The Cost of Underestimating Weapons of Mass Destruction

Article excerpt

Richard Grenier oversimplifies the threat weapons of mass destruction pose to national security ("The Asian missile threat faces West," Op-Ed, July 24). He derides the "antique" Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as the reason American cities are vulnerable to weapons of mass destruction.

Clearly, ABM systems are inconsistent with the ABM Treaty, an agreement the United States entered into and remains a party to freely and in good faith. If national security requires that we stop observing the treaty's limits, we should abrogate it as openly as we are now party to it.

However, the choice is not that simple. The ABM Treaty promotes stability in the strategic relationship between the United States and Russia, which is valuable, considering that each country retains the capability to devastate the other in less than an hour. Moreover, more obstacles stand in the way of missile defense than a treaty or even a president.

ABM Treaty notwithstanding, the United States has spent more than $100 billion on missile defense programs, $51 billion since President Reagan proposed a nationwide missile defense in his "star wars" speech of 1983. While proponents argue that "star wars" contributed to the Soviet Union's collapse, it did not provide the capability to destroy a single incoming warhead. The United States lacks missile defenses because it is technically difficult to destroy even an antique missile, such as Saddam Hussein's Scud. The capability to destroy a modern intercontinental ballistic missile warhead, which can be much smaller, several times as fast and equipped with countermeasures and can come in salvos of 10 or more per missile, is not demonstrated.

Countries other than Russia could pose threats with weapons of mass destruction, but neutralizing their missile capability may not reduce this threat. Contrary to Mr. Grenier's assertion, missiles do not vaporize cities; nuclear weapons do. …