The entire subject of weapons of mass destruction continues to dog President Bush. The easy answer to why we needed to go into Iraq was that, in the first place, the President believed the country had weapons of mass destruction. Such a belief required preemptive action ultimately as a precaution, forced upon us because we have no ballistic missile defense to defend against the delivery of such weapons against American allies and troops in the region. Our vulnerability to such attacks sharply curtailed our options and, indeed, left us with little choice in the matter. Yet it is important to remember why the greatest superpower in the world should come to have its policy dictated by the actions of a relatively weak nation on the other side of the globe.
America's Founders were clear that the primary purpose of government was the security of the rights of American citizens. Prudence will dictate how our government will secure our rights, but policy makers have neither the moral nor the constitutional prerogative to neglect their security altogether. Yet despite both common sense and a constitutional mandate, American statesmen have done precisely this, for over three decades. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which was signed by President Nixon and remained in force through administrations of both parties until 2002, mandated that America remain essentially defenseless in the face of ballistic missile attack. President Bush has only recently withdrawn America from the ABM Treaty, in June of 2002but an adequate missile defense systems remains wanting.
Our Founding principles tell us that legitimate government is established by the consent of the governed to secure their rights. The Declaration of Independence, the first of our organic or fundamental laws, tells us that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of HappinessThat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." Enshrining the principles and purposes in the Declaration, our Constitution rightly identifies one of the elemental purposes of government to "provide for the common defense."
These statements from public documents outline the principles that lie at the foundation of our regime. When our Founders became Framers, and attempted to establish these principles in a concrete way, they worked to establish government that would secure our rights effectively. Although the initial Articles of Confederation contained a lengthy discussion of arrangements to conduct foreign and defense policy, the structure of the government made that impossible. In particular, the new Constitution of 1787 was formed to "provide for the common defense" more effectively. A stronger national government with, for example, an energetic executive, gave us a government that could secure our rights.
In addition to a well-structured government, another essential ingredient to maintain American independence through foreign policy is avoiding what Washington, in his Farewell Address, termed a "political connection" or "permanent Alliance." Such "artificial ties," Washington cautioned, inhibited America's ability to conduct an independent foreign policy to secure American rights. By expanding our social contract to include the Soviet Union, a political entity that wished us harm, the ABM Treaty prevented us from effectively securing our rights on this and other fronts.
As such, the ABM Treaty repudiated these fundamental principles of American foreign policy. Not only were the rights of American citizens not secured, but our ability to conduct a free and independent foreign policy was also compromised by the threat of nuclear blackmail. Of course the policymakers who signed the treaty attempted to rationalize this paradox. Henry Kissinger, one of the treaty's primary architects, said that it "represented the essential first step toward a less volatile strategic environment." President Clinton later praised the ABM Treaty as the "cornerstone of strategic stability." The mistake of the treaty's defenders, however, was to presume that the vulnerability required by such dreams of "strategic stability" were actually useful to the security of our rights.
The basic argument for strategic stability was that leaving America vulnerable to nuclear attack would somehow make us safer. Such sophisticated arguments for the ABM Treaty are ultimately irrelevant, however, from the perspective of our Founding principles. We know with moral certitude that even if the treaty had produced "stability" with the Soviet Union (a dubious assumption), it left millions of Americans at the mercy of this, and other enemies. We also know that America's freedom to pursue our interest was severely compromised by the ABM Treaty and its legacy. A vivid reminder of this fact occurred in 1996 when a Chinese general threatened Los Angeles with a nuclear missile attack if we honored our obligations to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese assault on the island. Bound by such an artificial tie, we could not "choose peace or war, as our interest guided by our justice shall Counsel," but are the subject of manipulation by those who would undermine our interests. The ABM Treaty's legacy of vulnerability continues to curtail our freedom of action, as it did in the decision to invade Iraq.
This is clearly an intolerable situation. Policy makers who refuse to establish a ballistic missile defense system are essentially saying that they do not wish to provide for the common defense, and that they do not believe that our government exists to secure the rights of its citizens. The decision not to develop a comprehensive missile defense is both dangerous and immoral. Statesmen must use prudence to determine the means by which they will secure our rights, but cannot barter away the security of our rights in the name of "stability" or anything else. By opposing efforts necessary to fulfill a basic constitutional purpose, opponents of missile defense are making, in a sense, a fundamentally anti-constitutional argument.
We should all be pleased that President Bush has withdrawn the United States from the ABM Treaty. With these legal ties now severed, we are free to develop a missile defense system to protect America. Yet today we remain as vulnerable from ballistic missile attacks as we have been since 1972. We now need to remind our elected officials that they must have the courage to use our newfound freedom well, and develop and deploy the systems necessary to defend our nation.
The basic injunction to provide for the common defense does not leave us without a standard to judge the adequacy of particular systems being pursued. The limited number of interceptors to be deployed by the Bush administration in Alaska this year are an important first step, but will keep America vulnerable to an attack from a still very dangerous Russia, from China, and even from a "non-state" actor such as Al-Qaeda launching a short range missile from off our coast. Only when we have a comprehensive and multi-layered system to defend against all such threats will we regain the independence, freedom of action, and security of our rights which our founding principles demand.