The foremost responsibility of the federal government is to protect its citizens from foreign attack. But that must not lead to irresponsible spending on military hardware that does not provide for that national defense.
The missile defense shield touted by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 has never been even close to being fully realized technologically. Twenty-six years later, the world has changed greatly, as even fans of Mr. Reagan’s saber-rattling foreign policy would concede. Then, it was a threat of nuclear weapons launched by the Soviet Union, either from its satellite nations in Eastern Europe or from the Soviet Union itself. The targets were in the U.S. and in central and western European nations, members of the NATO alliance.
Now, most foreign policy analysts would agree the greatest nuclear threat lies in a bomb delivered by a terrorist by land or sea, not from a missile. Threats also exist from North Korea, which recently has flexed its missile muscles by testing delivery systems, and from Iran, which has been working, apparently intermittently, at developing a nuclear weapon and missile system.
So instead of building a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, the U.S. under President Barack Obama is focusing on new systems aimed at containing new threats. The president has taken heat from congressional hawks, including his election rival Sen. John McCain, for back-ing down in the face of the Russians, who also have flexed military muscle in recent years.
Speaking of the president’s move, William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, told The New York Times: “The politics of this was driving him in the other direction, against appearing to back down. But he went with where the technology is today — and where the threat is to-day.”
The president will maintain anti-missile bases built by the previous administration in California and Alaska. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, first appointed by President George W. Bush, has said that North Korea and Iran are likely decades away from developing delivery systems that would threaten the mainland U.S., according to the Times. Those two nations do, however, pose regional threats.
If the U.S. is to invest the huge sums of money it takes to build a working missile defense system, it ought to be a shield that can help – technologically or diplomatically – bring security to the world’s top hot spot, the Middle East.