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Critical Security Policy Developments This Week

Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM

National Security Alert

The stunning success Friday of the Navy's Aegis-based anti-missile program in performing an unscripted mid-course intercept of a mock ballistic missile warhead is expected to precipitate a wholesale reconsideration of past official representations deprecating the feasibility of near-term, sea-based missile defenses.

This first demonstration of the capabilities of the new SM-3 missile offers hard evidence that those who insisted heretofore that it would take as much as 12 years to develop effective ship-borne anti-missile systems may have been motivated by other than purely technical considerations.

When this reality is combined with a clear-eyed appreciation for the inherent advantages of using the existing Aegis infrastructure for missile defense – notably, its inherent mobility and flexibility, its ability to be brought to bear in much of the world without securing other nations' permission in advance, and the fact that the preponderance of the necessary investment has already been made (i.e., roughly $60 billion spent to procure 61 Aegis cruisers and destroyers, with 25 more on the ways) – the bottom line is obvious.

If President Bush is serious about beginning quickly to defend the American people against missile attack, he must exercise the Aegis option. In fact, sea-based missile defenses may offer the only means of providing appreciable anti-missile protection before the end of his first term.

It will be interesting to observe whether Mr. Bush is able to exercise the leadership, and to secure the managerial and technical support, needed to achieve that sorely needed capability.

An early opportunity to set the nation on such a course will occur when President Bush provides his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. His determination to use that occasion to emphasize his commitment to national defense and homeland security was telegraphed during his speech last week to the Reserve Officers Association.

In his remarks to the ROA, Mr. Bush – to his great credit – put the public and the Congress on notice: The United States "will invest in more precision weapons, in missile defenses, in unmanned vehicles, in high-tech equipment for soldiers on the ground."

The president correctly explained that "the tools of modern warfare are effective. They are expensive. But in order to win this war against terror, they are essential. Buying these tools may put a strain on the budget, but we will not cut corners when it comes to the defense of our great land."

He will, of course, confront opposition from legislators who have made entire careers of cutting precisely such corners.

Therefore, it behooves him and his subordinates to mount a major – and sustained – campaign to acquaint the American people with the true costs of correcting a decade or more of malign neglect of our military and the need for this year's down payment on what should be a consistent allocation of 4 percent of gross domestic product to the first business of government – providing for the "common defense."

A decision is expected from President Bush by Monday following weekend leaks that Secretary of State Colin Powell wants Taliban and al-Qaeda "detainees" now incarcerated at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, to be accorded Prisoner of War status until (as he reportedly expects) they are determined not to warrant that status.

It can only be hoped that it won't take Mr. Bush very long to add this Powell position to the growing list of policy prescriptions he has rejected from that quarter.

The president should, instead, stick with the stance that such individuals meet the description of unlawful combatants spelled out in the Geneva Convention, a stance properly endorsed by Mr. Bush's White House counsel, attorney general and secretary of defense.

It would be counterproductive in the extreme to accord the detainees the status of lawful combatants, even temporarily, in the vain hope that doing so will appease Secretary Powell's clients – and the president's harshest critics – abroad.

Agence France Presse reported recently that the 19-member NATO alliance will "come under attack" this week from "an imaginary 'Amberland' force" as part of war games exercises intended to test the organization's crisis management skills.

The scenario reportedly will involve an "Article 5" attack by what is described as a "fictional foe contiguous to NATO territory." Sounds like Iraq to us, and a very good threat for the Atlantic Alliance to be modeling.

Actual troops will not be deployed. Rather, the exercise will feature what are being called "virtual maneuvers" involving only participants from the civil and military staff at NATO headquarters and in national capitals.

Confining such important training to command-post drills likely reflects in part at least an unpleasant reality: The European Union's part of NATO continues to underfund its member nations' armed forces – spending, according to Business Week, at a rate of "about 2% of ... gross domestic product, or some $205 billion, into the military, vs. the U.S.'s $343 billion, or some 3% of GDP."

If this keeps up, it is likely that not only the Alliance's exercises but also its non-U.S. military capabilities will prove to be more virtual than real.

The chairman of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, will travel to the United States this week to meet with President Bush, be a featured guest at the State of the Union address and discuss the ongoing war on terrorism and the future of Afghanistan. During his visit to this country, Mr. Karzai will also address the United Nations.

In addition to helping legitimize the Karzai government – which is likely to be the best Afghanistan will produce for the foreseeable future – this visit should provide a vehicle for the United States to arrange a common front with Mr. Karzai against Russian, Iranian, Saudi and Pakistani efforts to undermine his government.

The two leaders should put these and other so-called coalition partners on notice that such behavior clearly puts them in the "against us" camp, rather than the "with us" one, of which they purportedly wish to be part.

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National Security Alert The stunning success Friday of the Navy's Aegis-based anti-missile program in performing an unscripted mid-course intercept of a mock ballistic missile warhead is expected to precipitate a wholesale reconsideration of past official...
Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM
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