TCS Daily

Ultimate Terror Weapon: Ballistic Missiles

By Ken Adelman - October 24, 2001 12:00 AM

Americans "ain't seen nothing yet" in the terrorist war unless our country develops protection against the ultimate terrorist weapon. That's not anthrax, commercial airplanes used as weapons of mass destruction, or even smallpox, but ballistic missiles carrying nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons aimed at American cities.

While we're rightly gearing up protection against secondary but still scary terrorist weapons, we remain totally defenseless against the most devastating weapon of them all.

It is nearly 18 years after President Reagan first proposed missile defense - his "SDI" or Strategic Defense Initiative - yet successive administrations of both parties have done too little. And as we all know now in the post 9/11 world, we're awfully late in having the necessary defenses in place to cope with the threats of the post-Cold War world.

Fortunately this sad state of affairs is now changing and fast. President Bush, showing real leadership and foresight, preaches how missile defense is essential to winning America's war against terrorism. He tirelessly pushes to abandon the Cold War relic that ties America's hands: the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty.

Last weekend in Shanghai, the president made real progress with Russian President Vladmir Putin, who has come to realize that a new relationship with America is in Russian national interest since Russia, too, faces threats from terrorists and an Islamic world in turmoil.

And the outline of the coming American-Russian strategic deal, to be consummated next month in the Crawford, Texas summit, is becoming crystal clear. In exchange for Russian willingness to scrap the ABM Treaty - or at least, to modify it so substantially as to allow deployment of missile defenses - the U.S. will agree to substantial reductions in strategic weapons.

Unilaterally cutting our vast strategic nuclear stockpile is long overdue. We can now go far below the 7,000 weapons in our current arsenal. We can even go substantially below the 3,500 proposed some years ago in the formal arms negotiations.

Plus President Bush can offer the sweetener of using the technology in air defenses, metallurgy, and point defense Russia has developed over the past 30 years. This sweetener would furnish productive employment to top Russian scientists and much-needed money in Russian government coffers.

The critical measure of the deal's success will be whether the U.S. can deploy, and not just research, missile defense. If so, then modifications in the ABM Treaty can be accepted. If not, then scrapping the treaty will be necessary.

Contrary to popular beliefs, such action does not entail breaking an international treaty. The ABM accord itself allows either side to abandon the treaty for "supreme national interests" in a changed security environment. If September 11th doesn't constitute such a change, nothing does. And if defending our country, and our friends and allies around the world, does not constitute a "supreme national interest," again nothing does.

Once Russia agrees, then the Bush Administration will need to work hard on the liberal arms control community, led by Senate chairmen Joseph Biden of the Foreign Relations Committee and Carl Levin of the Armed Services Committee. Even since September 11th, they have remained in the Cold War time warp and argued vigorously against any deployment of U.S. missile defenses.

These opponents of missile defense have been wrong in one sense, but they have been quite right in another. They were wrong that America`s today foes couldn`t match the degree of evil of Hitler, Stalin, or Mao Tse-Tung. September 11 showed what evil rogue leaders can do. Nonetheless, these critics were right to point out that our foes can use other terrorist methods - in this case, turning American airliners into guided missiles.

But next time it could be actual missiles falling on American or European cities. Imagine how much easier it would be for America`s attackers to buy a long-range missile or two from North Korea or Iraq, arm it with nuclear or chemical weapons fire it at America`s still defenseless shores.

Why make it easy for America`s enemies? Why not shield America and its allies from one of the easiest means of inflicting the greatest horror?

Since September 11, America has stood united and there has been no one to blame but the assailants. But that won`t necessarily be true in the future if a vigorous missile defense program is not proposed and the beginning stages implemented by Thanksgiving.

If not, Americans in future years will say that more could have done to protect the nation. That would be an even greater tragedy than the one we`re living through now.


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