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Jewish World Review May 16, 2002 / 5 Sivan, 5762

Martin Gross

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Consumer Reports

Who's trying to stop the missile shield? | A recent poll indicated that most Americans believe we already have a defense against an incoming nuclear ballistic missile, from whatever source.

The reality, of course, is quite the opposite. Should anyone -- especially a "rogue" nation such as Iran or North Korea -- launch nuclear missiles against the United States at some future date, we would be sitting defenseless against the holocaust.

North Korea has already successfully tested a three-stage missile, a weapon that could threaten not only Japan, but Hawaii and our mainland as well. Our government estimates that Iran could test a three-stage ICBM in the latter half of this decade.

To prevent any future nuclear attacks, the R&D and testing of a missile defense system covering the entire nation has been going forward. Since 1993, some $17 billion has been spent on the project -- almost $8 billion in this year alone. The current crisis in the Middle East has temporarily pushed the debate over the missile shield into the background, but increasingly, domestic voices have been raised against its deployment.

The National Missile Defense Act of 1999, which authorized the president to deploy the system as soon as he believes it is effective, was passed overwhelmingly by Congress. Now that several tests have shown that an interceptor missile can knock an ICBM out of the sky, opponents fear that it may actually be deployed in a few years. Voices against it are getting stronger, not only in the expected arena -- academe -- but even in Congress. And even by legislators who voted for the 1999 act.

In the present ground-based missile defense tests, dummy ICBMs are launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and sent into the Pacific. From October 1999 to as recent as March 2002, interceptor defense missiles were launched from the Pacific island of Kwajalein. The interceptor is not explosive, it destroys the missile by sheer impact. Of the last eight tests, five have been termed successful by the Missile Defense Agency, including the last three tests in 2001 and 2002.

The naysayers have a barrage of arguments against the system. Firstly, they state that the logical nuclear attack would come from a suitcase bomb, probably in midtown Manhattan or Washington. True, but it is not an either-or situation. A suitcase bomb would take out a half-mile section of a city, while an ICBM would destroy most of a metropolitan area and kill millions. That is no argument against a missile defense shield.

Naysayers also claim that it won't work. That is a spurious argument, one that could have been said about the atomic bomb, the new smart bombs or any technological advance. Politicians who oppose deployment underestimate American technical skills and claim to have more knowledge than supporters, as if technology cares about political parties. They also claim that decoys can outsmart the defense shield, but the Missile Defense Agency counters that it is taking decoys into account in its tests.

Who are the naysaysers?

Firstly, two technical groups with longtime backgrounds as anti-defense lobbyists -- the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Federation of American Scientists. But more important naysayers include several key American politicians, especially Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and the equally powerful Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden is presently opposed to the deployment of the missile shield. A spokeman at his office states that Biden believes, first, that the shield won't work. He also feels that the program is counterproductive in that it will stimulate an arms race in which other nations -- like China -- will increase their nuclear arsenals in an attempt to defeat our missile defenses. He is for continued R&D, but not for deployment.

Supporters of the system counter with the fear that not just "rogue" nations but a future Chinese regime, angry over American support of Formosa -- and ennobled by new missile technology stolen from America -- might someday launch an unexpected irrational ICBM attack on America.

But why? Why would ostensibly patriotic Americans want to stop a nuclear defense that is miniscule in cost in comparison to our total Pentagon budget?

"I think the opposition to our missile defense plan is a retread of the Cold War mentality, " stated Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense and now head of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory group of the DOD, when interviewed. "First they say it won't work, then they say it will stimulate an arms race. They can't have it both ways. I think some of the opposition doesn't want America to be excessively strong. They are worried that we will abuse that power, which is not true."

The reality is that we can't predict the future, but we can prepare for it. One major step is to counter the opposition by preparing for the deployment of the missile shield when it is ready, creating the possibility that -- for the first time -- we will be able to survive a nuclear attack.

Comment on JWR contributor Martin Gross' column by clicking here.


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04/25/02: How to slice the pork out of congress' hide
04/11/02: He's no American
03/31/02: Federal Aviation Administration is a threat to our security
03/14/02: Alaskan oil -- another Saudi Arabia?
03/07/02: Secretary Mineta must go
02/28/02: How to reform the IRS tax code
02/21/02: Those darn Europeans -- again
01/31/02: Director of Homeland Insecurity
01/24/02: Musharaff -- Gorbachev of the Muslim world?
01/17/02: Can we stop a nuclear plant attack?
01/09/02: More failed federal aid to education?
12/11/01: The 'American Giant' is still sleeping

© 2002, Creators Syndicate