End Madness of Planned Vulnerability

Defense News , January 28, 1991

BY: Frank Gaffney Jr., the director of the Center for Security Policy and a regular contributor to Defense News.

Among the first casualties of the war with Iraq should be one of the most cherished illusions of recent American defense strategy — the notion that the only certain means of preventing genocidal attacks against the American people is to ensure that the U.S. population remains utterly vulnerable to them.

This deterrence concept of assured vulnerability was formally enshrined in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The ABM treaty’s drafters hoped to institutionalize the principle of a balance of terror between the United States and the Soviet Union by prohibiting effective defenses against ballistic missiles. At the time, it was argued that stability would be preserved by rendering the United States and the Soviet Union perpetual hostages to imminent mass destruction.

What is more, in the absence of such defenses, investments in protective equipment, preparation of fallout shelters and development of evacuation plans were typically vilified as hare-brained, wasteful or — worst of all — destabilizing.

The recent attacks by Iraqi Scud missiles on Israel and Saudi Arabia show the bankruptcy of this line of reasoning. No American, let alone our allies in the Middle East, can help but rejoice that the Reagan administration succeeded in taking the first, tenuous steps away from perpetual U.S. vulnerability by upgrading the Patriot air defense system to give it modest antiballistic missile capabilities.

In fact, these ballistic missile attacks simply serve to underscore the extent to which the logic that may have once justified the ABM treaty is clearly obsolete.

It is transparently obvious that the other party to the ABM Treaty the Soviet Union, never bought the idea of mutual vulnerability. To the contrary, Moscow has taken great pains to protect those elements of its leadership and workforce deemed necessary to the survival of the Soviet Union through an array of air and civil defenses as well as through permitted and prohibited antiballistic missile devices.

The Soviet Union is no longer the only ballistic missile threat to the United States. Saddam Hussein’s present onslaught — to say nothing of that which he would be capable of down the road if left to his own devices — is a stark reminder that as many as a dozen nations either now have or are acquiring this technology.

Unclassified estimates suggest that, by the turn of the century, many of these may be capable of fielding long-range missiles able to reach the United States.

It is, moreover, painfully clear that ballistic missile-delivered nuclear weapons are not the only, or even the most imminent, threat to the security of the American public.

As the nation braces for the possibility of assaults by Iraqi-sponsored terrorists, perhaps armed with Saddam Hussein’s chemical or other weapons of mass destruction, the utter futility of deterring such attacks by electing to remain defenseless underscores the absurdity of the United States’ present posture of voluntary, assured vulnerability.

If the American people are lucky, nothing more dramatic or deadly than a score of terrorist attacks by Iraqi Scuds will be required to bring an end to two decades of neglect of U.S. strategic defenses. The needed policy and programmatic overhaul would, at the very least, entail the following:

  • A crash program to deploy ballistic missile defenses capable of providing the United States and its allies globally with the sort of protection the Patriot system is currently offering small portions of vital Middle Eastern real estate.

    Such a deployment would principally involve an orbiting constellation of space-based, kinetic-kill interceptors utilizing technologies that are one or two generations more advanced than those found in the Patriot, but which have been either fully validated or are nearly ready for production decisions.


  • Emergency stocks of protective and decontamination equipment suitable for defending against the effects of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare should be established.

    Budget realities preclude providing the entire population with such kits (as Israel has undertaken to do for its citizens). It would be far more preferable to have a national capability to rapidly deploy this gear wherever it might be needed than to perpetuate the present posture — one which might be best described as every American for himself.


  • Similarly, training and facilities should be offered around the country to provide a measure of collective protection for the civilian population, together with well-developed contingency plans for evacuating to uncontaminated rural areas city dwellers who may be the targets of chemical or other forms of genocidal warfare.

  • In addition, a concerted research program should be mounted to develop detection devices for, and wherever possible, protection against chemical and biological weapons. The abysmally deficient condition of U.S. capabilities in these areas is nothing less than a national scandal, particularly in view of the evidence so vividly on display in the war with Iraq that chemical and biological warfare threats continue to proliferate.

  • It follows, of course, that changes will have to be made to certain U.S. arms control commitments or proposals. In particular, the United States will have to depart from the ABM Treaty, which prohibits the sort of effective defenses against needed ballistic missiles.

It also will have to abandon the pursuit of a ban on chemical weapons — a ban that will not preclude the Saddam Husseins of the world from obtaining or using such devices. Instead, it will simply deny this country the right to an in-kind deterrent capability while further diminishing the perceived need to prepare defenses against chemical attack.

If, in the wake of the lessons of the war with Iraq, the American people are to have an alternative to their present, involuntary and absolute exposure to weapons of mass destruction, they must demand from their government a commitment to public survival and an investment in the myriad defensive technologies and equipment needed to honor that commitment.

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