by Rod D. Martin
November 13, 1999

There is very little our government does which actually falls within those powers granted by the Constitution, but among those things which do is national defense. And as one might expect in the looking-glass world of Washington, national defense, for all the billions spent on it, is one of the powers Washington exercises least.

Nowhere is this more true than in the field of ballistic missile defense.

While American troops patrol more than one hundred foreign countries, not one air defense battery, not one Patriot missile site, defends America itself. America actively helps Israel build its missile defense system, and Bill Clinton just promised to fund a defense for Japan; and yet at home he dismisses the idea as “Star Wars.” It simply boggles the mind.

The danger is acute. Late this summer, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s bipartisan Ballistic Missile Threat Commission finally reported to Congress. According to the commission’s report, hostile countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea now possess the ability to “inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years” of deciding to develop a nuclear ballistic missile force. The commission also found that “the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision has been made,” because the threat is “evolving more rapidly” than America’s ability to detect it.

If this sounds far-fetched, please turn your thoughts back just a few short months to the atomic tests in India and Pakistan, totally unpredicted by the CIA.

The commission was particularly troubled by North Korea, whose nuclear missile force they called “well developed”, and who proved it just two months after the commission’s report by launching a multi-stage missile over Japan (again catching the CIA flat-footed). The commission further pointed out that the bulk of China’s missiles are already targeted at the United States, and that any country that wants competent help setting up a nuclear missile program can now easily get that help on the open market.

The consequences of this spread of nuclear missiles are simply staggering. In 1995, when America stood ready to defend Taiwan from invasion, China directly threatened nuclear attack if America intervened. People’s Liberation Army General Xiong Guangkai openly boasted that America would not be willing to “trade Los Angeles for Taipei.” The ability of our enemies to blackmail us into submission grows exponentially, almost by the day.

China is a relatively “sane” country. As we this week enter our five-billionth standoff with Iraq, does anyone doubt that Saddam would launch nuclear or chemical Scuds against Washington if he could? Does anyone think, after a decade of our bombing, invading and embargoing his country, that Hussein would care about the consequences?

Does anyone believe North Korea is more stable than Iraq?

The President’s response to all of this is to revive the legally-void ABM Treaty, banning missile defenses for the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. This approach, of course, leaves every other country in the world free to build defenses, and fails to address the actual threat at all. The position is simply ludicrous: it applies a Cold War solution (and a bad one at that) to an utterly changed world. It is as though the President is in a time-warp, along with the rest of his baby-boomer buds.

We can defend America. We can immediately capitalize on the $50 billion investment we’ve made in the Navy’s AEGIS system and, for a mere $5 billion more, erect a sea-based defense of the entire United States. Shortly thereafter, we can extend that defense, using existing technology, to counter virtually any threat against any country, anywhere in the world. If some worry that ballistic missile defense will destabilize relations with countries such as Russia, that’s fine: we can share the technology, just like Ronald Reagan promised. The investment has already been made; the further price tag is cheap. The only thing lacking is the President’s will.

Bill Clinton will probably never do the right thing: the man who said he “loathes” the military has gutted our defenses and sold our secrets to our enemies. But Republicans can force the issue. Historically strong on defense, the GOP has the credibility to speak out; moreover, in light of this month’s elections, the party has desperate need of an issue on which it can prove to its base that it really does care about principle, and that it takes its Constitutional duties seriously. There is no faction of the Republican Party that cannot support this; likewise, there is nothing that can smoke out the loony left as easily as SDI.

This is the issue for 1999. It’s time to tell Americans the truth about their vulnerability. More important still, it’s time to defend them. There can be no nobler, and no more important, cause in the coming session.