by Rod D. Martin
November 7, 1997

In our ongoing series of articles on issues for a new Contract With America, nothing could be more basic — or more vital — than defending America from weapons of mass destruction. Taken up in the first Contract, passed by both House and Senate only to be vetoed by Bill Clinton, missile defense must take center stage in the new Republican program, both in legislation and in public debate.

Ask the average American if he is defended from at least small scale missile attacks and he’ll tell you yes. He watched CNN: he saw Patriot missiles shoot down Iraqi Scuds. He knows hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year on defense. He knows technology improves every day. He trusts his government to defend him; after all, his government defends Bosnia, Kuwait, and half the rest of the world, so isn’t it obvious that Memphis and Anchorage are defended?

But of course, it isn’t obvious at all. There is no provision to defend even one square inch of North America from missile attack, despite what everyone sees to be a growing and imminent threat, and despite the existence of inexpensive means to counter that threat.

During the Cold War, many people believed that America would never be attacked because Russia was too sensible to commit suicide. To whatever degree this proved a good calculation (and it left a lot to be desired), the situation is utterly changed today. Saddam Hussein was a wake-up call: the world is full of dictators and terrorists who are perfectly willing to butt heads with America just because we’re here. Does anyone doubt that Iraq would have launched Scuds against Los Angeles if it could have? Does anyone think, after the pounding we gave him, that Saddam cared about the consequences? Does anyone doubt that those Scuds would have been chemical or even nuclear tipped if Saddam could have pulled it off? Does anyone believe North Korea is more stable than Iraq?

If your child lives in a major city, do you wish him held hostage to the whim of a madman?

By the end of the decade, we will face twenty countries with ballistic missiles, nine with nuclear weapons, ten with biological weapons, and thirty with chemical weapons. Most of these states are unfriendly or unstable or both; most of them make a lot of money by selling their technology to rogue states. Predicting who among these nations might be an enemy is difficult: who’d have believed in 1989 that we’d be at war with Iraq a year later? After an Islamist coup, what might Saudi Arabia do to us (or Israel)?

Some of the enemies, however, are clear: North Korea is developing a missile, the Taepo Dong 2, which will be able to hit Alaska and Hawaii. In peacetime, the Koreans will sell this missile to the highest bidder, as they have with all their weapons technology. In a war, the Koreans will use this missile, and Honolulu and Anchorage will die.

Moreover, rogue states are not the only problem. Both China and Russia routinely sell advanced missile technology, and have begun selling variants of their ICBMs as space launchers. Weapons security within Russia is notoriously deficient, and the possibility of a coup or an accidental launch is high. China, when faced with a US defense of Taiwan in the summer of 1995, directly threatened a nuclear strike against Los Angeles. If Oklahoma City was a tragedy, what word would describe this?

Why does the administration refuse to act? Because the first baby boomer President continues to live in the past. Slavish devotion to arms control was the hallmark of liberal defense policy all through the Cold War, and a cornerstone of this was the ABM Treaty. The ABM Treaty banned all systems capable of defending the US and Russian populations, on the theory that the horror of nuclear war would be the best deterrent. This might have made sense when Moscow and Washington were the only major powers (though in fact Russia violated the treaty repeatedly, while liberals pretended otherwise); today it is a prescription for suicide. Yet Bill Clinton just can’t get it. And eventually, a nuclear blackmailer will see that we pay the price.

We can defend America. We can immediately capitalize on the $50 billion investment we’ve already made in the Navy’s AEGIS system and, for a mere $3 billion more, erect a sea-based partial 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 like 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.

If Republicans are smart, they will push this issue to the forefront in 1998. If Americans are made to understand the facts, they will never tolerate a $250 billion a year “defense” budget that leaves them naked. It’s time to tell them the truth, and start letting charity begin at home.