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Smashing the Missile Defense Myth By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 20, 2002


IT TOOK NINE MINUTES for the interceptor rocket, launched from Meck Island in Kwajalein Atoll on Friday night, to find its target, an inbound Minuteman II missile coming from Southern California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, 4,800 miles away. Some148 miles above the Pacific Ocean, the interceptor closed in on the Minuteman and deliberately crashed into it. With destructive precision, it triumphantly smashed the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and the last vestiges of the argument against National Missile Defense (NMD) into smithereens.

One could easily have missed the event, which was buried in the back pages of most major newspapers. As a general rule, the establishment press pays significant attention only to the NMD tests that fail. The Washington Post, for example, ran a short wire story about the massively successful experiment on page 15. Yet in early December, when the Bush Administration decided to scrap a failed sea-based NMD system, the Post’s editors deemed the news worthy of page one.

But the occasion for stories blasting NMD’s purported unfeasibility and limitations are ever fewer and farther between. Of the six major NMD tests to date, four have been successful an impressive performance for any new technology in its development stage. Last week’s test was the most impressive yet. As the interceptor accelerated towards its target, the ICBM dropped three balloon decoys. Undeterred, the interceptor used its sensors to steer clear past the balloons and straight into oncoming the missile, destroying it on impact.

In that instant, that rocket also destroyed the credibility of leftists, arms-control devotees, and professional pessimists who have long insisted that decoys would easily overwhelm whatever NMD system the U.S. could devise. Although Pentagon officials acknowledge that much more work is needed, they certainly recognize the potential and the hope for a functional system that could shield America and its allies from a catastrophic attack.

This is good news, cause to celebrate, one would think, even for NMD’s most hardened opponents, who should be grateful that their country will be safer for it. But their silence and the selective ignorance of the establishment press suggest that those who have never wanted NMD to work, those who have argued most vehemently that it can’t, are disheartened by its preliminary success.

The left has a visceral revulsion against the very idea that America might use its technological might to inoculate itself from a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack from free-agent terrorist groups or their rogue-state sponsors. The causes for this phobia are many: the left’s slavish devotion to the political fashions of the international community, its steadfast belief in arms-control agreements as a suitable substitute for national defense, and a deep-seated hatred for any idea associated with Ronald Reagan.

Last year, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), warned that NMD could gravely undermine global stability. "Let's not now raise the starting gun on a new arms race," he said, adding that NMD would surely "make my children and my grandchildren … feel less secure than we feel today." The Washington Post story ran those quotations, ironically enough, on Sept.11, 2001 the last day that such thinking carried even a semblance of credibility. Since then, most Americans, save perhaps Biden and a few others, have come to realize that there are far greater threats to national security than the prospect of the nation defending itself.

It’s been comical, albeit pathetic, to watch as NMD’s antagonists have since scurried to find new reasons for their opposition. In that time, each of the arguments against NMD has collapsed, even as the need for such a system has proved itself greater than ever.

For a brief period, Democrats tried to use Sept. 11 in their anti-NMD crusade, claiming that since jetliners were the terrorists’ weapon of choice, America obviously had little reason to fear missile attacks. That line of reasoning, however, couldn’t survive its own logical deficiencies, let alone the mounting evidence of viable nuclear-weapons programs in Iran, Iraq and North Korea, or evidence that al-Qaeda has also tried to furnish or purchase weapons of mass destruction.

Arms-control enthusiasts had long argued that for America to pursue NMD, it would have to discard the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would irreparably harm relations with Russia. Yet Russia didn’t so much as flinch when President George W. Bush announced the country’s withdrawal from the treaty last December. In fact, its Defense Minister heralded the president as a visionary on this Sunday’s Meet the Press.

That left NMD opponents with technological limitations as their last hope for defeating missile defense, a hope that was pulverized along with that Minuteman II missile high above the Pacific Ocean on Friday night. It’s understandable why they would be disappointed, even as the rest of the nation has cause to rejoice.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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