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Missile not impossible

With George W. Bush set to take office, threats from all over the globe endanger Americans, and it is his job to identify and combat them. People in the rest of the world will be focused on the United States in the first days of his administration, and not necessarily because they love us.

In fact, a good proportion of the world's population is ambivalent about American power, and another sizable chunk gets its kicks out of burning the American flag and decrying the Great Satan. That's right: America has enemies. And not just enemies who throw stones at U.S. embassies, but opponents who are bent on harming America and Americans. Many have the desire, and some have the wherewithal. Bush has designated development of a national missile-defense system high on his presidential agenda, not least by appointing Donald Rumsfeld '54, the man who literally wrote the book in support of such systems.


Opponents of these systems argue that it will make our allies in NATO uneasy and infuriate China and Russia, who will in turn be spurred into building up their own nuclear forces. It could lead to a renewed arms race. Proponents of missile defense argue that we should protect ourselves from attack by rogue nations, the Chinese and Russians be damned.

The idea of rogue states is based on the notion that crackpot dictators of countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea are so irrational that they attack the United States with missiles — even when we threaten to destroy pretty much their entire country in retaliation. But these dictators, while undeniably a menace to global security, are not necessarily irrational. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi tanks didn't roll into Kuwait City because Saddam wanted to get his butt kicked by the United States. They invaded Kuwait because Saddam gambled — incorrectly — that the United States would not intervene. While probably megalomaniacs, people like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il are not insane. So basing a need for missile defense on rogue state irrationality is foolish.

But erring too far on the side of trusting these dictators' intentions can also be dangerous. When Kim Jong Il of North Korea smiled for the cameras and met with President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, then later with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, critics of missile-defense systems proclaimed the North Korean threat was diminishing, and soon the supposed reason for these systems' existence would be null and void. Some even accused conservatives of perpetuating the North Korean threat to further their agenda.

Ah, no. Even leaving aside that North Korea is no more forward about its missiles now than it was in 1994, we should look into a missile-defense system because America does have enemies, and we should guard against any realistic threats. Rogue states would probably not be so foolish as to attack the United States directly, but they would certainly be willing to use proxies to further their agendas.

While the thought of missiles striking American cities is indeed far-fetched, missiles directed against U.S. embassies or other installations are a greater possibility. Terrorists, often funded by these rogue states, have shown no compunction about attacking U.S. personnel and facilities overseas. And while missiles might be the weapons of choice only for extremely well-funded and well-organized terrorists, just because no missile has hit a U.S. embassy does not mean we should not guard against it. The best defense against terrorists is to go after them with extreme prejudice, wherever and whoever they are. But when these preventative actions fail, we should still have defensive measures: Assured destruction doesn't necessarily work with terrorists. We should be ready for all realistic eventualities. It probably occurred to very few people that terrorists might ram a dinghy full of explosives into the side of a U.S. warship, and yet it happened.

Let China and Russia howl. The missile-defense system on the table was never directed at them anyway, and they know it. And don't think for a second that if Russia and China had the money and expertise to build an anti-missile system, they wouldn't do it. They're not trying to protect American lives. We are, and we have the right to protect ourselves against all possibilities.


Furthermore, the theory that the United States would suddenly think nothing of launching nuclear weapons at will toward China and Russia because it has an anti-missile system is laughable. China and Russia would not act so recklessly, and they are hardly the ones who have the moral high ground in anything. Of all the countries in the world, which would you rather see possess a system to defend against missiles: China, Russia or the United States? The answer is simple. Justin Hastings is a Wilson School major from Bedford, Mass. He can be reached at

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