The President's Self-Defense Initiative
5/3/2001 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas
It's always been a mystery as to why the Left so viscerally opposes a missile defense system. When Ronald Reagan first proposed such a plan, the Left mocked it as "Star Wars," a fantastical delusion about as realistic as the George Lucas movie of the same name.
On Tuesday, President Bush laid out a philosophical and geopolitical rationale for a missile defense system that was even better than Reagan's. In a speech at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C., Bush noted that the 1972 ABM Treaty, which implied that the survival of the Soviet Union and United States was best assured by leaving both countries defenseless to each other's nuclear missiles, is no longer valid. Such a policy ratified the philosophy of the nuclear age that mutual assured destruction (appropriately abbreviated as MAD) was the best deterrent to nuclear war.
Everything has changed since ABM. The Soviet Union is no more and the threat of nuclear attack has shifted from one nation where command and control could be commanded and mostly controlled, to several smaller nations. Any one of these countries might use the threat of a nuclear attack on an American city to deter U.S. intervention against an assault on its allies.
Bush rightly called for "moving beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty." He said clinging to ABM "enshrines the past."
When Reagan proposed a missile defense system, the central question was whether the technology existed to make it a reality. Several tests have produced mixed results. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he's persuaded that the technology now exists or will soon be developed. Why should he not be believed? Some people thought it fantastic when President John F. Kennedy pledged in the early '60s to land Americans on the moon by the end of the decade. The goal was met 17 months early. We had faith in our skills then. Have we now lost that faith?
During the Cold War, those opposed to missile defense believed that such a system- even research into its feasibility - could increase the likelihood of war. That's a silly argument, something like believing your chances of being burglarized are increased if you put a sign on the door that your home is protected by either an alarm system or a gun. As for the attitude of other nations, there's no reason for them to oppose an American missile defense system unless they intend to attack the United States.
America's enemies are spreading nuclear, chemical and biological technologies to rogue states and terrorist groups around the world. These are people who care nothing about their own citizens, much less inhabitants of other nations. Some believe they have a religious mandate to kill "infidels." Others worship their politics. Why shouldn't we use all of the expertise at our disposal to do what's necessary to preserve, protect and defend the United States and our interests abroad? We can't wait until China follows up on its threat to launch a missile at downtown Los Angeles, or until Saddam Hussein has the capability to take out New York City and so deters the United States from intervening to save Israel (or Kuwait) from his aggression.
President Bush threw a large bone to the Left when he coupled his proposal with the possibility of further reductions in our nuclear weapons stockpile: "We can, and will, change the size, the composition, the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over." We won't need as many nuclear weapons if we have a system in place to shoot down any missiles that might be launched toward American territory. An enemy will think more than twice about attacking the United States if he knows that attack will be repelled and he will be left vulnerable to a counterattack.
Although the President pledges to be in regular consultation with our allies and Congress, his proposal to build a missile defense system puts America and American interests first, which is where the country and those interests ought to be.