The Star Wars distraction

Congress' recent effort to resurrect the Star Wars missile defense system unfortunately will only divert much-needed funds and attention away from more real threats to the United States: terrorists.

DOD has been studying how it could deploy a National Missile Defense, or Star Wars, system since the Reagan administration. But despite technology advancing at a seemingly exponential pace since the 1980s, the private sector and DOD are not much closer to developing the needed technology to make such a system work, according to a GAO report released this month. GAO concluded that the 1999 deadline to develop the technology necessary to field an NMD is unrealistic, as is the 2003 deadline to have the system operational.

But that does not stop Congress from pouring money into the program. In all, DOD estimates the cost of developing and deploying such a system by 2003 to be $8 billion.

Of course, the end of the Cold War has not removed the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles. A commission assigned to study the threat of a missile attack on the United States concluded this month that in fact North Korea and Iran soon will have the ability to launch long-range missiles.

But the schedule to deploy NMD is untenable, and efforts to meet it should not divert the United States from addressing a greater threat: terrorists, who, armed with a simple but widely destructive bomb, have access to any city in the United States.The greatest defense against this threat is information. DOD has recognized this requirement in the last two years, increasing its emphasis on intelligence as part of its overall defense operations. In particular, the defense intelligence community has invested heavily in developing information technology programs that will improve the ability to collect, analyze and distribute intelligence across the globe.

Should we continue funding the NMD program? Certainly. But Congress and the Pentagon must balance that investment of energy and money with the development of more sophisticated information operations that might enable us to track terrorists and their bomb-making capabilities— people and activities that no NMD, no matter how sophisticated, will ever detect.

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