We now know that the Chinese have acquired the military technology it took this country a half-century to develop. In short, China has stolen classified information about every currently deployed nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Apparently not much.

After the New York Times printed details of the Chinese theft on March 6, the House and Senate went into high gear and passed the National Missile Defense Act, which declares that U.S. policy is “To deploy, as soon as technologically possible, an effective national missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate).” President Clinton — with his back against the wall and his fingers crossed behind his back — then signed it into law.

A lot of fuss has been made over an amendment inserted by Senate Democrats which states that the development and deployment of the missile defense system is subject to the regular congressional authorizations and appropriations process. In other words, unless and until Congress authorizes and appropriates the money for the deployment of missile defense, it’s not going to happen. The concern was justified but premature. Every bill is subject to the normal authorization and appropriation process. An authorization bill is tantamount to opening the checking account for a project. The appropriations bill is the equivalent of writing the check to pay for it. There are 13 giant authorization and appropriation bills that have to be completed each year that make up the federal budget. Missile defense rightfully falls under the defense bills.

Timing is everything and nowhere is timing more important than the political process. Republicans, who at least verbally are behind putting up a defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles, were preparing the defense authorization bill for floor action in both chambers just as the Cox Report was released to the public. Unfortunately, neither the House nor the Senate versions of the bill contained any funds for deployment. Why? The Clinton administration has let it be known that, even though the president signed the bill, he has no intention of even making the decision to deploy until the year 2000. Why the year 2000? He wants to stick his well-worn finger in the wind to see which way the political wind is blowing in an election year. Also, he doesn’t want to offend the Russians, who have a missile defense system around Moscow, but remain adamantly opposed to ours.

What about the new law that says that we are to put up a defense as soon as technologically possible? It depends on what the definition of “soon” is. Mr. Clinton is ready to redefine, stonewall and, if necessary, openly defy it. The Republican leadership is playing right into his hands by not authorizing and appropriating the necessary funds.

Republicans to their credit have added some $20 billion to the defense budget to beef up our military which has been hollowed out during the Bush and Clinton years. However, the balanced budget agreement they signed with Mr. Clinton in 1997 calls for every area of the budget, other than entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, to be capped at roughly this year’s level. The only way to increase defense spending is by cutting every domestic spending bill. They are off to a bad start. House leaders planned to pass the agriculture, legislative branch and treasury and postal appropriations bills last week and deal with the tougher more controversial bills later on. However, a food fight developed within the party when each of these bills was increased before being sent to the floor.

It’s easy to understand why Republicans do not wish to add to the problem by authorizing and appropriating the funds for the deployment of missile defense when President Clinton isn’t committed to it. However, if the Republican leaders aren’t willing to deliver the funds and force his hand, they aren’t any more serious about this issue than he is. If ever there was a time to make the case for properly defending this country it is now.

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