December 29, 2008
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
The president-elect and the Star Wars president share some
common ideas. Both have blanched at the nightmare of America held
hostage by the threat of tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans
dead from nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. And both have been
morally repulsed by the notion of protecting our nation by
threatening to bury an entire enemy population under a forest of
mushroom clouds. There has to be a better way.
Ronald Reagan's moral revulsion at the thought of massive
retaliation led him to establish the Strategic Defense Initiative
-- SDI. He envisioned a global network of missile interceptors that
would make missiles obsolete.
Dutch's grand vision survived the derisive objections of
naysayers who dismissed SDI as a fanciful variation of Darth
Vader's Death Star. And he held firm when the Soviets insisted that
he trade away missile defense in return for missile cuts. In the
end, however, Star Wars succumbed to post-Cold War Pentagon budget
But the nuclear threat did not end with the Cold War. Enter
North Korea. Its nuclear weapons program put missile defense back
on the table. For the last decade, son of Star Wars, a ground-based
system capable of killing Kim Jong-Il's missiles, has been under
The future of missile defense came up several times in the
course of this year's presidential campaign. Barack Obama never
rejected missile defense outright. "In a world with nuclear
weapons," he declared, "America must continue efforts to defend
against the mass destruction of its citizens and our allies." He
also promised to "spare no effort to protect Americans from the
threats posed by nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles." But, he
cautioned, missile defenses had to be "pragmatic and
cost-effective." Further, he pledged "not [to] divert resources
from other national security priorities until we are positive the
technology will protect the American public."
The Obama doctrine made for good presidential politics, giving
both missile shield advocates and missile defense skeptics reason
to hope he might be in their camp.
But campaigning is not the same as governing. And those who
govern must choose.
The new Oval Office "decider" must drop this waffling doctrine
soon. For one thing, the latest missile defense test proves, beyond
question, that the system works. The December shot provided an
end-to-end evaluation of every part of land-based missile defense:
from the radars that detect the missile; to the command and control
network that sends the orders; to the three-stage interceptor
missile that kills the enemy warhead; to the crews in uniform who
run all the pieces of the system. Everything worked. Son of Star
Wars blew the target missile out of the sky.
Yes, countermeasures designed to test an enemy missile's
capability to spoof the interceptor did not deploy. But that just
shows how difficult countermeasures are to employ in practice. The
bottom line: Today's missile defenses can deal with the
state-of-the-art missile threat.
That's good news not just for America, but for our allies as
well. The interceptors scheduled to be placed in Europe to defeat a
potential Iranian missile attack are a two-stage variant of the
California and Alaska-based missiles. There is little doubt that
that technology will be adequate to the present danger.
Continued waffling is dangerous. Once he occupies the Oval
Office, President Obama should explicitly acknowledge that the
system works and declare every intention of extending those
defenses to Western Europe. Failure to so will simply invite Russia
to try to negotiate the system away, as they tried to do in the
Even to entertain such negotiations would play into Russia's
effort to decouple the United States from the new democracies in
Eastern Europe. It would also "spit in the eye" of our NATO allies.
NATO has officially endorsed the missile defense deployments in
Poland and the Czech Republic.
Moreover, official American ambivalence about the ground-based
system would encourage Iran and North Korea to move forward with
their programs, in the belief that they might one day be able to
use their missiles to hold America hostage.
Obama should become a "retro-Reagan" on missile defense. He must
The president-elect should start advocating now to move forward
in deploying and funding missile defenses. If he does not, plenty
of others around the world are willing to set the agenda for global
missile competition ... and the United States probably will not
like the results. Obama could spend the rest of his administration
distracted from his domestic agenda while he fights fires
If America does not lead on missile defense, no one will -- and
the world, and the reputation of the American president, will
suffer for it.
Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation
and the author of GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and
Winning World War II.
First appeared on Fox News
The president-elect and the Star Wars president share some common ideas. Both have blanched at the nightmare of America held hostage by the threat of tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans dead from nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. And both have been morally repulsed by the notion of protecting our nation by threatening to bury an entire enemy population under a forest of mushroom clouds. There has to be a better way.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
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