Thursday, June 18, 2009

Notebook Special: Talent Makes Case For Missile Defense

*Special to The Notebook*
Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent requested space to respond to an earlier post on missile defense. Earlier this week House Democrats, lead by Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton, voted down an amendment to boost funding for missile defense programs.
Below is Talent's complete response:

"The KY3 Political Notebook of June 16 was right to focus on the incongruity of the House Armed Services Committee cutting the budget for missile defense on the grounds that we need to spend money on "the threats that truly exist".
I understand that the Committee felt the need to defend the Administration's position on missile defense, but the Administration is wrong on that issue, and the consequences for America could be very dangerous.
There is a global nuclear "cascade" currently underway. Pakistan has a substantial nuclear arsenal and is engaged in an arms race with India.
North Korea has a number of nuclear bombs and is aggressively developing intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Iran is close to having enough enriched nuclear material to make a bomb, and it too is developing ballistic missile capability. Israel already has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. In response, other nations -Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea among them - are considering their own nuclear programs, if for no other reason than as a deterrent to North Korea and Iran.
As a result, the threat that a nuclear missile will actually be used - or at least will be used as leverage in support of conventional aggression - is greater today than it ever was during the Cold War.
1. Iran has threatened to use nuclear weapons directly against Israel - a possibility made more plausible by the millennial world view of many of Iran's leaders. Either Iran or North Korea is fully capable of engaging in regional conventional aggression, with nuclear missiles as a "doomsday weapon" should the tables be turned against them in conventional warfare.
2. The terrorists are fighting to overthrow the Pakistani government or to penetrate its government sufficiently to gain control of its nuclear arsenal. In addition, we know that the terrorists have been trying to get enough nuclear material to make a bomb, and it would be a relatively simple matter to acquire a short range missile that could be launched from the deck of a ship against the European or American shoreline.
3. The risk of an accidental or impulsive launch is growing. The danger during the Cold War was a bilateral nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union - two countries with stable launch protocols and established lines of communications. (Remember the "hotline" between Washington and Moscow). Today, the prospect of a multilateral confrontation is in view - say, between India, Pakistan, and Iran, with China and Russia pursuing their own national interests on the perimeter. Pakistan has an unstable government and a nuclear arsenal that is not secure; India and Pakistan do not have regular diplomatic contact, and some in the current Iranian government would be considered borderline insane by Western standards. You don't have to be an expert in game theory to know that such a confrontation could easily get out of hand.
Currently the United States has partially deployed a missile defense system that provides rudimentary protection against such threats. There is simply no reason not to robustly fund and aggressively deploy the rest of the system. When the concept of missile defense was developed in the 1980's, liberals were concerned that it was destabilizing, because it would cause the Soviets to doubt the effectiveness of their nuclear arsenal.
Whatever the merits of that argument at that time, it bears no relationship to reality today, when the threat is from rogue regimes, failed states, and terrorists. Missile defense is an entirely non-nuclear, defensive system that, once completed, could intercept and destroy nuclear missiles whatever their target, protecting not just the United States but the whole world.
It would make nuclear missiles ineffective and therefore eliminate the temptation to develop and use them. One more word in conclusion. Sometimes the argument is made that the government should cut missile defense to save money.
Obviously, missile defense is important enough to claim a budgetary priority under any circumstances. But in any event, the Obama administration is hardly in a position to claim fiscal concerns as a reason for not funding it.
In four measures passed over six months -- the stimulus, the TARP funding, and the Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2010 budgets -- the government has by its own admission added 4 trillion dollars to the national debt.
Now the administration is saying that it must cut 1.5 billion dollars from missile defense in the name of frugality. That is a level of hypocrisy that even Washington rarely reaches.
Those who want more information about ballistic missile defense should consult the Heritage Foundation website, at"

Jim Talent is a former U.S. Senator and currently a distinguished fellow with the Heritage Foundation, specializing in defense issues.

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