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On Point

The Need for Missile Defense

by Austin Bay
May 28, 2003

The "N" went quietly, dropped off and disappeared for a greater good.

That's the "N" in what was NMD, National Missile Defense, it's prior nom de guerre BMDO, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, offspring of the great Cold Warrior SDI, Strategic Defense Initiative.

Pass through the security control point at the Navy Annex, the Pentagon's ancient suburb "just up the hill." Skirt the Humvee with the MP leaning into his light machine gun, hike to the end of the front parking lot, glance right. The space warriors' marquee has changed: Missile Defense.

Building defenses to stop offensive missiles has gone global, as well it should. The worldwide battleground in the 21st century is between the constructive and the destructive -- constructive nations versus destructive rogue states and transnational terror syndicates. Ballistic and cruise missiles carrying nuclear, chemical and conceivably biological weapons are part of the bad guys destructive power play.

The idea, however, that the shield of U.S.-sponsored missile defense would extend beyond North America isn't new. In the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan offered to share SDI technology with the Russians, his leftist critics -- following their archetypal pattern -- laughed, mocked and jeered. But the great intuitive politician got it right: America has no interest in an Armageddon anywhere on the planet.

That truth applied then, and it applies now.

SDI -- tagged early on as Star Wars -- was a dream trying to escape a nightmare. The nightmare was the Cold War's Mutual Assured Destruction, MAD, the strategic notion that thermonuclear war would be prevented because "both sides" knew they could destroy each other 50 times over. The dream was replacing reliance on the offense with defense, in this case reliable defensive missiles that could at least stop so-called "theater missiles" like the Soviets' SS-20. The most extreme dreamers wanted to incorporate an array of exotic beam weapons -- lasers, X-rays, perhaps Darth Vader's light saber -- in a space-based system to knock down ICBMs and, theoretically, even low-level cruise missiles.

A good college physics student understood the extreme dream was many moons away. Nevertheless, the fact the United States was pursuing breakthrough weapons shook Moscow. The Russians had looked into beam weapons and decided American know-how just might turn sci-fi into sci-fact. The extreme dream was one of America's most effective Cold War psychological warfare operations.

But the basic driving strategic insight -- that effective measures against offensive missiles enhanced security -- was achievable.

Sure, hitting a bullet with a bullet is a tough and expensive mission. It's why anti-missile systems must be tested and re-tested. One of the Clinton administration's biggest mistakes with BMDO was decreasing rather increasing the number of anti-missile tests. Time Magazine suggests the Bush administration is about to make the same mistake, in the name of saving money.

The Bush administration does understand the new international dynamics. We've moved from the Cold War's MAD to missile Blackmail, Intimidation, Terror and Extortion (BITE). BITE describes the rogue's goal: to tear, threaten and corrupt the evolving global system of integrated trade and communications.

Which is why missile defense is a diplomatic program for promoting -- as well as a military tool for protecting -- the wealth-producing global system.

Missile defense is one of three "centerpieces" for a new collective defense, along with counter-terror cooperation and anti-proliferation regimens for weapons of mass destruction.

Joining this "defense club" is a mark of sanity and stability, one dividing the constructive from the destructive. Nations that remain outside the umbrella make an open statement about their goals.

It's also cheap insurance. Diplomats, generals and spies make mistakes. Unlike most of the rest of us, when they make mistakes the costs are huge. The Washington Times quotes the Bush administration's new National Security Presidential Directive 23 as saying "... history teaches that, despite our best efforts, there will be military surprises, failures of diplomacy, intelligence and deterrence. Missile defenses help provide protection against such events."

Only the willfully blind ignore the message North Korea sent in August 1998 when Pyongyang fired a multi-stage missile and confounded Clinton administration risk estimates. That launch demonstrated that the United States, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world are vulnerable to rogue missile attack. It's a callous falsehood to argue otherwise.

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