Now that the president finally has announced his intention to rid us of that pesky Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I have decided to reconsider my concerns about strategic defense.
I used to worry that insurmountable technical barriers, combined with the lack of a clear strategic threat, made considerations of abrogating the long-standing ABM treaty premature. But clearly things have changed.
For example, some misguided critics may worry that the most recent successful test of our National Missile Defense technology was put off for several days because of bad weather. I am not worried, however, because I expect that any rogue state or terrorist cell would certainly not want to launch a surprise attack against this country if it were cloudy. After all, they would want to see the devastation their missiles had wreaked, and clouds would get in the way.
Some critics might worry because in this test, as in the last “successful” test of our NMD technology, the target missile carried a homing beacon that the interceptor was able to use to locate it. I am not worried, however, because I fully expect that any aggressor would want to know where their own weapons were located, and thus would arm their missiles not just with nuclear weapons, but with radios.
Some critics might argue that the ABM treaty has thus far not gotten in the way of testing a system that is sufficiently far from being “ready,” so that there is little justification to abrogate the treaty at the present time. But there is a new mood in the country and the world following Sept. 11. Now is clearly an opportune political time to move ahead on systems and unilateral actions that might otherwise be proposed on practical or diplomatic grounds.
Some critics might worry that China, with only 20 to 30 nuclear weapons, will now have good reason to ramp up its missile program so as to be able to overcome any limited defense system. I am not worried, however, because while our current plans would make them crazy not to do so, China’s leaders might have done this anyway.
Some critics might worry that devoting even more money to a hypothetical defense program that has thus far cost more than $700 billion over the past 25 years without producing a working prototype is poor strategic and economic policy. I am not worried, however, because now that we have officially committed to having budget deficits for the foreseeable future we do not have to be so picky in choosing how to spend defense dollars.
Some critics may be concerned that the Sept. 11 bombings demonstrate that the threats we face are more likely to come from diffuse terrorist organizations than from organized states with complex military industrial structures, and that even if such terrorists organizations did manage to possess nuclear weapons capabilities there are numerous covert ways to deliver them that make more strategic sense than putting them on a ballistic missile. However, I am not worried because the president has told us that everything has changed since Sept. 11, and that new urgent terrorist threats make all such traditional thinking obsolete.
Surely now is not the time to criticize our government’s unilateral initiatives on matters of international security. We are at war, and what might be previously construed as mere logic must now be carefully re-examined in case it opposes the administration’s interpretation of our vital national security interests. After all, I wouldn’t want to have to start worrying about being called before a secret tribunal to defend my views.
* Krauss is chairman of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs.
(c) 2001 The Plain Dealer.