Al Gore's missile-defense dodge

The vice president cares more about reassuring the Russians than protecting Americans, and that's why George W. Bush should be president.

Published June 26, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

The most important national security debate since the end of the Cold War has suddenly become a leading issue in the presidential campaign. It is the debate over whether we are going to build a missile defense that will provide our citizens with a shield against attack by weapons of mass destruction. The result of this debate will affect the security of every man, woman and child among us for generations to come.

Once the issues are understood, it should be clear that this nation cannot afford another eight years of a Democratic administration, and in particular an administration that would be headed by Al Gore.

Of course, like most issues that come up in the heat of an electoral campaign, the missile debate has been characterized by obfuscation. Even informed voters may feel that a correct decision involves political considerations that are impossibly complex, and technical issues that only a specialist could understand.

But it is not really as difficult as it seems. What is at issue, as in all questions that are political, is the nature of human society -- in this case, the correct balance between legitimate suspicion, bridge-building and prudent self-defense in our approach to other nations. Here the Clinton-Gore administration has shown a naiveti that is characteristic of liberalism but, in this context, is dangerous in the extreme.

For two terms, the Clinton-Gore administration has anchored America's security in a system of "arms control" agreements that were concluded in the past with the now defunct Soviet Union. The most important of these agreements is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which Clinton has referred to as "a cornerstone of strategic stability." In order not to break this treaty (and anger the Russians), the Clinton administration has resisted the development and deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system that would protect Americans for eight years.

In the last month, however, with an election looming in which the Republican candidate has declared this posture unacceptable, the Clinton-Gore team has roused its lawyers to find a loophole in the treaty so that it can propose its own baby step in the direction of an anti-ballistic defense, while claiming that this will not remove the "cornerstone" it has used as an excuse for doing virtually nothing until now.

The purpose of the 1972 ABM Treaty was to stabilize the balance of terror by ensuring that if one of the two powers launched a nuclear first strike against its rival, the other would have the ability to strike back unhindered by an anti-missile defense. This is the doctrine known as MAD (for Mutual Assured Destruction). The arms-control advocates in the Clinton-Gore camp claim that this arrangement "worked" in the past to preserve nuclear peace during the Cold War, and, therefore, should work in the future as well.

Opponents of this doctrine -- let's call them the "deterrence" camp -- believe that the history of 20th century conflicts, including the Cold War, shows that MAD is a dangerous illusion in a world composed of sovereign states, whose interests are profoundly at odds and whose reliability in keeping agreements is problematic to say the least. This history is absolutely crucial to framing a judgment in the decision before us, between a Republican candidate who wants to forge ahead with a comprehensive missile defense, and a Democratic candidate who wants to proceed very cautiously (if at all) because his chief concern is calming the fears of foreign leaders, rather than protecting American security.

History shows us that the arms-control approach to national security frequently fails. In the aftermath of World War I, the world's democracies attempted through a series of international accords to control the ability of nations to develop aggressive military capabilities, particularly sea power -- the aggressive weapon de jour. These arms-control agreements culminated in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war as "an instrument of national policy." It was signed in 1928 by virtually every nation in existence -- 11 years before Hitler's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II.

What the signers of the Kellogg-Briand Pact had failed to appreciate was the difference between "control" and "agreement." Thus, in the years preceding the Second World War, the democracies of the West adhered to the arms control agreements they had signed, while the totalitarian powers -- the aggressors -- Germany and Japan did not. In fact, it is probable that the aggression itself was inspired by the perception of German and Japanese leaders that their opponents had tied their own hands behind their backs.

The same pattern was evident during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union systematically violated its arms control agreements, most particularly the very same Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 that Clinton and Gore regard as the "cornerstone of strategic stability," and whose terms the United States did observe. To this day, Russia has a deployed anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow, in violation of the treaty. But Washington chooses to overlook it, because it is only a partial system and making an issue of it would cause an international crisis. As a result, the chief effect of the 1972 ABM treaty has not been to control the development of defensive missile systems by our adversaries but to hamstring the United States -- and prevent us from doing the same.

