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San Diego Union-Tribune
Hanover, NH — Now that President Bush has declared that the United States will withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, it is time for the American people to understand the realities and risks associated with National Missile Defense. What is more, it is also time for congressional Democrats and Republicans to realize that the Bush administration’s unilateral approach to this critical program could endanger the very security it seeks to engender.
To be sure, the threat posed by missile proliferation is clear and increasingly present. More than anything else, North Korea’s successful launch of a three-stage Taepo Dong missile in August 1998 made clear just how vulnerable our Asian allies—not to mention the 45,000 U.S. troops in Japan—are to a proverbial bolt from the blue. The situation in the Middle East is no better, especially given the growing international proliferation of Chinese and North Korean missile technology. Thanks largely to North Korean help, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards deployed the Shahab III—an advanced Scud missile whose 1500-kilometer range covers the entire Middle East—more than one year ago.
It should come as no surprise that the driving force behind missile proliferation—as well as accompanying efforts to develop biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons—is the notion that these weapons are an insurance policy against American military might. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Molosevic underscored that logic when he observed ‘that missiles and other sophisticated weapons will not always be the monopoly of high-tech societies. We can see the day when lesser nations will be able to retaliate’.
While such rhetoric is telling, it is also misleading. From Kashmir to the Korean peninsula, the growing number of medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in regional hotspots presents a far greater threat to U.S. power abroad than to our security at home. Make no mistake. Behind all the threats, a rogue state’s ultimate objective, its strategic objective, is to prevent the United States from intervening in an international crisis. Hence, the rationale for NMD is two-fold: to preserve U.S. leadership in the face of widespread missile proliferation, and to protect our friends, forces and freedom should some future crisis escalate beyond our control.
To that end, the Pentagon last week authorized the clearing of 135 acres in Alaska for a land-based antimissile installation. Moreover, with the first successful interceptor tests now completed, the White House and Defense Department project that the system could be online as early as 2004. Yet despite the political momentum, the president’s missile shield offers little defense at considerable expense. Rather than targeting enemy missiles during the ascent phase—when they are slowest, most visible and most vulnerable—the $70 billion system now under development would target warheads in space.
This approach is tactically unsound, as hostile missiles could easily deploy decoys while traveling at maximum velocity. Under these circumstances, it is unclear whether even the most advanced interceptors would offer foolproof protection—the bottom line for reliable deterrence and defense.
What is clear, however, is that interceptors based in rural Alaska cannot adequately defend U.S. friends and forces throughout the world. Bush’s system is purely unilateral: it may protect American cities, but it does little for global stability. It is little wonder that our closest allies—Britain, France, Germany and Japan— falsely equate missile defense with American isolationism. And it should come as no surprise if Russian President Vladimir Putin, formally rebuffed by Bush’s announcement, seeks an even stronger strategic relationship with China.
Thankfully, experts on both sides of the aisle have identified a more practical and fiscally responsible alternative—one that promotes global stability by preserving U.S. engagement abroad. Their proposal is simple: America should build a mobile missile shield using the U.S Navy’s fleet of 22 Aegis cruisers. Drawing data from space-based sensors, these specialized ships would strike down enemy missiles during the vulnerable ascent phase, thus enhancing the prospects for success while eliminating the need to distinguish between decoys and deadly warheads.
The ability to mobilize and deploy these ships whenever and wherever Washington needs them would create a truly global ballistic missile shield—one that can respond to new crises and changing world conditions with considerable dexterity. Moreover, this forward-deployed defense strategy would ultimately strengthen the United States’ existing nuclear and conventional deterrence by further extending and enhancing the security umbrella that protects our allies and armed forces.
Therein lies the strategic vision strangely absent from Bush administration’s brash agenda. From the birth of NATO in 1949 through the Persian Gulf War in 1991, history proves that the United States is strongest when it shares its security with others. That powerful principal—rather than political ambition or technological hubris—must now guide our actions.