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The Looming Threat of a Rogue Missile Attack

Most Americans know Russia and China have missiles that can destroy our cities in less time than it takes to watch the evening news. But many are unaware that more than two dozen Third World states are working feverishly to develop similar capabilities.

Ballistic missiles have become de rigueur for such as Iran ana North Korea that are seeking to offset U.S. prowess on the battlefield. America's crushing defeat of Iraqi forces in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm convinced would-be aggressors it would be foolish to challenge the United States on conventional terms. As a result, many have accelerated their ballistic missile programs to threaten Americans from afar.

The results are startling. Last August, for example, North Korea tested the Taepo Dong-1, a three-stage rocket that some experts believe can reach parts of Hawaii and Alaska. Pyongyang is working overtime to build the next-generatioon Taepo Dong-2, an even longer-range missile capable of reaching America's West Coast.

The threat of missile attack can no longer be ignored, even by an administration that has long down played this deadly menace. In January 1999, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced this threat "is growing, and we expect it will soon pose a danger not only to our troop overseas but also to Americans here at home."

Despite this belated admission, the administration's plan to address the missile threat lacks both urgency and credibility. President Clinton refuses to make a decision regarding the deployment of a national missile defense until June 2000. And even if the president commits to building such defenses, they will not be ready until 2005 at the earliest.

The president's sluggish timetable is only part of the problem. His plan, which calls for ground-based defenses, ignores the superior potential of sea- and space-based technologies to intercept enemy missiles. The Clinton administration believes deployment of such technologies is verboten by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, an agreement we signed with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Even though our treaty partner no longer exists, the Clinton administration wants to preserve the basic terms of the ABM agreement as it mulls the possible deployment of a ground-based system using one or two fixed sites. The administration's plan lacks the depth afforded by a sea-based and space-based system. It is to missile defense what Maginot Line was to France during World War II. The French constructed a series of fortresses along the Franco-German border, only to see Adolf Hilter's forces invade through Belgium.

With Third World countries pressing ahead with missile programs, it's neither smart nor fair that U.S. plans for a national missile defense remain hostage to an outdated treaty. This Cold War relic was linked inextricably with Soviet Union's unique geographic and legal personality. Today neither Russia nor any combination of Soviet successor states is capable of fulfilling the original purposes of the ABM Treaty.

That's why numerous legal scholars believe the ABM Treaty is defunct. Even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, one of the original architects of this agreement, no longer believes the ABM treaty is binding. In March 1999, Mr. Kissinger stated, "I wouldn't let it stand in the way" of missile defense. If President Clinton and Congress want to get serious about protecting American citizens from missile attack, they should cosign the ABM Treaty to where is belongs - the scrap yard of history.

Prudence dictates that we deploy a national missile defense before, not after, rogue states acquire missiles capable of destroying American cities. If you knew a crime wave was headed toward your neighborhood, you would move with dispatch to improve the locks, get a guard dog, or possibly move away. The principle of preparedness applies to national security as well: We should not have to play a high-risk game of catchup with rogue states developing ballistic missiles. The failure to deploy an effective national missile defense will allow unpredictable Third World despots to seize the political and military initiative and put America at risk. That's a recipe for disaster we can live without.

By: James H. Anderson, is defense and national security analyst for the Heritage Foundation. This article was adapted from his new book, "America At Risk: The Citizen's Guide to Missile Defense." This article appeared in The Washington Times, National Weekly Edition, June 7-13, 1999. Page 39