Don't Delay Missile Defense

The Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington should--and will--change many things about how we protect our citizens at home and around the world. They should--and will--launch a sustained, long-term war against terrorism and the regimes and states that harbor terrorists and supply them with the sanctuary, training, communications, logistics, intelligence and money that they need to carry out their murderous deeds.

What the attacks on us should not--and will not--do is relegate to the back burner the vital task of preparing a defense against a missile attack before our enemies get the missiles with which to attack us.

We will never know with certainty whether the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been averted by a timely investment in a range of measures now broadly referred to as “homeland defense.” But one thing is clear: The failure to act in time left us hopelessly vulnerable.

While there is controversy about whether it will be in 3 years or 10 or some other time frame, there is no dispute that such countries as Iran, Iraq and North Korea will eventually get missiles with the range sufficient to attack us and our allies, and the warheads of mass destruction--nuclear, biological and chemical--that could be delivered by them.

Unhappily, some of these are precisely the countries that have supported global terrorism. The combination of missiles, warheads of mass destruction and deep association with terrorist networks is simply too dangerous to ignore.

Some argue that we can always threaten to retaliate against any missile attack that destroys an American city. But should we rely only on deterrence? What if it fails? Retaliation may discourage an attack. But if an attack comes, retaliation will not save the hundreds of thousands of our citizens who will become the victims of a failed policy.

Some say we have more urgent priorities. But alongside the catastrophic destruction of getting it wrong, missile defense--a tiny part of the defense budget--is readily affordable.

We probably saved some money by deferring an investment in homeland defense before Sept. 11. Does anyone care to measure the cost of having done so?

Richard Perle is a resident fellow at AEI.

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