Of AIDS and Missiles


In the post-cold war world, there are threats to national security. The trick is distinguishing the real from the manufactured ones and deciding how to counter them. The past weeks have offered an edifying demonstration of how the national security class handles the important task of threat assessment. The Clinton Administration has designated AIDS a danger to US national security, noting that the rapid spread of the killer disease abroad-especially in Africa-could destabilize nations, spark ethnic warfare and prevent the growth of free-market democracies. A National Intelligence Estimate projected that one out of four people in southern Africa will likely die from AIDS and that other regions-southern Asia and parts of the former Soviet Union-might suffer a similar "demographic catastrophe." The White House move was commendable, a refreshing change from the Al Gore-led effort to bully South Africa into overturning laws, opposed by the pharmaceutical companies, that would make AIDS drugs cheaper.

But although the Administration was willing to expand national security interests beyond the traditional military and economic concerns, it has been reluctant to battle the threatmongers on the right who proclaim that the United States is menaced by a nuclear missile attack from "rogue nations"-most notably, North Korea, Iran and Iraq-and who assert that the Pentagon must build a national missile defense system (a lesser Star Wars) to thwart this danger. President Clinton will decide this fall whether to go ahead with a limited system. Gore has blasted George W. Bush for supporting an extensive antimissile program but supports a limited shield. That support reinforces the argument that a threat does exist and must be countered by missiles that can hit other missiles.

The threat of AIDS overseas is more real than, say, North Korean missiles. The Administration is considering removing North Korea from its terrorism list, and it has offered to end economic sanctions if Pyongyang eliminates its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs-an initiative that ought to be tried before rushing to build an antimissile defense system. As for the other rogues, Iran has taken tentative steps toward democracy, and Iraq's ability to develop new missiles is hindered by international sanctions.

The difference in the resources to be applied to these two threats is staggering. Regarding overseas AIDS, the Administration has doubled its budget request-increasing it to $254 million. That's less than one- tenth of 1 percent of the US military budget. The United States has already spent more than $120 billion on missile defense weapons without deploying an effective system. The current Clinton budget calls for $12.7 billion in missile defense spending over the next five years. …

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