Alaska editorial: Plan for missile shield deployment a good start

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

This editorial ran Thursday in the Voice of the Times:

The decision by President Bush to deploy an anti-missile shield will be good for the nation and good for Alaska.

The benefit to the nation will be long-needed recognition that the world is a dangerous place in which missile technology is spreading and falling into the hands of people likely to use it.

Alaska will benefit because 16 ground-based interceptors will be based at Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, with accompanying military presence. Six interceptor rockets will be positioned at Greely within the next year and 10 more added a year or two later.

The initial deployment will involve significant new construction at Greely, but when that might start is unclear since work is already under way on the first six missile silos. That began last June after the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

The ABM Treaty was a cold-war relic from the days when mutually assured destruction was a deterrent to launching intercontinental missiles. The treaty provided assurance that the balance of power between the United States and the former Soviet Union would not be upset by one side becoming less vulnerable than the other.

The missile shield is not perfect and will require fine-tuning. Three of its eight tests have been judged failures by the military. But the successes have proved that the technology works. As Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it in an October speech, "We actually can hit a bullet with a bullet."

President Bush said in announcing the planned system deployment that the initial stage would be modest and will include sea-based interceptors and sensors based on land, at sea and in space. The White House announcement said the shield will protect the United States "as well as its friends and allies."

An anti-missile system is essential to the nation's safety these days. Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens noted at the silo ground-breaking at Fort Greely last summer that 17 or 18 rogue nations now have access to nuclear or biological weapons.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and the likely next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, lauded the decision to proceed. "Today, the United States cannot stop a single ballistic missile headed for an American city," he said. "The consequences of such an attack would be devastating, and the danger continues to grow as nations such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran continue to develop, purchase and sell advanced ballistic missile technologies."

Though the initial stage of the shield will be modest, it is a welcome start.

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