The ABM Treaty had an even more deleterious impact, however, since it also provided an incentive to Soviet rulers to attempt to develop a "first strike" capability, against which the United States would have no defense. Thus the ABM Treaty's unintended consequence was not only not to control the arms race, but to escalate it, and to put the United States at a dangerous disadvantage. (See Baker Spring, "The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: In Arms Control's Worst Tradition.")

Fortunately, in 1980, voters elected Ronald Reagan, whose administration was ready to meet this challenge head on. Reagan ignored the arms controllers and disarmers who had mobilized the "nuclear freeze movement" with Soviet support, and deployed cruise missiles to Europe to neutralize the Soviet advantage. He then announced the Strategic Defense Initiative -- the so-called "Star Wars" program, whose goal was to build a space-based anti-missile defense system, which was maliciously derided by arms-control Democrats and the liberal press as a kind of Hollywood gimmick.

Thanks to the stalling of the Clinton-Gore administration, SDI has never been fully perfected or deployed, although successful missile kills have been achieved. But even the embryonic SDI managed to play a significant role in ending the Cold War. Reagan's determination to proceed with such a system forced the Soviet leadership to confront the fact that its bankrupt economic system could not underwrite the next stage of the arms race. This caused the Kremlin to initiate a series of reforms (perestroika and glasnost) that caused the entire Soviet system to unravel, culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In contrast to the arms-control enthusiasts on the Clinton-Gore team, deterrence advocates, including George W. Bush, believe that in a world of sovereign states (most of which are ruled by dictators), American security must rest not on unenforceable agreements, but on America's ability to maintain a superiority of arms that will discourage potential aggressors. In the current stage of weapons development, that means deploying an effective and comprehensive missile defense system.

During the Cold War there were only two nuclear super-powers with missiles capable of crossing the oceans. Today, 36 nations possess ballistic missiles, five with intercontinental reach; 17 nations are believed to have chemical and or biological-warfare programs; eight are known to possess nuclear weapons and four are believed to be close to developing them.

But as a result of years of Clinton-Gore inaction, Americans have no defense against even a single incoming missile tipped with a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead. Since a nation as desperate and poor as North Korea has already demonstrated an ability to reach the United States with a ballistic missile, and since the ability to shoot down one such missile has already been achieved, deterrence advocates view this dereliction and delay by the Clinton-Gore security team as unconscionable -- comparable to its laxity in the area of national security that has resulted in the theft and transfer of America's nuclear and strategic arsenal to Communist China and its allies.

In response to the Bush initiative, the arms controllers have claimed that building such a system would upset our allies and undermine the 1972 ABM Treaty -- never mind that it was signed with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, or that the Soviet Union, when it did exist, systematically violated its terms. And never mind that China has never signed the ABM Treaty. The Clinton-Gore administration does not want to implement a defense that might antagonize the governments of either Russia or China, or upset our allies.

A truly effective missile defense system will of course be opposed by all other states (including our allies), since its purpose is to neutralize the aggressive abilities of all other states. The question is: Is there any other way to guarantee our security? In the deterrence view, achieving a comprehensive missile defense is not only worth the diplomatic price; the opposition one can expect from other nations is the very reason for the defense itself. States do not share a common interest, and can only be trusted to pursue their own; therefore, any other kind of defense entails risks that are unacceptable. There is one qualification to this proposition and that is that democracies, which are open societies and therefore far less likely to cheat on agreements, provide an exception. Bush has already accommodated this exception by proposing to include our democratic allies in the missile shield.

The security issue was joined in the presidential campaign as a result of Bush's May proposal to build a sea-based and space-based anti-missile defense system that would provide an effective shield against missile attack for the United States and its allies, and that would itself be invulnerable to attack. The Bush plan would in effect implement the Strategic Defense Initiative launched by Reagan.

