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Still Missile Defenseless By: Brian T. Kennedy
Investors Business Daily | Monday, July 31, 2006


On the Fourth of July, North Korea's Kim Jong Il tested a series of ballistic missiles. Two days later, when questioned about the test, President Bush acknowledged that America's missile defenses were "modest and new."

That they are new is understandable, since only in the last year has America begun to field missile defenses. The modest part, however, is of greater concern, since they are likely to remain modest by design throughout the administration's tenure.

With the crisis in the Middle East and the growing boldness of North Korea and China, citizens must ask why.

Most Americans would be quite surprised to learn that America does not have a national missile defense. Only the most rudimentary land-based system is being built and deployed in Alaska and California — and it lacks the full complement of radars and satellites to ensure its success.

More effective sea-based defenses are woefully underfunded despite several successful tests. The most effective and necessary component of layered defense-space-based interceptors are but wishful thinking and not even scheduled to receive any serious support for the next decade.

The simple reality is missile defense was never built under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. — despite the now-acknowledged lesson that the mere proposal of building a missile defense helped precipitate the demise of the Soviet Union.

Missile defense was actively opposed by the Clinton administration, which killed or crippled any serious program. Only after intense pressure in 1998 by congressional Republicans did Clinton begin the modest land-based system designed to deal with a handful of missiles launched at the U.S. Bush is continuing the effort.

The most charitable explanation for our lack of a missile defense is the failure by Republicans and Democrats to think beyond the corrupt Cold War mentality that nuclear war is somehow inconceivable and that the threat of mutually assured destruction can by itself protect us.

Because no nation would risk a nuclear exchange and the resulting loss of life, the thinking goes, no missile defense is necessary and indeed may lead to an arms race or pre-emptive nuclear war. Just five years ago it was unthinkable that terrorists would fly airplanes into our buildings. It is important to heed the admonition of the 9-11 commission: We failed to prevent that catastrophe in part by a "failure of imagination."

Although it is still largely inconceivable to most U.S. policymakers, is there any scenario in which North Korea would launch a nuclear missile against the U.S.?

It's certainly easy to dismiss Kim Jong Il as a madman. And yet, even with his pursuit of or actual possession of nuclear weapons, this seems insufficient in encouraging a robust missile defense.

More likely, he's a cold, ruthless dictator. He has proved willing to starve his own people to obtain the fear and respect afforded a world leader in possession of intercontinental nuclear missiles.

What missiles do not afford is any special insight into preventing the sort of miscalculation that was the hallmark of 20th-century dictatorships.

Imagine Kim Jong Il calculated that he could launch a nuclear missile against Seattle — well within range of his Taepodong-2 missile. He would first recall that the U.S. did not use nuclear weapons during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iran hostage crisis, bombing of Marines in Beirut, terrorist attacks by al-Qaida throughout the 1990s or the 9-11 assault.

In each case, measured military action was taken, great effort was made not to endanger civilians and a central concern was not provoking hostilities with China or Russia. Second, Kim Jong Il might be convinced that China will defend the North Koreans as it has in the past. So what would happen?

Assume China does move to protect the North Koreans in their folly. Chinese President Hu Jintao calls President Bush and declares that the North Korean attack on Seattle was an awful crime, but that any nuclear retaliation will be seen by the Chinese as an attack on China itself. He pledges to help the U.S. rebuild Seattle and promises to deal harshly with the North Koreans.

Likewise, President Vladimir Putin calls to second his Chinese counterpart: Russia, too, will assist in rebuilding and offers to help negotiate a cease-fire — claiming that the last thing the world needs is a nuclear attack by the U.S. on North Korea.

In the meantime, as Bush plans his response, civil defense procedures begin in Beijing and in Moscow. Cities are evacuated, militaries are put on high alert, offensive nuclear forces are readied. The cautions by the Chinese and the Russians are meant to be taken seriously.

There is no "trip wire" that forces a U.S. president to deploy our nuclear arsenal. A rational assessment will be made as to how best to respond.

It is possible, perhaps likely, that the U.S. would launch a counterattack using nuclear weapons. This would fulfill the premise of mutually assured destruction, and require a large-scale nuclear attack to destroy the North Korean regime and its military capabilities — especially since the prospect of a North Korean invasion of the South would become a real possibility under such uncertain circumstances.

But would the U.S. attack if it meant a possible nuclear war with China and Russia? Bush is a courageous and patriotic man. But to avoid a full-scale nuclear war and the annihilation of millions of Americans, is it possible that a U.S. president might not retaliate using nuclear weapons and instead accept such an attack as an unfortunate catastrophe that might lead to the unthinkable nuclear war between the superpowers?

Of course, all this may be fanciful — the stuff of movies and doomsayers. The sheer horror is perhaps why policymakers seem reluctant to concern themselves with developing these horrible nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile defense.

But because we have not eliminated human evil or human error and miscalculation, a missile defense is precisely what is needed and well within our technological capability.

We ought to be working around the clock to make such defenses a reality, but we proceed as if time is on our side. It's reasonable to ask the president and Congress to report back to the American people and let us know when our missile defenses will no longer be simply "modest." Common sense requires as much.

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Brian T. Kennedy is president of the Claremont Institute think tank and a member of the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, online at: MissileThreat.com.


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