The missile gap

December 09, 2007

If there's anything that's less needed than the alternative minimum tax, it's the missile defense program - and if the federal government stopped wasting money on it, the loss from dropping the AMT could be cut by nearly a fifth.

The Bush administration has been adamant about installing a missile shield in Eastern Europe, even though the plan mightily annoys the understandably suspicious Russians. The argument has been that the U.S. must have the means to shoot down missiles heading west from Iran. But the only way an Iranian missile could inflict really serious damage would be if it had a nuclear warhead - and the whole world has just learned that the U.S. government officially believes Iran has shut down its nuclear weapons program.

The White House says the missile shield has to go ahead anyway. Maybe Mr. Bush thinks poking a thumb in Russia's eye is a good idea. Doesn't anyone in Congress have better sense than that?

On the other side of the world, the American missile defense program is aimed at North Korea. But relations with North Korea are thawing faster than yesterday's snowman. The Yongbyon reactor has been shut down, and in a few months the U.S. will have a very good idea as to whether North Korea is genuinely disabling all its nuclear facilities, under a schedule agreed to this year.

Of course, neither the North Korean nor the Iranian government has suddenly become warm and cuddly, but given the very real prospects of a genuine turn in U.S. policy toward both, what's the point in continuing to lavish billions on the missile shield?

Why not hold off - to see what happens and to give the technology a chance to catch up to the ideal? The fact is, the U.S. is pouring $9 billion this year into a program that started 20 years ago and that in addition to being a bad idea from a political standpoint has also managed to achieve an extraordinarily modest level of success operationally. Killing it off wouldn't cover the entire AMT gap - but it would be a great start.

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