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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2000 / 15 Kislev, 5761

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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Sabotaging space power -- IN THE SUMMER of 1998, the Clinton-Gore Administration was suddenly traumatized by a man named Donald Rumsfeld. For the preceding five years, its senior officials had been manfully arguing that the Nation faced no threat from ballistic missile attack. They even manipulated the available intelligence data and analyses to support the party line that such a danger would not materialize for at least fifteen years.

For five years, it worked, and the Administration was able to stave off successive efforts by congressional Republicans to deploy anti-missile defenses.

Then suddenly everything changed. A blue-ribbon commission, comprised of members appointed by both Republicans and Democrats and brilliantly led by former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, rendered its findings. The Rumsfeld Commission concluded that the evidence and more realistic assumptions made it likely that, in addition to existing threats to the American homeland from Russia and China, the United States would face the possibility of ballistic missile attack from Iran and North Korea within as little as five years of a decision by these rogue states to acquire long-range missiles. Since the U.S. could not be sure when such a decision was taken, the Commission warned that the Nation could have "little or no warning" that a threat was emerging from these quarters.

Within a month, the Rumsfeld Commission's "second opinion" was confirmed. North Korea demonstrated that it had mastered the capability to design, produce and fly a three-stage ballistic missile. Thanks to this technology, Pyongyang -- and anybody dictator Kim Jong-Il cared to share it with -- could quickly have an intercontinental range missile capable of attacking the United States with weapons of mass destruction. The debate in this country changed profoundly; today, with the imminent installation of President-elect Bush, the Nation is at last poised to begin deploying defenses against such a threat.

I mention all this because the Clinton-Gore team appears to have learned its lesson about Don Rumsfeld. Earlier this year, Congress turned to the former Secretary of Defense once again to lead yet another high-level, bipartisan effort. This one is charged with sorting out the facts and recommending changes with regard to a national policy issue every bit as momentous as defending America against missile threats: This country's urgent -- and growing -- need to be able to exercise space power.

Broadly defined, space power requires having assured access to and use of space -- and the ability, if necessary, to deny such access and use to potential adversaries. The United States' dependence upon outer space for both its national and economic security is immense. Prospective adversaries recognize this as a potentially decisive vulnerability; several are working hard at acquiring the means to impede, if not to deny altogether, America's exploitation of space and/or to use space against us (for example, by acquiring near-real-time intelligence about U.S. force movements) in any future conflicts.

Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore Administration has left the Nation ill-prepared to exercise space power. Before the Supreme Court took away the line-item veto, Mr. Clinton used it to try to terminate three Defense Department programs that would have afforded some limited capability to operate in and control outer space. Despite its laudable rhetorical policies concerning the need for American space power, the Administration has yet to provide the capabilities needed to implement such policies.

Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the necessary, if not sufficient, precondition to space power: reliable, ready and affordable access to space. The United States today is locked into space launch systems and their large and ponderous infrastructure that have had problems with reliability, are incapable of rapidly placing payloads in orbit and are staggeringly expensive to operate.

The Administration has made matters worse by encouraging the use of foreign launch services. It has, notably, transferred militarily relevant space technology to Communist China so that Beijing can offer access to space to American businesses and other users -- effectively precluding the sort of indigenous U.S. launch industry upon which the country's future economic competitiveness and national security will depend.

Given the composition of the current Rumsfeld Commission -- an impressive array of knowledgeable and thoughtful national security practitioners -- and its chairman's demonstrated leadership abilities, it seems highly likely that their findings about the need for space power will be roughly as momentous as the earlier Rumsfeld panel's conclusions about the missile threat.

In particular, the current effort will surely conclude that the United States must have the means to get into space whenever the need arises. Done properly, this would mean having access to the exoatmosphere comparable to that afforded by military, or even commercial, aircraft to the endoatmosphere -- that is, employing reusable spacecraft on a sortie-like basis. The result would be rapid turn-arounds and costs so low that not even the heavily subsidized expendable launch systems of socialist nations would be able to compete. The technology for such a revolutionary capability and the space power it would afford the United States could be rapidly brought to bear were there a will to do so.

Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore Administration hopes this week to preempt the new Rumsfeld Commission. It intends to sign a bilateral agreement with the Russians that would oblige the United States to provide between thirty days and twenty-four hours advance notice of virtually any space launches. The practical effect of such an arrangement -- which the Administration hopes shortly to multilateralize -- would be to lock the Nation into the existing way of doing business, precluding sortie-like operations in space and, thereby, creating new bureaucratic impediments to giving such an approach to space access the priority and funds it requires.

This is too high a price to pay for a Clinton "legacy." The deal with Russia should be put on ice at least until after the current Rumsfeld Commission issues its report in mid-January. All we are saying is give space power a chance.

JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


12/05/00: Preempting Bush
11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
11/14/00: The world won't wait

© 2000, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.