On Point: The Need for Missile Defense

by Austin Bay
May 28, 2003

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

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

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

Building defenses to stop offensive missiles has gone global, aswell it should. The worldwide battleground in the 21st century is betweenthe constructive and the destructive -- constructive nations versusdestructive rogue states and transnational terror syndicates. Ballistic andcruise missiles carrying nuclear, chemical and conceivably biologicalweapons are part of the bad guys destructive power play.

The idea, however, that the shield of U.S.-sponsored missiledefense would extend beyond North America isn't new. In the 1980s, whenPresident Ronald Reagan offered to share SDI technology with the Russians,his leftist critics -- following their archetypal pattern -- laughed, mockedand jeered. But the great intuitive politician got it right: America has nointerest 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 toescape a nightmare. The nightmare was the Cold War's Mutual AssuredDestruction, MAD, the strategic notion that thermonuclear war would beprevented because "both sides" knew they could destroy each other 50 timesover. The dream was replacing reliance on the offense with defense, in thiscase reliable defensive missiles that could at least stop so-called "theatermissiles" like the Soviets' SS-20. The most extreme dreamers wanted toincorporate an array of exotic beam weapons -- lasers, X-rays, perhaps DarthVader'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 wasmany moons away. Nevertheless, the fact the United States was pursuingbreakthrough weapons shook Moscow. The Russians had looked into beam weaponsand decided American know-how just might turn sci-fi into sci-fact. Theextreme dream was one of America's most effective Cold War psychologicalwarfare operations.

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

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

The Bush administration does understand the new internationaldynamics. 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 tradeand communications.

Which is why missile defense is a diplomatic program forpromoting -- as well as a military tool for protecting -- thewealth-producing global system.

Missile defense is one of three "centerpieces" for a newcollective defense, along with counter-terror cooperation andanti-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 remainoutside the umbrella make an open statement about their goals.

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

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

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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