It’s been 20 years since President Reagan stood before Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to boldly challenge the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall. In those days we all worried about a cataclysmic nuclear war, big enough to end civilization. Although much has changed since that summer, a nuclear threat remains, albeit not from our former Cold War adversary.
As I visited Moscow last week to promote an anti-missile shield that meets the world’s new threats from terrorists and rogue states, I reminded the Russians just how long ago the Cold War was, and how far our two nations have come.
America and some European countries, even some of the former Soviet satellite states, are trying to install a missile defense system that will protect our cities from attack by a rogue state or terrorist group, using one or even more missiles.
It’s a natural progression of defense strategy. As weapons technology – primarily nuclear, chemical and biological devices – becomes more widespread and easy to obtain, we must take steps to make those weapons obsolete or at least much less of a threat. It’s the best way ensure that a crippling nuclear attack is never launched against us and Europe.
Nuclear weapons are nothing new, being more than 60 years old. Chemical and biological weapons have been around even longer, in some form for centuries. Unlike the Cold War when these weapons were in the hands of only a few, mostly restrained nations, these technologies today have a much greater risk of falling into the hands of rogue states or fanatical terrorist groups.
But it will be a long time before terrorists master space or the upper atmosphere where a missile shield does its work.
It makes sense for Europe, America and all advanced nations, including Russia, to protect ourselves from the world’s radical element. While fanatics openly advocate the “west’s” destruction, they wouldn’t cry a tear if Russia or any other civilized nation were attacked either.
Russian President Putin sees this missile shield as a replay of the Cold War, but this is 2007 – not 1987. Russia and America no longer are enemies locked in an ideological struggle. We are democratic nations, threatened by terrorism.
Perhaps President Putin is publicly opposing this missile shield due to Russia’s internal political situation. There are good things happening in Russia. Their economy is on the rise, and many of their policies reflect our initiatives here – lowering taxes, increasing trade and promoting jobs growth.
But the transition from communism to democracy has been a long and difficult period for Russia. Russians don’t long for the Cold War or communism again, but they do like their leaders to show strength and independence and to be internationally relevant. This has been Russia’s desire ever since Peter the Great thrust Russia upon the international stage. President Putin, in the midst of an election, seems to be reaching back to the old Cold War playbook to appeal to some core voters.
Once this moment passes, America and all democratic nations must act to defend ourselves against the 21st Century’s growing threats. The U.S. and Russia should be partners, not rivals, in defending against these very real threats. Just as our nations have successfully partnered to combat terror financing and drug trafficking, America and Russia should now work together to create the best possible missile defense shield.
When Russia’s domestic rhetoric recedes, the global terrorist threat will still be real. While long and tense, the Cold War passed without any apocalyptic confrontation between the primary players. Russians and Americans were smart enough to avoid our own destruction. Terrorists are not. They seek our destruction, and they’re perfectly fine with their own. Today the risks of a missile attack are higher, and it’s a threat we must take seriously.
Is missile defense a return of the Cold War, a flashback to the superpower standoff of 1987? No. It’s a reaffirmation of freedom and a resolve to defend it from today’s more complex and dangerous threats.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email