TCS Daily

Put Missile Defense On 'Cruise' Control

By Ken Adelman - January 11, 2001 12:00 AM

Assuming that Don Rumsfeld, whose Senate hearing is today, is confirmed once again as defense secretary, deploying ballistic missile defense will be one of his top priorities. This will require overcoming almost as much reluctance within the Pentagon and administration as outside. Fortunately he showed during his last stint that he knows how to deal with foot-dragging bureaucrats and political opponents of an innovative new weapons system.

As defense secretary from 1975-77, Mr. Rumsfeld championed cruise missiles, a stellar military innovation. Since cruise missiles dazzled us with their precise lethality during the Gulf War, and saved countless civilians and U.S. pilots in Kosovo, it`s hard to remember the domestic attack upon this attack system.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, under the capable but oft loose-lipped Gen. George S. Brown, claimed to identify "no military mission" for cruise missile deployment. Mr. Rumsfeld sure did, and pushed doggedly for their development.

What the military brass under Mr. Rumsfeld was reluctant to develop, the diplomats and arms controllers around him were eager to trade away. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and associates claimed cruise missiles needed to be "limited" -- arms control-ese for eliminated -- for a SALT II deal and cozier relations with the Soviets. These, if accomplished by the summer of 1976, would help President Ford win that November.

Hence key aides, none of whom had ever run for office, pushed SALT II for political reasons. Mr. Rumsfeld, having won repeatedly in a tough congressional district, countered this conventional wisdom. "I don`t think that SALT, or any major negotiations with the Soviet Union, ought to be premised on a timetable that fits our elections," he declared.

Because Mr. Rumsfeld outmaneuvered his opponents within the administration, SALT II was left unfinished. More critically, cruise missiles were left alone. Their deployment proceeded and they became the weapon of choice for Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Tales of yesteryear`s bureaucratic battles can prove instructive. Mr. Rumsfeld can now substitute "missile defense" for "cruise missiles" and return to familiar ground. For again there`s Pentagon reluctance to develop and deploy a new weapons system that, again, outsiders are eager to limit (really, eliminate).

Pentagon reluctance on missile defense stems from its perpetual budget squeeze. Higher troop pay and more tanks, planes and ships are always the Joint Chiefs` top priorities. Other big-ticket items, like missile defense, are given a relative pittance.

Opposition is more ferocious outside the Pentagon. In the 1970s, critics opposed cruise missiles by using the prospects of an arms treaty. Nowadays, critics opposing missile defense have an actual if out-of-date treaty to bolster their case -- the Antiballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972. But the Russians never adored the ABM Treaty enough to abide by it. They cherish it because we abide by it. Under its terms, we can`t build a real missile defense. Given their economy, they can`t build one anyway.

A few years ago, Mr. Rumsfeld himself set the stage for choosing future national protection over past arms control theology. The unanimous report of his commission found ballistic missile threats from rogue states more urgent than realized. The Rumsfeld Commission identified the threat but didn`t say what to do about it. The Rumsfeld Pentagon now must.

It should proceed as it did 25 years ago. Back then, skeptics claimed that cruise missiles may not work and lacked any "military mission." Yet Mr. Rumsfeld drove the procurement process to make them work, and found missions galore. Critics claimed other weapons could do the task; Mr. Rumsfeld made cruise missiles supplement, not supplant, manned bombers and land- or sea-based systems.

Similar skeptics from similar quarters now use similar refrains against missile defense. Now they claim this system "won`t work" -- as if stopping even some incoming ballistic missiles wouldn`t constitute a "working" system.

Other weapons, they claim, can threaten us, such as bombs in suitcases, on speed boats, whatever -- as if the inability to solve all problems makes useless solving one huge problem. Under this rationale, cancer treatments should stop since those saved might die anyway of another disease.

Moreover, military systems "work" fine without being fired. Deterrence, after all, entails showing sufficient strength to dissuade any predator from attacking in the first place.

A road not taken can have costly, though hidden, consequences. Few today would miss cruise missiles had they never been developed. But due to the efforts of Mr. Rumsfeld and others in the 1970s, presidents in the 1990s have had a potent and precise weapon to boost security interests while minimizing civilian casualties and saving our servicemen`s lives. Now there`s an impressive accomplishment for the new defense secretary to learn from the defense secretary a quarter century ago.

Mr. Adelman was assistant to Secretary Rumsfeld in the Ford administration and arms control director in the Reagan administration. He is now co-host of

Note: This originally appeared in the January 11, 2001 edition of the Wall Street Journal.


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