therefore to “address the grievances” of those who hate us, rather than protect ourselves from them.

Members of the second group have convinced themselves that leaving ourselves vulnerable and promoting global disarmament would set a moral example that such autocrats as Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez surely will follow.

In the third category are the businessmen, mostly in Europe, who sell Iran’s rulers whatever weapons components they will pay for, as well as the university administrators - many in America - who train Iranian nuclear scientists because not to do so might be regarded as discriminatory.

Americans overwhelmingly favor missile defense, as poll after poll has revealed. But many don’t realize that what we have deployed so far is not nearly adequate to the evolving threat. We are encouraging our enemies to invest in increasingly advanced weapons technologies in the belief that, at a time of their choosing, they will be able to overwhelm our outdated system.

American policy should be designed to elicit the opposite response: It should make clear to our enemies that resources spent on nukes and missiles will be wasted because we have both the means and the will to block them. American scientists are providing the means. Mr. DeMint not withstanding, too few American politicians are providing the will.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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