blank.gif (51 bytes) Nevada: Defended or in
North Korean Crosshairs?

by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

ost Nevadans, like their counterparts across the United States, are unaware of a mind-boggling fact: Neither their state nor any other in the Union is protected against a real and growing danger—the prospect that an enemy might threaten, or even use, a ballistic missile-borne nuclear weapon against us.

For that matter, too few of our countrymen know very much about this emerging threat. A tremendous public service was recently performed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission that Congress asked him to chair. Its task was to examine the menace posed by rapidly proliferating ballistic missile technology. The Rumsfeld Commission’s conclusions were ominous indeed. Its members unanimously found that the United States today was likely to have "little or no warning" of emerging missile threats from countries like North Korea, Iran or perhaps Iraq.

Subsequent to the publication of this finding last July, its central judgment was tangibly confirmed by North Korea’s launch of a new three-stage ballistic missile—the Taepo Dong 1—that could, with minor improvements, reach Alaska and Hawaii. This demonstration of technological prowess suggests that Nevada and other parts of the western United States will shortly be in the cross-hairs of one of the most brutal and irrational totalitarian regimes on the planet.

An executive briefing held in Reno in October for the Nevada congressional delegation, state and local officials illustrated what this might mean for Nevadans and other Americans. Participants attending at the invitation of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, including Rep. Jim Gibbons and Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin, heard about the missile threat from a number of experts, including Dr. Daniel Fine, an internationally renowned MIT economist specializing in energy and natural resource issues.

Dr. Fine laid out a scenario in which a North Korea in the throes of economic meltdown might threaten to destroy Hoover Dam if the U.S. government did not satisfy its political or financial demands. According to Dr. Fine, in addition to the damage a missile-delivered nuclear weapon would do to the target area and that associated with the cascade of water down-stream, the loss of the irrigation made possible by this dam could devastate as much as 75 percent of California’s agricultural industry.

Residents of Nevada, California and, indeed, the country as a whole, are at risk of such blackmail or destruction for one reason: Hard as it may be to believe, the federal government has as a matter of policy deliberately left the American people vulnerable to ballistic missile attack. As a result of this policy, there is no anti-missile system in place today capable of stopping even a single ballistic missile from delivering a nuclear (or, for that matter, a chemical or biological) weapon against us with deadly effect.

This is especially extraordinary at a time when we must not only worry about rogue states like North Korea that are now acquiring the means to attack their enemies with such weapons of mass destruction. Russia and China already have significant numbers of these long-range missiles. The former is undergoing huge internal problems whose economic or political repercussions could result in an accidental launch of one or more ballistic missiles at the United States.

For its part, the Chinese leadership has already threatened us with a deliberate attack. As the New York Times reported in February, 1996, in late 1995 a senior officer of the People’s Liberation Army indicated to an American official that Los Angeles would be at risk if the U.S. interfered with Beijing’s campaign against Taiwan.

The good news is that the United States need no longer remain vulnerable to long-range missile attack. Thanks to an investment of over $50 billion made over the past two decades by the U.S. Navy in ships designed to protect the fleet against aircraft and cruise missiles, virtually the entire infrastructure needed to intercept longer-range, faster-flying ballistic missiles is already bought and paid for and in place on the world’s oceans.

For an additional investment of perhaps as little as $2-3 billion—spent out over some five years—this air defense system, currently designated AEGIS, could evolve to provide a highly capable anti-missile defense for American forces and allies overseas. If permitted to do so, this system could also begin to offer our people, cities and other critical assets the protection they deserve.

The bad news is that the Clinton Administration remains adamantly opposed to deploying such a defense. It places a higher priority on preserving an arms control agreement signed with the Soviet Union 26 years ago under the Cold War’s altogether different strategic circumstances. And this Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty expressly forbids the United States from defending its territory against ballistic missile attack.

A treaty that obliged us to keep our population vulnerable to wholesale destruction may or may not have made sense in 1972. It certainly makes no sense in today’s world where the other party no longer exists and a large and growing number of dangerous people either have or are seeking the means to exploit America’s vulnerability.

For this situation to change—for Nevada and the rest of the Nation to be protected against missile attack—our people must become aware of their danger and acquainted with the near-term, effective and affordable alternative to vulnerability afforded by the AEGIS Option.

They must also insist that their elected representatives in Washington take corrective action at once. NJ

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. formely held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. Currently serving as the Director of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, he was an expert testifying in missile defense briefings held in Reno last October.


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