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Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2001 / 7 Shevat, 5761

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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The missile defense decision -- SHORT OF putting a sign outside the Pentagon saying "Under New Management," it is hard to imagine a more dramatic indication of the change of leadership at the Defense Department than Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's first response at his first press conference on Friday.

The question came from Reuter's Charlie Aldinger, the dean of the DoD press corps: "During your confirmation hearings, you...appeared to deride the ABM Treaty as ancient history. Are you and the United States ready to scrap that treaty, even if it means sour ties with the allies?"

Secretary Rumsfeld answered: "I don't think I was disparaging of the treaty. I think I compared it as being as ancient as I am....It was a long time ago that that treaty was fashioned. Technologies were notably different, the circumstances in the world were notably different. The Soviet Union, our partner in that treaty, doesn't exist anymore. The focus that we necessarily had during the Cold War was on attempting to have a stable situation, given two nations with overwhelming nuclear capabilities. And all of that has changed.

"We're in a very different world. The Soviet Union is gone. The principal threats facing the United States are not the fear of a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. And it strikes me that we should accept the treaty in that sense. And I...personally believe it [ought] not to inhibit a country, a president, an administration, a nation, from fashioning offensive and defensive capabilities that will provide for our security in a notably different national security environment.

"The president has not been ambiguous about this. He says he intends to deploy a missile defense capability for the country. He has concluded that it is not in our country's interest to perpetuate vulnerability. And the Russians know, they have to know, that the kinds of capabilities that are being discussed are not capabilities that threaten them in any way. They also have to know, if they look around the globe, that there are other threats; that there are nations with increasingly capable weapons that, because of the proliferation of technologies, are posing threats not just to the United States, but to other countries in Europe and to, ultimately, Russia. So I think it's something that's manageable...."

This statement bespeaks not only a level of maturity and sobriety about national security that is enormously refreshing, as well as urgently needed at this juncture. It also makes clear the seriousness of purpose with which President Bush and his national security team are pursuing the deployment of ballistic missile defenses.

Secretary Rumsfeld's comments come as he prepares to travel to Europe this week for the annual defense conclave in Munich known as Werkunde. This may be the most important of these meetings since 1983, when the NATO alliance was confronting strenuous opposition from the last KGB thug to run the Kremlin -- Yuri Andropov -- to the American-underwritten plan to deploy Pershing II and Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles in five West European countries.

Now, as then, the United States must provide leadership as well the wherewithal to help its allies meet their defense requirements and resist the combination of sticks and carrots the Russians are wielding to block the deployment of American missile defenses. Fortunately, in Donald Rumsfeld, the Nation has a man who can persuasively convey to U.S. allies that the Bush Administration's commitment is to provide anti-missile protection to their people and territory, as well as our own. He can describe for them how this country intends promptly to deploy missile defenses in places like the Mediterranean aboard our Aegis fleet air defense ships, offering near-term protection from the emerging capabilities of countries like Libya, Iran and Iraq to deliver weapons of mass destruction to European soil via long-range ballistic missiles.

Surely some in the left-wing governments that run Europe today will continue to cavil against such a "destabilizing" initiative. But most will find it untenable to denounce the United States for coming once again to the aid of her allies when their security is threatened. A significant straw in the wind in this regard was to be found in an editorial published on January 15 by Britain's left-of-center newspaper The Independent. It said, in part: Fortunately for us, the Americans could only protect themselves by protecting us....The Americans may receive little gratitude for national missile defense, but yet again, they will be making a large and disinterested financial sacrifice in the cause of world peace."

Make no mistake, the Kremlin will try to succeed in 2001 where it failed two decades ago. It will squeeze our allies in the hope of causing the new American administration to make the fatal mistake of delaying the deployment of missile defenses. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against such a deployment, causing visiting NATO Secretary General George Robertson to wring his hands and assure his host that the alliance would not let the United States do something rash.

Such fawning is all the more reprehensible in light of a reality that Putin has chosen not to acknowledge -- and that NATO and Washington have, to date, been unwilling to address: The former Soviet Union has a deployed territorial anti-ballistic missile system of its own, constructed in violation of the very ABM Treaty to which Mr. Putin and his friends aver such loyalty. As former career intelligence officer William Lee has documented, the Russian system includes not only a limited site defense around Moscow but a network of radars and some 10,000 surface-to-air missiles capable of providing considerable protection nationwide. It is undergoing further modernization even now with the construction of a new missile warning and tracking radar in Belarus. (I treat this important subject at somewhat greater length in an article on missile defense featured in the current edition of Commentary Magazine.)

For all these reasons, the new Pentagon management -- and the Bush Administration more generally -- must seize the day. The stakes for the West associated with once again overcoming Kremlin opposition and providing for the common defense are every bit as high as they were in the early 1980s. Now, as then, Russia will get over it once the decision is taken and the deployment begun. There is no time to waste in getting those steps accomplished.

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


01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
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.