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Algora Publishing - Collaboration, Not a Missile Shield, Is the Best Defense Solution
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Collaboration, Not a Missile Shield, Is the Best Defense Solution
By John C. Polanyi International Herald Tribune

TORONTO - The tragic failure of a nuclear submarine serves as a reminder of the disrepair of Russian forces. There is the danger that Russia may keep its intercontinental ballistic missiles on high alert to counter inadequacies in its early warning capabilities.

So one can understand the general state of nervousness that leads to demands for a U.S. national missile defense.

Yet we know that the world is safer than in the days of the Cold War. We know, too, that it was not missile defenses which made it so, but the spread of openness and responsible government around the world.

The best hope for a secure world lies in fostering this trend. But missile defense runs counter to it by attempting to fence one nation in. This wrongheaded solution is not improved by the fact that the fence will be an imperfect one.

What is to be done?

On June 4 in Moscow, Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin signed an agreement committing them to a permanent military collaboration. They pledged to establish a jointly staffed monitoring agency for missile launches. This early warning system is known by the initials JDEC (''Jaydec'' in Pentagonese), for Joint Data Exchange Center.

Since warnings would be crucial to missile interception, this proposal will have implications for the U.S. missile defense.

The JDEC concept is revolutionary. It means a joint center for espionage, to be located in Moscow. Not any old espionage, but spying on the most fearsome weapons that history has known. For Russia and the United States to engage in this activity jointly is to give the strongest imaginable signal that the Cold War is over.

Provided, of course, that JDEC works. The signals coming from the radars and satellites of each party must be available to the other for analysis, so that each can assess their truthfulness and dependability. False data are dangerous.

This is so obvious that neither party would consent to engage in such an exchange without a high degree of transparency. Neither will then end up with many secrets in regard to its missiles, but neither has many now, nor does it need them for deterrence.

We have here an unprecedented opportunity to prevent accidents arising from malfunctioning on either side.

Such collaboration would be a far-fetched dream but for the fact that the dreamers are the presidents of Russia and the United States, who have committed themselves to establishing this joint missile warning center within a year.

The two parties can be expected to notify one another of rocket launches in advance and in detail, since they will jointly be observing them.

In this way they can build confidence in the dependability of their data exchange. Advance notification is not a new concept. Negotiations to make it mandatory are under way.

Mr. Putin has invited third parties to contribute to JDEC. The staff in Moscow should include experts from Europe.

The cost, which could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is to be shared equally between Russia and America. This cost, about 1 percent of that of the thinnest U.S. national missile defense system, is sufficiently small that other nations can contribute significantly in cash and in kind to see that the initiative does not die. They should offer to do so, without delay,

Does this affect missile defense? Greatly, but without eliminating it from consideration.

Supposing that there do exist ''rogue'' nations, immune to massive deterrence, their preparations for a surprise attack will be detected by JDEC since their weapons must be tested. These nations will then be the subject of intense diplomatic and economic pressures, of the sort that are already succeeding in taming North Korea and Iran.

If, even in the setting of a new regime of international restraint, they were to persist in testing, the question would be asked whether they have the right to threaten their neighbors with annihilation. If not, precision munitions could destroy their missile sites.

Should the world be unready to take the civilized step of preventing small nations from making dire threats, on the plausible grounds that large nations still reserve the right to do so, then there is a form of missile defense that could be contemplated. This is the boost-phase system proposed by Mr. Putin.

Defensive missiles would be placed near the rogue state to intercept its offensive missiles. Mr. Putin proposes that these defenses be operated not by a single nation but jointly.

This boost-phase interception has the advantage that the missile is an easy target - multi-stage and blazing. Rocket scientists will be happy.

Strategically it means that retaliatory missiles hidden in the oceans or the hinterland of large nations are immune. The major powers should be satisfied.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with defense. Only with defense that is unilateral and provocative, as national missile defense would be.

The writer, a professor at the University of Toronto and a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, is a member of a committee of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston that is studying the Joint Data Exchange Center. He adapted this personal comment for the International Herald Tribune from a longer article in The Globe and Mail.