By James Hackett
The Washington Times
March 23, 2008
It is fitting that the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative is on Easter Sunday, a day synonymous with peace. As a result of Reagan’s vision, and President Bush’s determination in withdrawing from the ABM treaty and fielding defenses, this Easter the world is a safer place.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the danger of nuclear-armed missiles is still with us. Russia under permanent ruler Vladimir Putin still has 2,945 deployed nuclear warheads and is fielding new SS-27 Topol-M intercontinental missiles (ICBMs). And Moscow is developing a new version known as the RS-24, which has been tested with three warheads but is expected to carry as many as six.
Mr. Putin threatens to target missiles on Poland and the Czech Republic if they host U.S. missile defenses, and on Ukraine if it joins NATO.
And in Asia, China is engaged in a massive military buildup, with new ballistic and cruise missiles designed to strike U.S. aircraft carriers, new DF-31A ICBMs aimed at the United States, and more than 1,000 short-range missiles opposite Taiwan.
Other countries are developing longer-range missiles while seeking nuclear weapons, notably North Korea’s oddball regime, which seems willing to sell nuclear technology as well as missiles to anyone, and the mullahs in Iran. Then there is Pakistan, which already has an arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles to carry them. Pakistan is an ally today, but al Qaeda wants to seize power and control the “Muslim bomb.”
Google Earth captured an image of the new Chinese ballistic-missile submarine, docked at the Xiaopingdao base south of Dalian. U.S. officials say the new submarines may increase Beijing´s strategic arsenal.
The main value of missile defense is to deter opponents from using nuclear missiles to intimidate and achieve their goals through fear. Defenses also provide security in the event of an actual missile launch by design or accident. And as the recent shoot-down of a falling satellite showed, missile interceptors can be used for other useful purposes, including deflecting asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
The missile defense program has come a long way since Reagan’s speech 25 years ago today when he said deterrence works, weakness invites aggression, and we maintain peace through strength. He urged use of our technological strength to find a way to deter attack. It may take decades, he warned, “but I believe we can do it.”
He was right about American technology. The idea of striking a very fast missile with a fast interceptor was considered a joke by many at the time. But that technology, unmatched by any other country, is now the key element of our missile defenses. After several test failures, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has done a remarkable job of improving the program to conduct successful flight tests.
Since 2005, there have been 26 intercepts in 27 tests, an amazing record for a new weapon system. Today there are 24 interceptors in silos in Alaska and California protecting the United States, and 25 on ships in the Pacific, with more on the way. It is important to keep this successful program on track and not make changes that might jeopardize progress toward deployment of a global layered defense.
As Vice President Richard Cheney said at a recent Heritage Foundation dinner, the talk about which presidential candidate would be best to take a call at 3 a.m. reminds us that no president should ever be told that a missile is coming toward the United States and there is no way to stop it.
Missile defense can stop it.
The plan is to base 40 interceptors in Alaska, four in California and 10 in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic and a mobile radar closer to Iran. But as the threat grows, more interceptors will be needed, at least 20 in Europe and up to 100 in Alaska, given the growing threat from China.
There is some discussion of breaking up the missile defense program to separate sustaining current deployments from future development. It is natural for MDA to want to turn operational activities over to the services and concentrate on research and development. But that could lead to future budget cuts as research projects fail and the services meet their immediate needs by reducing missile defense funds.
Another issue involves moving toward a very centralized command-and-control system, which could increase the risk of systemwide failure. It is important not to tinker too much with the program that has been highly successful in producing the defenses protecting the nation today. It is up to the White House and defense secretary to keep this effort on track, finish negotiations for the bases in Europe this year, and preserve the legacy of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.