Regardless whether the recent report that rogue nations or terrorists could develop and launch ballistic missiles at the United States with little or no warning is accurate, America needs to take such threats seriously. The United States also needs to develop an effective deterrent to a missile attack.

The United States has spent about $50 billion pursuing an anti-ballistic missile system since President Ronald Reagan proposed his "Star Wars" defense 15 years ago. The return on Reagan's ambitious plan to deflect incoming missiles via orbiting space platforms has been minimal and no more money should be spent on that proposal.In fact, it's difficult to determine what is the best system to fund. Pentagon officials told lawmakers in May that plans for a national missile defense system are years and billions of dollars behind schedule.

The Pentagon's newest anti-missile system, THAAD - Theater High Altitude Area Defense - failed a fifth consecutive test in May.

Regardless of the technological problems, the United States needs to make it clear in other ways that any country or terrorist organization foolish enough to consider launching a missile against America will be punished severely. That would be the surest defense against such attack.

A bipartisan commission, headed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, singled out North Korea, Iran and Iraq as countries of particular concern. Senior American intelligence officials disputed the report, saying that only Russia and China, which already possess ICBMs, could effectively launch and hit American targets. North Korea could possibly develop ICBM launch capability before 2010.

Nations harboring terrorist organizations must be held accountable for the things those organizations do, including the launching of a nuclear device. The best way to deal with terrorist groups is to not let them get a foothold in the first place. Force seems to be the only thing they and their state sponsors - such as Libya - understand.

They need to know that launching a nuclear device would result in their own destruction.