Spend on anti-terrorism, not missile defense

Bullied by White House officials, Senate Republicans are struggling to stop passage of the $318 billion defense budget because they say it appropriates too much money. Unfortunately, their breach of character is coming for all the wrong reasons. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the defense bill because of the extra $15 billion Democrats tacked on to bolster domestic antiterrorism efforts. Bush and his supporters say anything more than the president’s requested $20 billion is too much, though one Republican said he would have supported the increase had he not received a “strong request” from the White House.

While it is true the bill authorizes misspending billions of dollars, it is not due to the antiterrorism appropriations. The budget erroneously provides $8.3 billion for the ballistic missile defense program. Spending such an inordinate amount on the project, considering the current state of the union, is irresponsible in an era when irresponsibility translates seamlessly into danger. Russia might have capitulated on the ABM treaty issue, but too many new problems face our nation for the government to throw money away on such far-fetched programs.

The most contentious part of the program – a proposed national missile defense shield – is still unreliable and any signs for improvement are sketchy, at best. Its success rate of just over 50 percent has been achieved only under questionable circumstances, including allegations that during one of the tests, a locator beacon was attached to the nose of the interceptor missile’s target – a courtesy our enemies are unlikely to extend us.

Of the 12 programs currently run by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, only the new Patriot missile defense system – which hit nine out of ten test targets – has shown much real-world viability. And that system is already beyond the test phase with the first units scheduled for delivery some time next year, said a BDMO official, Lt. Col. Rick Lehner. Considering the nations against whom we might conceivably go to war in the near future, it is also the only system that would have any use at all. Aside from our allies, no one has the capability of attacking the United States via space. However, several hostile nations possess short-range missiles capable of delivering chemical and biological attacks on U.S. troops.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans share the blame for letting this $8.3 billion into the defense budget and the Senate should take today’s opportunity to remove it. Moreover, Bush should cease pressuring Republican senators to stonewall the extra antiterrorism spending, much of which would go to rebuilding New York and securing poorly-guarded nuclear material in the former Soviet republics. Reality, not fantasy, deserves government defense dollars.