Scraping ABM treaty is the right thing to do

Posted: Dec 18, 2001 12:00 AM
President Bush is withdrawing the United States from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty we signed with the Soviet Union in 1972. He’s making the right decision, because he has to kill the ABM treaty to build an effective missile defense shield. Unfortunately, the president’s decision is going to get a lot of flack from Washington’s chattering class, including liberals such as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Friedman is so strongly opposed to missile defense that he ignores his own arguments. On Dec. 2, he accurately summed up a threat facing the U.S. today: “Let's not forget what was surely the smile on those hijackers' faces as they gunned the engines on our passenger planes to kill as many Americans as possible in the World Trade Center. Let's not forget what they would do had they had access to even bigger weapons.” Weapons such as nuclear, biological or chemical tipped missiles? We know what the terrorists would do: Use them. And terrorists aren’t the only threat. There are several rogue states – including North Korea, Syria, Iran and Iraq – trying to build or buy a missile that can reach the U.S. One thing we’ve learned since September 11 is that the differences between rogue states and super-empowered individuals -- terrorists such as Osama bin Laden -- are disappearing. The Washington Post reported on Nov. 30 that bin Laden showered some $100 million on Afghanistan’s Taliban and enjoyed virtually complete control over the country’s government. On Dec. 12, the Post reported that bin Laden met with two Pakistani nuclear scientists and discussed weapons of mass destruction. Friedman and others argue that we don’t need to invest in missile defense because we can depend on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD) to prevent rogues from attacking us. He correctly points out that no rogue state ever has launched a missile strike against us. That may be, as he argues, a result of MAD. More likely, it’s because no rogue state has yet acquired the technology to launch one. In fact, as the super-empowered individuals and rogue states gain power, it will be ever more important that the U.S. have a missile shield. Why is Friedman so opposed to missile defense? Not, he says, for “theological” reasons. In fact, he even would support missile defense, under certain conditions. On July 24 he wrote “if the Bush team wants us to pay huge money…it must prove that missile defense works under battlefield conditions, which it hasn't; that it can be deployed without alienating Russia and China, which can overwhelm any system by simply selling missiles to rogues; and that the system will not cost so much that it will divert needed resources from weapons and army units.” The problem -- as Friedman must realize -- is these conditions are unreasonable. Let’s begin with the ABM treaty. It prevents the U.S. from testing virtually any sea-, space-, air- or mobile land-based missile defense system – making it impossible to prove that a system works under battlefield or any other conditions. Still, Friedman remains a fan of the treaty. On Nov. 30, he urged Bush to keep it in place to placate the Russian president: “Mr. Putin has made the decision to ‘go west.’ But he's way out ahead of his generals and his public. He needs the continued cover of the ABM treaty to keep them moving west too.” Putin’s support of the ABM treaty actually is a poison pill that would keep the U.S. from building an effective missile defense system. That brings up the problem with Friedman’s second condition: We’d be giving the Russians (and the Chinese) control of U.S. defense policy. Obviously, there’s no way we can build any sort of unilateral defense screen that won’t anger them, and there’s no point in trying. American leaders need to do what’s best for the U.S., not Russia or China. Finally, the expense. Even if it costs $100 billion over the next 10 years to get missile defense up and running, that’s still only $10 billion per year – and $10 billion is about .05 percent of this year’s $1.98 trillion budget. Congress recently considered adding almost $70 billion in pork barrel spending to a bill called the “Farm Security Act.” Some of the well-known “farmers” who have benefited in the past from federal subsidies include Ted Turner, Scottie Pippen and David Rockefeller. Instead of wasting tax dollars making these men even richer, why not invest in a missile defense system that can protect all of us? On Nov. 30, Friedman showed his hand when he wrote that what members of the Bush administration “really want is to get rid of the ABM treaty, and all nuclear arms control, so they can be free to pursue Ronald Reagan's fantasy of a total Star Wars missile shield.” Well, why not? There are plenty of reasons to scrap the ABM treaty and get on with the business of building a missile defense system to protect our country. And now that we have been attacked, it’s no longer good enough to oppose missile defense just because it was President Reagan’s idea.