Committee Of Correspondence

How to Defend America Against Missile Attack

Herb Stein
2:25 p.m.  Friday  7/5/96

The question of defending the United States and its interests against attack by missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction, obviously important in itself, has been raised to public attention by the 1996 election campaign. One of Robert Dole’s last acts as senator was to try to obtain passage of a bill requiring the administation to deploy by 2003 a defense against a limited and unsophisticated attack upon the United States and to proceed with the development of a more comprehensive system. This measure was defeated by Democrats supporting the Clinton administration’s plan for deployment confined to protection of forces outside the United States and a research and development effort without commitment to deployment beyond that. In this year’s election campaign Mr. Dole is attacking President Clinton for failure to defend America. The difference between Mr. Dole and the administration does not exhaust the range of opinions about what America should do. There are some who believe that nothing at all should be done. Others think that we should proceed more rapidly to deploy, before 2003, the kinds of defenses believed to be available with existing knowledge. Others would also urge a more intensive effort to develop defenses against the more sophisticated methods of attack that they believe will soon become available to potential aggressors. Differences of opinion about policy result from several differences about the facts: How real is the threat, or when and on what scale is it likely to become real as to the United States, to its forces abroad, and to its interests abroad? What defense technologies are now available or likely to become available? What would be the costs of alternative defense systems? What priority should an “insurance policy” against missile attack have as compared with other claims on the nation’s resources? What actions by the United States would violate the ABM (Anti-Ballistic-Missile) Treaty with Russia that limits deployment of defensive systems? What would be the consequences of violating the treaty, or abrogating it? To discuss these issues we have a panel of experts with widely differing views. They are: Morton Halperin, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, John Rhinelander, Walter Slocombe.