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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, November 11, 1999


The need for missile defense

I wrote recently about a New York investment adviser telling local customers America has its mix of economic controls just right for the stock market. His message came down to buy good stocks, hold on and relax.

No such luck for us on the defense front, it was made clear here this week at a forum on ballistic missile defense. We have major policy debates and increasing danger ahead. The post-Berlin Wall honeymoon with America free from major challenges is ending.

One sure sign was the rejection by the Senate of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that President Clinton wanted ratified but six former secretaries of defense opposed.

Another is the coming national debate over whether to deploy a defense system against rogue ballistic missiles that might breach our 1972 treaty with the Soviet Union. There is no talk of trying to stop a fusillade of hundreds of missiles from Russia because no such capability is achievable in the near term.

But there is a presidential decision looming as early as next June on whether to authorize a system in Alaska that can kill rogue missiles that might come from North Korea or China or other U.S. enemies.

"Missiles are the weapons of choice for the 21st century," one speaker told the Halekulani Hotel sessions, sponsored primarily by the Institute of the North in Anchorage, Alaska, but joined in by Pacific Forum/CSIS based here, by our Pacific and Asian Affairs Council and by mainland groups concerned with national security. About 80 people turned out to hear some prestigious speakers, including former Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe and the key conference organizer, former Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel.

Wake-up calls have come from China, which fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait, and from North Korea, which on Aug. 30, 1998, sent a three-stage missile over Japan to a Pacific splashdown.

To stop a missile is to stop a bullet with a bullet, once deemed impossible but no longer. The U.S. Army had five successive successes in tests this year in "shoot to kill" attacks on target missiles.

Some years ago it leaked out that a CIA plan for missile defense focused only on the 48 contiguous states. A 1999 report from a commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld, a former defense secretary, recommends a defense system for all 50 states and has put a better focus on the issues to be faced.

This week's meetings dealt primarily with the defense of Hawaii, Alaska and Japan but looked at Taiwan, too.

BOTH cruise missiles and longer-range ballistic missiles were identified as threats. The possibility was raised that they might be fired from ships at sea, also that ships could be a major part of the defense system for Japan. The Army, Navy and Air Force are carving out roles, with the Army in the lead.

The threat of missile attack may serve some nations so well they won't have to fire one, it was suggested. North Korea, a terribly weak nation with a population near starvation, seems to be winning concessions with its saber-rattling.

China may want missiles as a threat against the U.S. and other nations limiting its oil access when its energy needs have grown beyond the capacity of its oil and coal reserves and hydroelectric systems.

In 10 or 15 years it will have missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

President Clinton has boasted to school children that no longer are enemy missiles aimed at them. Soon that may change, this week's conferees were told.



A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.




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