PEACE THROUGH STRENGTHThe Long, Partisan Road to National Missile Defense

On September 30, President Bush signed a Defense appropriation that included a generous $9.1 billion for a national missile defense system.

The funding supports a program that most Americans see as an obvious need in the post 9-11 world, where rogue regimes and unstable governments are working to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

Yet, national missile defense remains a partisan issue-bitterly opposed by many liberals since its inception. This year’s increased funding for the program came easily only because of Republican gains in the 2002 elections.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R.-Colo.), chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, expressed some dismay about this continuing partisanship in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS.

“It should not be a partisan issue,” Allard said. “We don’t have many partisan votes in the Armed Services Committee, but on missile defense, we had a partisan vote where all of the Republicans voted for missile defense and all the Democrats voted against.”

HUMAN EVENTS queried all nine Democratic presidential candidates on their positions on missile defense. Only Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s campaign would verify that the candidate opposes the program outright. Others did not respond, although frontrunner Howard Dean said in a recent interview with the Associated Press that he would basically gut the missile defense program without eliminating it entirely. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts opposed national missile defense during the 1980s but has not taken a position on Bush’s missile plan-and did not vote on this year’s Defense appropriation that included funding for the plan.

Allard dismissed Democratic arguments that President Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty-which forbade the deployment of a nationwide missile defense-would somehow cause a new arms race.

“I think we can work with Russia,” he said. “Mutual defense is a far better policy than mutually assured destruction, that’s for sure.”

He added events since Bush exited the treaty have proven him right. “Since we have gotten out of the ABM treaty, I think our relationship [with Russia] has continued to move in a positive direction,” said Allard, citing a new nuclear arms reduction agreement and renewed economic cooperation between Russia and the U.S.

Allard also dismissed complaints by liberals that President’s plans to deploy the first elements of a missile defense system next year are somehow mendacious because such a system may not be fully operable. “Just like any system, it will need some modifications and changes, and with time it will get better,” Allard said. “And there has also been a possible contingency in mind out here that if we should happen to need it, at least we will have it in a way where it could give us some defense.”

Just last year, Democratic Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan led an effort to quietly remove key funding provisions from the program, killing it without leaving fingerprints. That effort failed only after Republicans made secret plans to wheel an ailing Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) onto the Senate floor to cast the 50th vote in favor of full missile defense funding (“Levin Tries to Kill Missile Defense”).

Allard said he does not see any obstacles to the deployment next year of a sea and land-based missile defense system, expected to cost more than $20 billion.

“I think it is moving along well,” he said, pointing to two upcoming missile defense tests, this winter and next spring.

Here is a chronology of the long, partisan march to national missile defense:

May 26, 1972:
ABM Treaty

  • U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prohibits either side from developing a nationwide missile defense system. The treaty enshrines the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), by which the only protection against pre-nuclear attack is the knowledge that massive retaliation will surely follow.
  • Nov. 18, 1975:
    End of Missile Defense Activity

  • Congress orders Army to shut down “Safeguard,” a primitive Nixon-era missile defense program, because it violates the ABM Treaty.
  • 1973-1983:
    Soviets Take Lead in Nuclear Arms Race

  • During this ten-year period, the United States increased its number of nuclear warheads only slightly, from 1,754 to 2,100. The Soviets, on the other hand, increased their warheads from 1,527 to 6,000 and aggressively deployed missiles in Europe, training them on Western capitals.
  • 1982:
    Reagan Commits to Deploying Missiles

  • Even as liberals advocate a so-called “nuclear freeze” that would leave the Soviets with a permanent advantage, President Ronald Reagan rules out such a move. Instead, he releases a statement that the U.S. will carry through with a previously planned nuclear buildup of intermediate range Pershing II nuclear missiles in Western Europe to counter Soviet missiles aimed at European cities.
  • Jan. 8, 1982 :
    Idea Proposed to Reagan

  • The “High Frontier” panel, privately advising Reagan, presents him with a paper underscoring that nuclear retaliation is not a true defense against nuclear attack, and that technology related to an anti-ballistic missile system has advanced since the ABM treaty. They recommend development of defenses against ICBMs.
  • March 23, 1983:
    SDI Launched

  • President Reagan unveils the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)-derisively called “Star Wars” by critics-in a nationally televised speech. Reagan argues it is morally superior to defend the nation against nuclear attack than to base the national defense on Mutual Assured Destruction. “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy ballistic missiles before they reached our soil or that of our allies?”
  • December 20, 1984:
    Soviets Upset

  • Mikhail Gorbachev, the Kremlin’s number-two man, visits London and tells Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the United States cannot be allowed to develop SDI. Thatcher refuses to be separate from Reagan, stating days later, “Wedge-driving is just not on.” Thatcher asserts the Soviets are secretly researching their own SDI program and lying about it-a fact that most people in the Defense community are aware of.
  • October 12, 1986:
    Reagan Walks Out

  • At the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, Reagan refuses to surrender SDI in return for short-term arms-control concessions from Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. He walks out of the summit, to the consternation of liberals. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) gripes: “That grand and historic opportunity was there in Iceland, but it has been sacrificed-at least for the moment-on the uncertain altar of SDI.” Gorbachev, years later, identified this act by Reagan as the beginning of the end for Soviet Communism.
  • June-September, 1987:
    Democrats Try to Kill SDI

