Missile Defense, Now More Than Ever
In its earliest formulations, it was derided as a fantasy, a joke, or simple-minded nonsense. The important East Coast opinion makers said it was unworkable -- even dangerous - to attempt.
And when they realized people like Ronald Reagan were actually serious about the concept of a missile defense system to protect the nation from nuclear attack, the clever critics called it “Star Wars” to make it sound fanciful and absurd. President Bush, determined to implement a limited system and to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty that banned its deployment, was harshly attacked by media outlets such as the New York Times for causing a new “arms race” that ultimately never occurred. Additional complaints were heard that the system was too costly, unnecessary, and would take too long.
But as the world has become more dangerous, the need for missile defense has become abundantly clear. The question that should be asked now is not why do we need missile defense, but why did we wait so long to get to work on it?
Take, for example, the case of Israel, attacked by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Israel - a perennial target of terrorist attack and hated by the dictatorships that surround it - did not have the luxury of long debates over how to defend its territory. The Israelis knew it would not be too long before Iraq or another neighbor attacked its people again. So they went to work on a missile defense system - and with astonishing success. In less than 12 years, Israel has developed a battery of antiballistic Arrow missiles to shoot down Scud-type missiles. This is the last deterrent possible against a potential Iraqi attack.
So much for the argument that missile defense is right out of a George Lucas film.
That deterrence would be a big comfort to the United States if we had it. North Korea has missiles that can hit Japan - even Alaska and Hawaii - and is working on longer-range missiles. It would be certainly be prudent to find ways to avoid submitting to nuclear blackmail by Kim Jong Il.
The North Korean leader threatens to unleash powerful weapons against the free world if it does not get its way. He calls sanctions imposed for repeated violations of international agreements “acts of war.” And the government - which, according to published reports, may possess a small number of nuclear weapons - recently threatened to unleash a “sea of fire” if the United States continued to challenge it.
The international community is loath to challenge North Korea’s belligerence, due to the simple fact that, with its nuclear capability and history of bizarre behavior, no one can be sure what Pyongyang might do next. And, let us also be forewarned, the failure to deal with Iraq today will allow it to become another North Korea a few years from now - another hostile regime with a nuclear capability that threatens the stability of the world.
Imagine how much stronger the West’s bargaining position would be with such dictatorships if we had the demonstrated capability to destroy their nuclear arsenals in the air. We would subsequently eliminate their ability to blackmail us with a nuclear threat.
President Bush is wisely pursuing that course of action, announcing plans to start implementation of a limited missile defense system by 2004. His foresight today may help prevent another nuclear confrontation in the years to come.