U.S. vulnerable to missile attack

Maybe President Clinton was weary from fighting off countless attacks on his character or from the strain of being marginalized in his second term, but his State of the Union address missed the mark on the most important issue facing the security of the United States in the near future and beyond.

While the economy is steaming ahead, unemployment and inflation are at record lows and the budget is on the verge of being balanced, the United States still remains completely vulnerable to attack by ballistic missiles.

Though most Americans remain in the dark on this pivotal issue, the truth is that if missiles were launched at the United States – whether by accident or design and carrying nuclear, biological or chemical weapons – we could do nothing to stop it.

Our president could do little else except watch millions of his citizens die before his eyes. Even worse is the fact that our current administration has made it clear that it plans to maintain our state of vulnerability. With our today’s technology and a marginal investment, the United States could have the beginnings of a true national missile defense system, while protecting our troops abroad, by 2001.

The case for a missile defense system is made every day by rogue nations around the world. The Gulf War showed that the United States can not be defeated in head-to-head competition. These nations will thus need a threat the United States cannot defeat. This was poignantly said by the Indian Army Chief of Staff: “The lesson of Desert Storm is don’t mess with the U.S. without a nuclear weapon.”

Many nations have heeded this warning and are developing the capability to inflict untold tragedy upon the United States. More than 20 states are attempting to develop these technologies and by 2002, more than a dozen nations worldwide will have that capability, while the United States still will be defenseless.

Even in the post-Cold War world, the greatest danger still is posed by Russia. Not only has it inherited thousands of weapons from the Soviet Union, still poised to decimate the United States, but Russia also has embarked on a nuclear weapons modernization plan unmatched by anything in the West. Russia now is developing at least six new strategic weapons systems. Among these are a new mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a new ballistic missile submarine and an advanced submarine launched ballistic missile.

This, combined with Russia’s continuing program of improving and expanding its defensive system of underground blast shelters, hardened to let commanders and key industries survive a nuclear war, show that it is still preparing to fight and win a nuclear war with the United States.

Opponents of missile defense wrongly portray it as a piece of science fiction that will cost trillions of dollars and will not work. That scenario is far from the truth. For a truly effective and economical solution, we should be deploying a system, first by sea, then in space.

The Navy already has invested $50 billion in the AEGIS fleet air-defense system, aboard our 22 AEGIS cruisers. For a small investment of $2 billion, less than 1 percent of the defense budget, we could have interceptors on all 22 AEGIS cruisers by 2001 – creating a limited global missile defense capability for the United States and our forces overseas.

The AEGIS cruiser already has proven its ability. On January 24, 1997, it intercepted a ballistic missile during a test in New Mexico and the system has yet to be upgraded to make it a fully-functioning missile defense platform. No ground-based system, the one currently being pursued by Clinton and his cohorts, can adequately track a ballistic missile, which is why a space-based tracking system is so vital to any missile defense system. Only a space-based system can provide universal coverage and do so at a fraction of the cost of a ground-based system.

The biggest stumbling block to a missile defense system is the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, between the United States and the Soviet Union (a nation that no longer exists), which bans any system that can intercept a strategic ballistic missile.

Though the United States still is bound by this treaty, which has been violated by the Soviet Union since its inception, it is a relic of the Cold War – which has no place in a world of multiple proliferating nations. It was designed to keep a balance between the United States and the USSR, but today it perpetuates U.S. vulnerability in the face of increasing danger.

Instead of ending this flawed arrangement, President Clinton has negotiated to strengthen it by expanding its reach to ban certain theater missile defense systems which intercept short range missiles, like the SCUD missiles that killed 29 U.S. troops during the Gulf War.

The United States has the need and the ability to protect itself. It is simply a matter of will. This spring it is likely the Senate will vote on President Clinton’s changes to the ABM Treaty giving missile defense supporters the opportunity finally to rid ourselves of that dreadful accord. Once we are free to defend our homeland, we must begin the process of protecting all of our citizens from the danger of missile attack.

The legacy of the Cold War should not be to further lock ourselves into a doctrine of mutual suicide; it is our obligation to safeguard our nation.

-The writer is a junior majoring in political science.

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