21st Century Threats
‘Unproven Technology’ Lays Basis for Missile Defense
The following op-ed ran in today’s edition of the Defense News, which can be accessed here.
On April 5, North Korea launched a missile – and sent the world a wake-up call.
Ballistic missiles in the hands of rogue states, potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction, remain one of the most serious security threats of the 21st century. Change of administrations in Washington does not change this strategic imperative: Free nations must defend themselves from ballistic missile attack through robust and layered missile defense capabilities.
North Korea’s launch continues a ballistic missile development program that is now four decades old, and which many believe is the most advanced in the developing world. North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 long-range missile has the potential capability to strike Hawaii, Alaska and possibly the West Coast of the United States.
Many observers agree that North Korea has proliferated elements of its missile program, along with those of its nuclear program, and has helped accelerate development of dangerous capabilities in Iran and other nations. Iran’s capabilities, in turn, could threaten all our allies in Europe, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East, including Israel.
Despite the growing risk, the new U.S. administration seems determined to scale back our missile defense capabilities and leave us and our allies more vulnerable.
On the same day that North Korea tested its new capabilities, President Barack Obama announced that America’s capabilities would be subject to new restrictions. He said in Prague that our missile defense partnership with NATO, including a tracking radar to be based on Czech soil, would go forward only if it is cost-effective and proven, and if the threat from Iran persists. These qualifications may seem reasonable, yet they signal unreasonable cutbacks throughout our missile defense program.
The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear which U.S. missile defense capabilities meet the administration’s new standards. Approved for more funding are the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the Standard Missile 3 program, and the conversion of six Aegis cruisers for missile defense.
Defunded or delayed are the Multiple Kill Vehicle program, the Airborne Laser program and additional ground-based interceptors in Alaska. Overall, the administration plans to cut funding for missile defense by nearly $1.5 billion, or about 15 percent.
Reading between the lines, we can see the new administration’s priorities. They recognize our proven but limited capability to destroy missiles in the midcourse and terminal stages of flight, yet they resist developing new technologies that would defeat such missiles much earlier, in the critical boost phase. In Europe, what they haven’t left out of the budget they seem eager to give away at the negotiating table.
And while trillions of dollars in domestic spending are justified as economic stimulus, new defenses against ballistic missiles – built right here in America – must overcome much higher hurdles from the budgetary bean counters.
FIXING THE PRIORITIES
The administration has set the wrong priorities, partly because it takes too lightly the growing missile threat from rogue states, but mostly because it has failed to recognize three crucial developments over the past 25 years.
First, new technologies have proved the skeptics wrong. During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s vision of defenses against ballistic missiles was dismissed as science fiction. Today, our nation has deployed ground-based interceptors, early warning satellites, land- and sea-based radars, and an integrated command, control, battle management and communications infrastructure. Together these components give us an emergency capability against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack, yet each of them, decades ago, was merely an “unproven” technology.
Research, development and deployment of today’s unproven technologies are the key to improving our defenses in the decades to come.
Second, the administration seems unaware of the sea change in international public opinion on the issue of missile defense. At the close of the 20th century, our allies and friends were still very skeptical of missile defense. Yet, consistent and patient diplomacy by the Bush administration changed all that. Today, our nation has cooperative agreements on missile defense with the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, Japan and Australia.
We are working with Poland and the Czech Republic to give NATO a missile defense capability, and with Israel to improve its defenses against medium-range rockets. India, France and many other nations have expressed interest in cooperating with us on these technologies. Cutting back on U.S. missile defense capabilities makes no sense when so many allies and friends want to deepen their cooperation with us.
Third, support for U.S. missile defenses now crosses partisan lines. Five of my colleagues, including Independent Joe Lieberman and Democrat Mark Begich, wrote President Obama following his administration’s proposed funding cuts for missile defense. They urged him to reconsider these recommendations and to continue development of an integrated, layered defense against the ballistic missile threat.
I share my colleagues’ concerns, as do millions of Americans across the political spectrum. The president has inspired so many with his vision of crossing ideological divides to pursue common, long-term objectives. Building the infrastructure of missile defense presents a tremendous opportunity to make that vision a reality.
President Obama, like every commander in chief, must make difficult choices to protect our people, advance freedom and defend our strategic interests. I applaud his surge of forces in Afghanistan and appreciate the additional defense capabilities he appears willing to fund. Yet I will oppose any cuts to missile defenses, and to any program that gives us a fighting chance to deter and defeat the security threats of the 21st century.
Thanks for reading!OpinionHead