In his May speech Bush accused the Clinton-Gore administration of denying the need for a national missile defense system and delaying its development. For seven years the administration had refused to act on this issue, until finally the Republican Congress authorized the development of an anti-missile defense system last year and Clinton signed the bill. He did so, however, with the caveat that he would defer a decision on whether to actually develop such a system until this August, less than six months before the end of his term.

In the last few weeks, the Clinton-Gore administration has finally become a convert to some form of missile defense -- cynics might say a form sufficient to cover Gore's vulnerability, but not the American people's. Gore has proposed a limited, land-based (and therefore vulnerable) missile defense system, which would be built in Alaska, and would be sufficient to deter "rogue states" like North Korea and Iran. But North Korea and Iran are really client states of China. Like most of Gore's proposals, this one seems focus-group designed. In this case, however, the focus group consists of China and Russia in one corner, and the American voter in the other.

Until recently, the American voter was blissfully unaware of the derelictions of the Clinton-Gore team on the missile defense issue. It was the successful launch of a North Korean "Taepo Dong" ICBM capable of reaching Alaska and probably California that has brought the issue into focus. The United States, today, has no defense against North Korea's Taepo Dong missile. If the American people were to become aware of the fact that eight years of administration inaction had made them vulnerable to a nuclear attack by North Korea, that awareness could very well impact the Democratic curve in the tracking polls.

And this is just the tip of an iceberg of bad national security news that the Clinton-Gore administration, abetted by a friendly press, has managed to keep under the surface of the political waters. What if the American electorate began to ask other questions? For example: What happened to America's technological advantage? Why are underdeveloped "rogue states" like North Korea, Iraq, Iran and even Libya potentially in possession of technologies that can overwhelm America's defenses? Might this have some relation to the policies of the Clinton-Gore "strategic partners" in Moscow and Beijing, who have systematically spread those technologies to their allies in Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea?

Might this security disaster be the result of the systematic removal of security controls by the Clinton-Gore White House, which allowed American missile, satellite and computer technologies to be transferred to the Communist regime in China, which in turn gave (or sold) them to its allies in Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea?

And might all this have something to do with the infamous Buddhist Temple affair and the long-term funding of the Clinton-Gore electoral machine by illegal monies flowing directly or indirectly from the Chinese regime? Would we not know more about these issues except for the refusal of over 100 witnesses to testify before congressional investigating committees -- the same witnesses who were abetted and encouraged in their resistance by the Clinton-Gore team?

When, in the 1930s, Japan disregarded the pieties of the Kellogg-Briand Pact to build an aggressive force and attack Pearl Harbor, America was ultimately protected by its geography -- the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, which no aircraft at the time could traverse without refueling. As a result America was provided with a chance to regroup and make up the arms deficit caused by its adherence to the agreements it had so idealistically, and myopically, relied on. During the Cold War and the early stages of missile technology, America enjoyed a significant edge over its adversaries that partially made up for the loss of this geographical advantage.

But the Clinton-Gore administration's voluntary release of all the secrets of America's nuclear tests, combined with the systematic theft of the secrets that were left as a result of its lax security controls, effectively wiped out America's technological edge. Since China is the world's No. 1 proliferator of nuclear secrets, this catastrophe also seriously diminished America's advantage over such scrupulous observers of international accords as Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il and Muammar Qaddafi.

Now, the Clinton-Gore team is even proposing that America share its anti-ballistic missile technologies with some of these nations. Appeasement of Russian and Chinese sensibilities is apparently more important than achieving the most effective defense America can build. The controllers' argument is that if we don't appease the Russians and Chinese, there will be a new arms race and a new Cold War.

But there already is an arms race with Russia and China (and the "rogue states" as well). If there is not, why did China, for example, feel the need to steal our nuclear secrets? Why did the Chinese regime invest so much money in the Clinton-Gore campaigns? Why did it press so hard to have the administration remove the security controls that governed commerce and thus gained it access to previously banned missile and satellite technologies and super-computers?

The answer to these questions is obvious, and ominous. It provides a very good reason for supporting the presidential candidacy of George W. Bush.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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