  • Even as President Reagan pursues a policy to counter the Soviet Union’s ambitions and lead the Evil Empire to bankruptcy, Democrats work to undercut him by de-funding SDI. Senate Republicans are forced to filibuster the Defense Appropriations bill to remove from it restrictions on SDI funding. Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) leads the charge to de-fund the program. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.) points out that the Democratic bill will “be more than welcomed by the Soviets.”
  • August 3, 1988:
    Reagan Vetoes

  • Once again, Democrats try to keep SDI funding down. This time they succeed in passing a bill that cuts funding by about 20% below the President’s request. Reagan vetoes, saying, “The bill would signal a basic change in the direction of our national defense, a change away from strength and proven success and back toward weakness and accommodation of the 1970s.” Reagan ultimately compromises with Congress on the funding level and restrictions on SDI research.
  • January 1991:
    Real-Life Success for Missile Defense

  • The first real, live-fire engagement between ballistic missiles and a theater missile defense system occurs during the Gulf War. American Patriot missiles had some success against Iraqi Scuds fired at Israel and American troops in Saudi Arabia.
  • September 23, 1991:
    SDI Funded in Post-Cold War World

  • President George H. W. Bush and a Democratic Congress approve $3.8 billion in spending on development of a missile defense. Bush’s plan is to expand missile defense beyond U.S. borders, to protect U.S. allies and the armed forces deployed abroad from missile attacks by rogue nations. Sen. Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa) leads the unsuccessful effort to cut the funds.
  • December 5, 1991:
    Congress Officially Calls for NMD

  • President George H.W. Bush signs the Missile Defense Act of 1991, which mandates the Defense Department to develop and deploy a ground-based missile defense system by 1996. The measure easily passes a Democrat-controlled Congress, whose members recognize the popular appeal of the Patriot missiles resulting from the Gulf War.
  • November 11, 1993:
    Clinton Cuts Funding

  • President Clinton signs a defense bill dramatically cutting missile defense funding to $2.6 billion. The new spending also guts research into a strategic national missile defense, dedicating funding mostly for theater missile defense, referred to as LDS or a “Limited Defense System.” This narrow focus leads to the squandering of technological advances that had been made toward a national or global system.
  • May 14, 1997:
    Helms Plays Hardball

  • Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) blocks Clinton Administration plans to re-negotiate and re-legitimize the ABM treaty with the Soviet Union’s successor states. He succeeds by threatening to block other treaties and legislation Clinton wants. Eight years after the demise of the Soviet Union with which it had been made, the ABM Treaty is still championed by liberal Democrats. Helms’s actions makes it easier for the next president, George W. Bush, to abandon the treaty.
  • July 23, 1999:
    Democratic Lip Service for SDI

  • President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act, which states simply that “it is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense.” The popular measure passes the House easily with the vote of Dick Gephardt (D.-Mo.) and over the objection of Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio). It passes the Senate by unanimous consent, without a peep from Democrat Senators John Kerry (Mass.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), or John Edwards (N.C.).
  • September 1, 2000:
    Clinton Delays Deployment

  • As the election approaches, President Clinton declines to authorize deployment of a national missile defense. The technology for a missile shield, he argues, has not been proved.
  • April 10-May 1, 2001:
    Bush Stands Firm

  • Russia, China and North Korea tell the U.N. Disarmament Commission that a U.S. missile defense system would cause a new arms race and undermine the ABM Treaty. President Bush, undaunted, makes a public statement three weeks later: “We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today’s world.”
  • June 27, 2001:
    NMD Well-Funded

  • Bush submits his 2002 Defense budget to Congress, with $7 billion-later amended to $8.3 billion-for missile defense.
  • December 13, 2001:
    ABM Treaty Scuttled

  • Over Democrats’ objections, President Bush announces that the United States will unilaterally withdraw from the ABM treaty, effective June 2002. The move will allow the U.S. to develop and deploy a missile defense system. Liberals complain: “I think that it presents some very serious questions with regard to future arms races involving other countries,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) Some liberals actually argue that the September 11 terror attacks demonstrate the futility of missile defense.
  • May 24, 2002:
    Arms Reduction Treaty

  • Despite the “arms race” predicted by Daschle, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin sign an historic arms control treaty, calling on each country to reduce its nuclear warheads from roughly 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200.
  • June 25, 2002:
    Funding for Missile Defense

  • National Missile Defense funding survives a covert, futile attempt by Senate Democrats to strip out key elements of its funding (see “Levin Tries to Kill Missile Defense” at Congress ultimately provides $7.6 billion for research and development for fiscal 2003.
  • December 17, 2002:
    Bush Wants NMD by 2004

  • Emboldened by his party’s performance in the mid-term elections of 2002, President Bush orders the Pentagon to start deploying a national missile defense system by 2004. The system is expected to be the first layer of a system with several redundancies for safety in stopping enemy missiles.
  • March through May, 2003:
    Patriots Successful in Iraq

  • During the Iraq War, Saddam Hussein’s forces launch a series of missiles toward Kuwait City and U.S. military targets. Patriot 3 missiles prove even more effective in stopping enemy missiles than their predecessors in the Persian Gulf War.
  • September 30, 2003:
    Funding Boost for NMD

  • President Bush signs a Defense appropriations bill with $9 billion set aside for missile defense.