Not deploying SDI is simply MAD

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted April 17, 2000

Back in the 1950's when I first began to participate in public policy matters (then mainly as a national Forensic League debater), the mantra of the arms control crowd was that we should not develop our own missile defense system because it would be destabilizing to the Soviet Union. The arms controllers were then new to our defense and foreign policy process. They emerged right after our victory in the Second World War and began to argue that the United States should not press its strategic advantage in the world because this would make us the aggressor nation.

The arms control crowd at first was not especially popular, but as they gained respectability they grew in influence. From the days of the Kennedy Administration until the presidency of Ronald Reagan the arms controllers had the upper hand and helped to shape our defense and even foreign policy. That policy reached its zenith during the so-called era of detente during which treaties were negotiated with the Soviets which reigned in our technological superiority and tended to give the Soviets parity when it came to missile defense.

The most significant of those agreements was the Anti Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty. That treaty basically prevented us from developing our own defensive missile system, which was well on its way toward deployment when we inked the agreement with Moscow. The ABM treaty has been the instrument which has been used by the arms controllers all of these years to stop this country from engaging its vast technological superiority in the mission of defending our own people. The ABM treaty, concluded in the Nixon era, was signed with the Soviet Union.

Along came Ronald Reagan, who shifted our defense strategy from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) where each side had enough missiles to blow each other up but not enough to be clearly superior, to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which was aimed at developing a missile defense system for the purpose of defending ourselves from any enemy who might deploy missiles from abroad. The Soviets and the arms controllers both cried "foul" when Reagan made this move but his Administration persisted.

That change in strategy as well as Reagan's policy of turning off the subsidies this nation was providing to keep the Soviet system afloat were two of the factors that contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union. We signed the ABM treaty with the Soviets but the Soviets no longer existed. The arms controllers tried to insist that the treaty that we had signed with the Soviets was still in force with respect to Russia. But even Russia wasn't anxious to buy that formula; that would mean that Russia then had to accept all sorts of other obligations from the Soviet days that they now wished to be rid of. Ultimately, the argument that the ABM treaty was still Holy Writ failed and even the Clinton Administration has now begun, albeit very reluctantly, to accept that reality.

The arms controllers, sensing that they were going to ultimately lose the ABM treaty argument, have done their best to suggest that the technology necessary to make SDI (or "Star Wars" as they like to call it) work just is not feasible. They have failed in that respect as well. Despite unconscionable infighting among the various branches of the armed services, it is clear that the technology for a simple missile defense system is at hand and it does work.

So having once again been detoured in their effort to keep phony arms control policies alive, this same arms control crowd now has another party line. It boils down to this: We must ask permission of Russia and receive it before we can develop a defensive missile system. And if Russia gives us permission, then, of course, they can dictate the nature and extent to which the system can be deployed.

That doctrine is even more dangerous than all the others they have promulgated over the years. That a sovereign nation such as the United States needs permission of another sovereign nation to determine what sort of missile defense system will protect its own people is outrageous. This idea is gaining momentum, however, and is the excuse which not just the arms controllers but some nervous liberal Republicans have been waiting for to re-assert dominance over our defense and foreign policy.

It is as dangerous an idea as has been seen on the international scene for at least half a century. We have largely blown the strategic opportunity given the West when the Soviet Union collapsed a decade ago. It is not clear if we will get a second chance. It has been our contention that, played correctly, Russia can become a strategic ally of the West. Right now she is anything but that. Right now the Russian people have just placed their presidency in the hands of a man about whom they and we know precious little. We know that Vladimir Putin means to reassert Russia's presence on the world stage. That is all well and good. We do not know if he will wish us well or not. We do not yet know if reasserting Russian power will be done constructively or destructively. That we should seek permission of such a power to determine our own defense is crazy, yet it has a certain appeal. Mind you, seeking Russia approbation is very different than inviting them to join us in what we have already determined to do. Ed Lozanksy, the President of the American University in Moscow, and an associate of the late Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov has long suggested joint development of a missile defense system. Actually, President Boris Yeltsin proposed as much during his first visit to the White House while George Bush was still president. Bush, instead of running with that ball, dropped it, sat on it and then hid it. Once Bill Clinton got in, the whole idea evaporated. Now President Putin has a chance to put that idea back on the table. Joint development or asking Russia to join us once we have made a determination about how we are going to develop a missile defense system ourselves is not only acceptable. It would solve a myriad of potential problems and roadblocks.

But once we let Russia determine what kind of system we will deploy, or how it will be deployed or to give them any role whatsoever in making a determination concerning the defense of our own people is the end of American self-determination.

The arms controllers hate the concept of sovereignty. They do not trust the United States, even though this has been their base of operations for the past half-century. Having failed to kill missile defense technology, having failed to convince the American people to give up their sovereignty in favor of the United Nations, this same crowd now wants to give our right to determine our future to Russia. As much as I can correctly be described as a Russophile, this cannot happen and will not happen if good people smell the rat which is being cooked by the arms controllers for our next Thanksgiving dinner.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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