Six months ago President Bush announced that the United States would withdraw, as was our right, from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. The ABM Treaty, signed between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., prevented the construction and deployment of a national missile defense. President Bush believes, rightly, that it is in the supreme interest of the United States that one be built as soon as possible. On Thursday, at midnight, the six months was up and so too the document that has prevented the United States from defending itself from the ultimate weapon of terror: the nuclear ballistic missile.
As we have said here before, President Bush did what his father and Ronald Reagan — two U.S. presidents who believed in missile defense — did not do: abandon the treaty and put America on the course of building a national missile defense. This course will include immediately the construction of a ground-based test site at Fort Greely, Alaska.
When completed this ground-based system will be the first layer of what must be a multi-layered defense — sea-based and space-based being the other two layers of defense — against enemy missile attack. But lest anyone think that missile defense is now inevitable, the political fight in America against actually building a missile defense has just begun.
The project at Fort Greely has already come under attack. The Department of Defense is now being sued by so-called environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace U.S.A. to prevent construction. They argue that the building of the test bed and anti-missile silos on 135 acres of an existing and remote army base will have "significant environmental impacts". They will do so with the full knowledge that the anti-missile interceptors are designed to prevent the killing of American citizens and the destruction of American cities in range of enemy missiles. Presumably the death of their fellow citizens and the environmental devastation caused by such attack is of little concern.
Likewise, the President is now being sued by members of Congress who are hysterical over the idea that we would build a defense to such horrible weapons. Implicit in their opposition to missile defense is their preference for — given that missile defenses are well within our technological capability — the bizarre, immoral, and out-dated policy of nuclear retaliation.
Over the next several years, budget fights will ensue and compromises will be sought to limit how much is spent on the most promising missile defense programs. Indeed despite yesterday's (June 14) successful test of a sea-based anti-missile system there is no guarantee that this much needed program will remain funded at levels necessary for success.
There is also some concern that the President, a supporter of missile defense, has not requested the kind of funding or demanded the kind of results by the Missile Defense Agency that will lead to an effective missile defense before the nations that make up the axis of evil — Iran, Iraq and North Korea — have offensive capability. To be sure monies are being spent but not with the urgency that the threat warrants. This year's missile defense budget is in the $8 billion range, modest by major defense acquisition standards. Indeed the most effective missile defense programs — those deploying space-based defenses — are not now even being seriously considered in current budget proposals.
All of these developments are a reminder of what must be done if missile defense is to become a reality. As with any matter of public policy this requires informed public opinion. Over the coming months the Institute will be conducting a series of briefings for citizens and policymakers on the need for a national missile defense and current roadblocks. We will be in Northern Michigan on July 16. Please check back for details.