Let it Be Our Legacy: Making America Safe with Missile Defense

American civilians at home aren’t protected. That’s a key lesson we learned September 11.

We spend billions on defense every year and our enemies still can come to our workplaces and kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Other than a certain degree of mismanagement that any huge bureaucracy is prone to, the billions we spend on national defense haven’t been wasted. If the U.S. had not had a strong military these past decades, the Soviet Union would have expanded into Western Europe and beyond, and the extinct Soviet dictatorship probably would still be repressing hundreds of millions of people. Maybe ourselves included. Certainly some of our key allies.

Our military does a great job. Best in the world, bar none. And, except in the instance of all-out thermonuclear war, no one seriously doubts its ability to protect the continued existence of the United States as a nation.

But, as the events of September 11 proved, Americans don’t want to settle for keeping the nation alive. We want our people alive, too.

President Bush is absolutely right to make the terrorism war his #1 priority of his Administration. But while the President is leading the nation and our allies as we eliminate the international terrorist network, we still will have the resources to achieve other goals.

The first of these goals should be an all-out effort to advance the technology necessary to develop a first-rate missile defense system, and to provide the resources necessary to deploy it. Critics say it can’t work and costs too much. Tests this past July have shown it can work, and that an annual outlay of under $15 billion1 – the price tag of the September airline bailout that sailed through Congress with scarcely any debate and wide public support – could do the job. For 2002, the Bush Administration sought only a little more than half that — $8.3 billion.2

We even have cheaper options that could help protect us from missiles from terrorist-supporting rogue states. As reported in High Frontier’s Strategic Issues Policy Brief, Rear Admiral Rodney Rempt, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for missile defense, says an emergency sea-based global missile defense designed to intercept missiles from North Korea could be ready in 12 to 18 months and cost $150 to $200 million. An enhanced system that could intercept missiles from Libya and North Korea could be ready in 4 to 5 years at a cost of $1.4 to $1.8 billion. An even more advanced system that could defend against both Iranian missiles and even more capable North Korean missiles could, he says, be tested within 6 years at a cost of $3.5 – $4.5 billion.3

Threats to world stability often emerge far faster than anticipated. Just this summer, who among us expected we’d be at war today? Given this fact, we can’t assume we won’t be facing incoming missiles when today’s kindergartners are in high school.

Between 35 to 40 countries now have some missile capability, and up to 18 have nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads with which to arm them.4 This number will increase.

We are capable of building a defensive system that can attack and destroy incoming missiles as they are launched, while they are in flight, or while they approach their target. We can’t guarantee 100% success every time, but – if we build the system – we’ll have three chances to shoot down every missile. Think of each destroyed missile as 10 million lives saved, and you might think it worth the same price as the recent airline bailout.

Some folks say we should not build a missile defense system now because it won’t be an immediate weapon in the current fight against terrorism. We delude ourselves if we assume that the war on terrorism will be over this year. We could have a missile defense system before it is over, and we could need it. Terrorist-supporting nations including Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya have missile-building programs.5

There has been much talk in recent years about the “greatest generation” – those Americans who fought and won World War II. It is a new century now, and it is time for a new such generation. What greater gift could we leave to future Americans than safety and security? Let it be the legacy of this generation that we made America safe.

Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].


1 For additional discussion of the costs of building a missile defense system, see Heritage Foundation Backgrounder 1461 “Moving Forward on Missile Defense,” July 20, 2001, by Jack Spencer, available on the Internet at http://www.heritage.org/library/backgrounder/bg1461.html.
2 See “Decision Brief No. 01-D 44: The Bush Missile Defense Plan: Good As Far As It Goes — But It Doesn’t Go Far Enough,” Center for Security Policy, July 12, 2001.
3 “Rempt: “No Showstoppers” To Building Sea-Based Global Missile Defense,” Strategic Issues Policy Brief, High Frontier, October 3, 2001
4 Remarks by Iain Duncan Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Defense, the United Kingdom, published by the Heritage Foundation as Heritage Lectures Series #695 “The European Case for Missile Defense,” March 2, 2001, available on the Internet at http://www.heritage.org/library/lecture/hl695.html.
5 Missile Defense Briefing Report No. 20, American Foreign Policy Council, Washington, DC, September 7, 2001.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.