Today, November 30, we mark the 127th anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill. Every year around this time, the Claremont Institute celebrates the great man's birthday with a dinner, speeches, and a toast in his honor. This year, at a time of war and of great peril to the republic, we are particularly attentive to Churchill's legacy and the lessons we can learn from him.
Faced with the menace of German rearmament in the 1930s, Churchill traveled all over England to persuade his countrymen of the need to respond to the emerging Nazi threat. Churchill and his colleagues called this effort "The Focus." Today we need an "American Focus," to build new defenses and take whatever military steps necessary to protect the United States from all threats — bioterrorism, suicide bombings, and the most deadly, ballistic missile attack.
The need for such a focus is more urgent than ever. A number of commentators and lawmakers argued that the attacks of September 11 proved once and for all the folly of President George W. Bush's proposed missile- defense plan.
If anything, the attacks should have put the threat of ballistic missile attack into sharper focus. That's because the source of the threat remains the same: state-sponsored terrorism. Whether in the form of a hijacked Boeing 767 or a missile launched from a rogue nation, the idea is to inflict massive casualties on the United States, or to force us to end effectively our alliances with democratic friends in various parts of the world, most notably Israel.
For all of the intelligence failures leading up to the attack of September 11, the U.S. government knows with certainty that nations such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Libya are spending billions of dollars to build or acquire ballistic missiles with which to attack and blackmail the United States
Such evidence is rejected of course by some of the great "minds" of our time.
In a November 12th letter to Congress from the Federation of American Scientists, 50 Nobel Laureates downplay the threat from rogue states. They and other opponents of missile defense have launched a campaign in the wake of September 11 using three specious arguments:
- "Missile defense is a low priority since terrorism will remain a more likely threat." But the chances of hijackers commandeering another jumbo-jet as they did are now virtually nil. The more successful the government is in preventing domestic terrorism in all its forms, the more viable attack by missile becomes for those enemy nations who sponsor terror.
- "No terrorist nation would launch a ballistic missile since it would reveal where it was launched from, thus guaranteeing sure and swift retaliation." But, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has pointed out, an enemy could launch a ballistic missile from a ship off our coasts. If the ship were scuttled, a likely scenario, we would be left wondering who was responsible.
- "Missile defense won't work against ship-borne threats anyway." But more than a decade ago, the United States conducted successful tests on space-based missile defense technology that could stop a ballistic missile whether launched from land or from sea. Our own existing ship-based defenses could form some stop-gap measure.
Had the September 11 attacks been carried out with ballistic missiles, resulting in the deaths of millions of Americans instead of thousands, there would have begun a massive scientific effort that very evening to build and deploy a ballistic missile defense so that such an attack would not happen again. In addition the U.S. would have abandoned the 1972 ABM Treaty that forbids missile defense without so much as a second thought. Many missile defense supporters hoped President Bush would do just that during President Putin's visit. Alas he did not.
When Winston Churchill warned his countrymen of what could happen if Britain allowed Hitler to gain the upper hand in air strength, he said "There is time for us to take the necessary measures, but it is the measures we want . . . No nation playing the part we play and aspire to play in the world has a right to be in a position where it can be blackmailed . . ." They eventually listened, but it was nearly too late.
There is still time for America to focus on the missile threat, and to take the necessary measures to build a defense. In the end it is what's owed those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. It is also what America owes her Constitution, and to the Free World.
Note: The Bush Administration gave its six month notice of withdraw from the ABM Treaty in December of 2001.
- U.S. Begins Withdrawal From ABM Treaty, by Brian Kennedy, December 12th, 2001
- The ABM Treaty Is Gone, What Now?, by Brian Kennedy, June 15th, 2002
- The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, on DefenseLink.mil