On two separate occasions in recent weeks, top Clinton Administration officials have published op.ed. articles in the Washington Post largely echoing the strong misgivings about President Bush's commitment
to defend America against ballistic missile attack that are being heard from
Moscow, Beijing and various allied capitals. Interestingly, the essays by
former President Clinton's National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger, and
former Vice President Gore's National Security Advisor, Leon Fuerth, do less
to justify continued inaction on this front than to explain why the United
States has so little to show for the more than twenty billion dollars spent
on missile defense during Messrs. Berger and Fuerth's eight years in office: Neither they nor the President they served actually wanted to develop and deploy effective anti-missile systems.
Tellingly, Leon Fuerth exposed how this high-level predisposition
translated into expensive inaction as he critiqued a study of the U.S.
nuclear force posture lately commissioned by President Bush, claiming that its "outcome may well be preordained, written months ago." In fact, the outcome of all of the Clinton-Gore Administration's work on missile defense - from the first year when Secretary of Defense Les Aspin "took the stars out of Star Wars" by shutting down the Strategic Defense Initiative
Organization, to President Clinton's decision last Fall not to initiate
deployment of a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) in Alaska -- was
"preordained" by the deep-seated antipathy Berger and Fuerth shared with
their respective bosses and other Clinton Administration officials toward
anti-missile programs. Mr. Berger warned against a "bureaucratically driven technology" leading the Bush team to deploy missile defenses; in fact, such a deployment was precluded on his watch by bureaucratically impeded
The policy attitudes that proved so fatal to efforts to develop and deploy effective missile defenses are much in evidence in these two
articles. Unfortunately, they are rooted in a few mistaken premises:
First, Messrs. Berger and Fuerth espouse a concept of "strategic
stability" involving U.S. and Russian nuclear postures inextricably tied to
the bipolar, Cold War world that simply no longer exists. This suits the
Kremlin, of course, which is anxious to retain the last vestiges of
superpower status and which, under Vladimir Putin, rarely misses an
opportunity in American elite circles and allied nations to threaten
increased tensions, or worse, if the United States abandons its present
posture of absolute vulnerability to missile attack.
The truth of the matter is that Putin's Russia is actively
exacerbating the risks of our vulnerability by joining in the wholesale proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. While Berger suggests that these threats could be alleviated by "preemptively taking out any long-range missiles the other side might have," this is hardly a formula for the strategic stability he purports to want to protect. Neither is it likely to be a reliable form of protection in light of the United States' very limited success in finding and destroying Saddam
Hussein's Scud missiles in Operation Desert Storm.
Second, Messrs. Berger and Fuerth are convinced that arms control is a more certain basis for security than defenses. Specifically, their
Administration viewed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as the
"cornerstone of strategic stability." They strove to protect it from, as
Mr. Fuerth put it, "radical changes" so as to safeguard the U.S.-Russian
relationship and various other strategic arms reduction accords predicated upon the ABM Treaty.
This obsession was all the more extraordinary since it required the
Clinton-Gore Administration to ignore the most radical changes of all: 1)
The other party to the treaty was formally dismantled in 1991, making this
sort of accord null and void under international law. 2) The international
environment of today bears no resemblance to that of 1972. And 3) the
Kremlin has long had a comprehensive missile defense of its territory
(involving a "legal" ABM complex around Moscow and a network of large
phased-array radars for missile tracking and some 10,000
anti-missile-capable, nuclear-armed surface-to-air missiles.) The truth of
the matter is that the ABM Treaty is legally defunct, strategically
ill-advised and inequitable in its application. We continue at our peril to remain subject to its constraints on developing and deploying effective
Third, if Russian objections were not sufficient, the Clinton team
treated the possibility that China might embark on a missile build-up if the United States deployed defenses as a showstopper. Never mind that the PRC
is doing everything it can to amass more nuclear weapons and delivery
systems even though there is no American missile defense. More to the
point, Chinese leaders have powerfully, if unintentionally, made the case
for a U.S. anti-missile system by repeatedly threatening this nation with
nuclear attack in the event we interfered with Beijing's efforts to bring Taiwan to heel.
As long as the United States remains absolutely vulnerable to such
threats, they are sure to be the shape of things to come -- not only from
China and Russia (assuming Putin continues his efforts to reconstitute a
hostile authoritarian regime in Moscow), but from their rogue state clients. After all, under such circumstances, long-range ballistic missiles enable even poor Third World states to demand First World treatment just by having them.
The same cannot be said of terrorism utilizing ship-, truck- or
plane-borne weapons of mass destruction; to have maximum political and strategic effect, they must be used. While the threat posed by such weapons is severe and must be dealt with as effectively as we can, the reality is that the U.S. government is already doing a lot to counter such dangers. Yet, we are currently doing nothing to deploy defenses against another identified, existing and growing danger, namely, that from ballistic missiles. This is all the more outrageous insofar as the law of the land -- the Missile Defense Act of 1999, signed by President Bill Clinton in July of that year -- requires the government to take such a step "as soon as technologically possible."
The Bush-Cheney Administration is to be applauded for rejecting the
misconceptions that kept its predecessor from building and deploying
effective, global missile defenses. The new team now needs to do just that.
It should get started by adapting the Navy's fleet of 55 Aegis air defense
ships -- an approach that can provide far greater protection, at
substantially less cost and far faster than the ground-based missile defense
system the Clinton-Gore team pretended to support but, as Messrs. Berger and
Fuerth make clear, never had any intention of actually fielding.