If North Korea fired a
long-range missile at the United States today -- like the one it
test-fired this summer -- could we defend ourselves?
the answer would have been an unequivocal "no." But that answer is
changing as America moves, very slowly, toward deploying a
missile-defense system. As Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering,
director of the Missile Defense Agency, noted in the wake of a
successful test last month, we now stand "a good chance" of
shooting down a missile that threatens our country.
mistake: We're far from safe. But we're better off now than we were
in the Cold War days of "Mutually Assured Destruction."
named MAD policy dates to the early 1970s, when the United States
and the Soviet Union were the principal nuclear powers. To
discourage each side from firing its weapons first, both signed a
treaty promising never to deploy an effective missile
But the Soviet
Union collapsed 15 years ago. And the world has long been a
different place. For one thing, the nuclear threat has spread
widely. There are five "official" nuclear powers and at least two
de facto ones, including India and Pakistan. Several others are
suspected of having nukes. And that number will only
Iran, for one, has an
aggressive nuclear program. For "peaceful purposes," its president
insists. But while advanced industrial countries such as Japan and
the United States do indeed need electricity from nuclear power,
Iran is the world's second-largest oil producer. It doesn't need
nuclear technology to produce power -- Iran wants it so the country
can project power. An Iran with nuclear missiles could dominate the
Middle East and directly threaten strategic American
there's the unpredictable Stalinist regime in North
On July 4, it
launched several test missiles, including the long-range
Taepodong-2. North Korea says it's a nuclear power. It's not
difficult to imagine that country, which has been collapsing for
years, lashing out at some imagined slight by firing a nuclear
warhead at the United States. And we'd have only a minimal chance
of defending ourselves. Today only 11 test interceptors are
deployed to protect the U.S. mainland.
We have the
ability to change that.
missile defense will require three types of systems: the land-based
interceptors positioned in California and Alaska; sea-based
interceptors (to defend U.S. coastal areas and our allies against
short-range ballistic missiles launched from ships), and,
critically, space-based interceptors.
category is the most controversial.
complain that we shouldn't "weaponize" space. But that ignores the
simple fact that space is already weaponized. After all, if a
country fires a long-range missile, that missile has to pass
through space. So it only makes sense to place platforms up there
to destroy missiles before they can re-enter the atmosphere and
We already have
some of the technology in place. Until the Clinton administration
cancelled the Brilliant Pebbles program, it was making great
strides. That program can and should be revived and expanded, so we
can begin testing and deploying effective space-based interceptors
as soon as possible.
years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan vowed to "end our long
neglect of strategic defenses." Since then, though, we've taken
only small steps. We're not defenseless -- our missile system has
passed several tests. And last week, the military activated a
high-powered radar outpost in Japan to help it track ballistic
missiles in that region.
nuclear technology in the hands of unstable regimes, we're not as
safe as we should be. We'd be crazy -- MAD, even -- not to deploy a
layered defense screen that can protect all Americans.
Edwin Feulner is
president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a
Washington-based public policy research institute and co-author of
the new book Getting
First Appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times
If North Korea fired a long-range missile at the United States today -- like the one it test-fired this summer -- could we defend ourselves?
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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