Clinton-era SecDef: Now is no time to cut missile defense

William Cohen wonders what genius thought a cut in missile defense was a good idea when rogue nations are busily launching missiles and testing nukes in defiance of the UN and the US.  Actually, his boss didn’t think much of missile defense, either, but Cohen takes his argument to the Washington Times today to scold Barack Obama for actively cutting funding for the one system that could neutralize threats such as Kim Jong-Il:

Since words have no impact upon North Korea’s stratagems and actions, the U.S. should say little in response and give that country even less when it comes to economic assistance. Kim Jong-il has built a throne of swords; he should be made to sit on it.

It should be noted that the rationale for constructing a missile-defense system was not only to defend our homeland against the mad or messianic of limited means, but also to serve as a last resort against an accidental launch of an ICBM by a major power.

Reducing the funding commitment to our missile-defense system by $1.4 billion, as the Obama administration has done, sends the signal that we do not take the threats of rogue regimes seriously, and are willing to take the risk that current technologies are sufficient to prevent devastating accidents or miscalculations.

Given the disturbing geopolitical events that are now unfolding, it is imperative that we err on the side of safety. The consequences are too grave to allow our leadership to claim at some future time that they were taken by surprise.

Cutting missile-defense funding at this critical juncture sends the wrong signal to both our adversaries and our allies. It would embolden North Korea, Iran and other rogue states to pursue missiles of increasing range. It would also confuse our allies and undermine their trust in America’s security guarantees. If the United States is vulnerable to the threat of a missile attack by a rogue state, allies could lose confidence in America’s nuclear deterrent – which could lead nations such as Japan to pursue a nuclear deterrent of their own.

No one expects the missile-defense system to protect us from a rain of hundreds of missiles.  That’s precisely why the Russian opposition to missile-defense bases in Eastern Europe had nothing to do with the missile balance of power, but the political power the US had gained in that region at the expense of Moscow.  George Bush refused to retreat for that reason; he wanted to keep and extend American alliances as a bulwark against Vladimir Putin’s obvious empire-building as well as protect Europe from an Iranian threat that Russia has actively assisted.  Barack Obama gave all of that back in the first weeks of his presidency.

Cohen continues by noting that the only real way to end missile proliferation is to render them useless, especially in terms of single or low-number launches.  Developing missiles that can threaten the US or its allies is a very expensive process, and if we can knock them down, most countries won’t bother.  That doesn’t end the threat entirely, of course, as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons can get detonated from within the US or our allies by infiltration, but it does remove the missile attack as an option.

In the face of Pyongyang’s intransigence, we should be escalating our missile-defense research and deployment, and make a big show of it.  We should take shots at the next missile Kim launches to make the point; after all, if he wants to test, we can test our systems, too.  Cohen makes it harder for Obama to dismiss criticisms of his missile-defense policy, but in a rational administration, Kim’s actions this week would have mooted those policies by now.