A Misguided Missile Policy

The recent failure of the third test of the Pentagon's antimissile defense system may be a blessing in disguise. It could provide time for Washington to work on its foreign policy. Until now, technological imperative has outpaced diplomatic initiative--getting the U.S. into more and more trouble.

Talk about deploying an antimissile defense system years before it can conceivably be ready is actually destabilizing the world. The embers of the cold war are being stirred by Russia's firm opposition. It worries that an American antimissile defense system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, render Moscow's own nuclear missile force ineffective, and start a new arms buildup, which it can ill afford.

China is contemplating expanding its small 20-rocket nuclear force in reaction to the U.S. defense system. If China proceeds, the action could easily trigger a nuclear arms race with India, then Pakistan. Meanwhile, Beijing and Moscow are cozying up in an effort to thwart U.S. power.

Europe is upset because it fears that a U.S. missile defense system would leave it more, not less, vulnerable in the event of a nuclear attack. Germany is especially worried about antagonizing Russia, a close neighbor.

Washington's principal rationale for a missile defense system, the "rogue" nature of North Korea, is already crumbling. The recent rapprochement between North and South Korea signals that tensions are cooling down. North Korea has already agreed to suspend testing of long-range rockets.

Given Iraq's behavior, a missile defense system may be needed in the future, and research and testing should continue. It is clear, however, that this future is not technically feasible now. So Washington should take this moment to assess the diplomatic damage it is causing. To date, the world has become more unstable thanks to America's antimissile program.

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