TCS Daily


'WARNO': A New Spelling for Security in the Missile Defense Age

By James Pinkerton - May 29, 2001 12:00 AM

It was always going to be hard to deploy National Missile Defense (NMD), but the defection of Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords from the Republican Party has made it harder. Pro-NMDers have rightly regarded themselves as being on the cutting edge of strategic doctrine for the United States, but now, in addition, they might need a new political doctrine as well.

Indeed, NMDers might learn from the example of President Harry Truman, who saw a half-century ago that "containment" of the Soviet Union would require a larger and bolder vision for the US. And spaceniks, who have an obvious vested interest in a robust missile program-defensive, offensive, or other-are natural allies in the creation of such big-think.

Since January 20, pro-NMDers have been mostly content to place their confidence in President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. Indeed, a Republican administration plus a Republican Congress seemed to equal NMD deployment. Then came Jeffords's switch last Thursday, in which he singled out "missile defense" as one of the "fundamental issues" on which he disagreed with the Bush administration.

So now the Democrats control the Senate. On Friday, The Washington Post reported on "one expected casualty of the Democrats' new muscle: National Missile Defense, which could face a slowdown or worse." Indeed, soon-to-be Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday that it was "premature" to be thinking about NMD. Yet while it may seem as though the north side of Capitol Hill will become an anti-NMD citadel-and certainly it will be impregnable to a frontal ideological assault from pro-NMD forces-the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, is nuanced in his thinking about NMD.

Levin's most detailed consideration of NMD can be in found in his May 11 speech to the National Defense University. His words may not be overly heartening to pro-NMDers, but it does suggest some potential avenues of cooperation. In those remarks, Levin freely conceded, "There is or will be a threat to the United States from ballistic missiles." And, he added, "we probably can" produce a workable NMD system. Moreover, "We have a moral obligation to defend ourselves."

So far so good. But then Levin went on to say that the Bush administration's "unilateral" support for NMD would make the US "less secure" against attack. Levin would prefer, he declared, a more multilateral approach: "It would be a mistake to decide now that we are going to deploy an NMD system before knowing...how our allies or Russia or China will react."

The Bush administration has insisted all along that it was eager to consult with friends, semi-friends, and even ex-foes about NMD, but Levin's comments can be taken as an indicator that this consultative message has not yet been heard. And in the meantime, the Commander-in-Chief is still looking ahead with optimism about NMD and related technologies; on Friday, in his commencement address at the US Naval Academy, he told the Class of 2001 that in the decades to come, US military personnel will be serving in a time of "revolutionary advances in the technology of war" in which, for example, a young commander might deploy "Aegis destroyers protecting entire continents from the threat of ballistic missile attack."

But the key question for the next few years might not be what new technology the US military can create by itself, but rather what new reality US diplomacy can establish in conjunction with other countries, such that US peacekeeping systems can potentially benefit not only Americans, but the peace-loving peoples of the world.

And the success of such diplomacy depends on a new theory of international security that has yet to be persuasively articulated. To be sure, Bush, like President Reagan before him, has always stressed the amicable aspects of NMD, including the possibility of sharing technology; as he said last year, NMD is "a search for security, not a search for advantage." Still, it's safe to say that most of the major countries of the world do not see it that way.

But some countries do, and that's a start.

Israel, for example, has long been working on missile defense in conjunction with the US. Since 1988, the US has invested some $628 million in the Arrow missile program; the Jewish state is currently pursuing a two-layered strategy--an outer layer using the Arrow, an inner layer using an improved Patriot missile. In addition, the US has invested more than $100 million in the American-Israeli Tactical High Energy Laser program.

Another pro-NMD country is India. Earlier this month, Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh took note of a "political convergence on the new security framework that will be a precursor to a more productive political relationship between New Delhi and Washington." As that language suggests, Singh was hardly full-throated in his endorsement, but the geographical proximity of India to such enemies and potential enemies as Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran makes it easy to see why any Indian leader would look kindly upon NMD. Even The Washington Post, always able to contain its editorial enthusiasm for missile defense, felt compelled to run an article on May 20 headlined, "Missile Defense Plan Is Uniting U.S., India."

OK, so that's two countries on board, sort of. That leaves only 190 or so nations left to work on.

To accelerate the process of ally accretion, pro-NMDers need a larger theory, a grand strategy, that suggests how civilized countries might work together to advance their own well-being. What sort of strategy? First off, given Levin's concerns, as well as those of the larger world community, the new pitch should be more multilateral than what has been heard so far. It may be a bad rap to say that Bush & Co. have been "unilateralist" these past four months, but if perception is reality, then post-Jeffords players must conform to that reality.

There are already some signs that the administration is thinking and acting anew. The New York Times reported on Monday that the US is looking to purchase Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles that could be integrated into a future multinational defensive shield. The idea is to buy the Russians into the overall concept of missile defense; as one White House official told the Times, "If we are going to make this work, the Russians have to agree to the plan."

But Bush could go further, beyond alleged unilateralism, beyond reported bilateralism, all the way to enunciated multilateralism. The most obvious and also most lustrous multilateral precedent, in which America sought to create a new peacekeeping structure around the world, is the Truman Administration. In the wake of World War II, Truman put forth the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the Point Four Program to distribute foreign aid to the Third World, the Mutual Security Administration to send out military aid, and, of course, the capstone of post-war peacekeeping, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A half-century later, the Cold War is over, but new forms of missile war-and maybe attack by weapons of mass destruction - loom on the horizon. So perhaps the time has come for Bush to propose some equally ambitious security structure, such as, say, a World Anti-Rogue Nations Organization. Is the planet ready for WARNO? Is Bush ready to lead such a multilateral organization, knowing full well that isolationists on the right as well as the left will oppose him?

If not, then it's quite possible, as The Post prophesied, that NMD would be stymied. And at a time when the new film, "Pearl Harbor" reminds us of the price of unpreparedness, that could be worse than a missed opportunity; it could be a calamity.

In his Annapolis speech, Bush said, "I am committed to fostering a military culture where intelligent risk-taking and forward thinking are rewarded." That's good advice for the military culture, and it's good advice for politicians, too.

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