Now that it has drawn to a close, there is much criticism of the 105th Congress as a “do-nothing Congress.” Most of these accusations are emanating from disgruntled Democrats harping for the old days when they dominated the legislature. However, on arguably the most important piece of legislation of the term, if not the last 10 years, it was the Democrats that prevented Congress from even bringing the debate to the floor.
On May 13 of this year, 41 Senators – all Democrats – voted to block a motion to permit debate on S.1873, the American Missile Protection Act of 1998. This bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), would, for the first time in history, make it U.S. policy “to deploy effective anti-missile defenses of the territory of the United States as soon as technologically possible.”
It is inconceivable that anyone who has taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution would believe that U.S. government policy should be to leave its citizens vulnerable to the most terrible weapons created by man – ballistic missiles. But that is what these 41 Democrats did not once, but twice. On Sept. 9, the same senators again succeeded in blocking this vital piece of legislation.
This was not simply a mistake repeated. Events during the intervening four months should have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the United States must build a missile defense system.
A key argument made by opponents of missile defense is that our intelligence community will be able to give enough warning of a missile threat so that we may respond. However, India’s surprise nuclear tests, almost as the Senate was debating the bill, as well as Iran’s new medium- range ballistic missile that the intelligence community claimed would not be ready for another three years, should dispel that notion.
The July release of the report by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unanimous conclusions of this bipartisan commission (five Republican and four Democrat appointments) have laid bare many of the previous claims made by the Clinton administration and its congressional allies.
Its most important conclusion was that we are currently in a “zero warning” environment. The United States could face a rouge nation with a missile capable of hitting American cities and we wouldn’t know until it was too late. However, this too was ignored by some of the same congressional leaders who appointed the commission.
Even those senators, and the Clinton administration, who are fundamentally opposed to defending its own people, are hard pressed to ignore the light show over the Sea of Japan on Aug. 31. The North Koreans not only tested their newest missile, the Taepo Dong 1 (TD1), but the TD1 contained a third rocket stage, allowing it to reach targets as far away as Alaska.
Though the third stage was not completely successful, it did show a radical jump in North Korean technology. Soon enough, before a system to stop them can be deployed, American soil will be in the cross hairs of North Korean and other rogue states’ nuclear weapons. There are some 25 nations, many hostile to U.S. interests, that have or are developing missiles capable of hitting American soil.
Most Americans would be horrified to know their government leaves them completely vulnerable as a matter of policy, and rightly so. We currently have the technology to begin to defend our troops overseas and Americans at home. Building on the $50 billion already invested in the Navy’s AEGIS fleet air defense system, a system on board the cruisers that defend aircraft carriers, we could have the beginnings of a truly global defense. The cost of such a system would be less than one percent of the defense budget.
The greatest stumbling block to missile defense is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, which prevents the deployment of a truly effective national missile defense system. According to two independent legal analyses, the treaty is null and void due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Even if it were valid, no treaty should prevent the United States from defending itself in a world where more than just the Soviets threaten our survival. Fear of Russia rebuilding its nuclear forces if the United States were to break away from the treaty are almost laughable. Russia cannot afford its present nuclear arsenal and, with or without arms control or a U.S. missile defense system, Russia’s nuclear forces will continue to wither away.
Someday a nation will take advantage of our vulnerability and destroy an American city. In the wake of that catastrophe, the United States will build a missile defense system, likely using the AEGIS option. There will be no question of money, technology or of a treaty with a non- existent partner.
But waiting for that day is a crime against every man, woman and child in America today. Building a missile defense system is not only a military necessity, but a moral imperative. We have the capabilities and the need, what we need is the leadership.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.