October 10, 2010 | Commentary on Missile Defense
"Another muggy, steam bath day," President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary.
No surprise. It was Aug. 1, 1988.
The rest of the day's entry detailed the decisions of his daily policy meeting. "On S.D.I. [the Strategic Defense Initiative -- Reagan's missile defense plan] being gutted in Defense authorization bill I should veto bill & make the S.D.I. an important part of my veto message," he noted, "Again I agree." If Reagan refused to bargain away missile defense to the Soviets, he was not about to surrender to Congress.
Reagan's commitment to missile defense was rooted in his conviction that Americans could and ought to be protected from the threat of ballistic nuclear missiles. Deterrence was not defense.
If an enemy intentionally, in haste, or even accidentally fired a missile, millions of Americas would die; all the U.S. could do was take revenge. He also rejected the notion inherent in the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" that the U.S. should seek to guard itself by threatening to annihilate millions of people in another nation -- people who might well have had no say in an attack launched by their leaders.
Reliance solely on massive nuclear retaliation was morally wrong, Reagan concluded. It was disproportional. Washington had other options. Like shooting down the missiles.
SDI represented the greatest revolution in strategic thinking since the invention of nuclear missiles -- a shift from mutual assured destruction to a "protect and defend" strategy where the U.S. would have both nuclear weapons to hold enemy military targets at risk and missile defenses to protect the nation from attack.
Arguably every president since Reagan saw the wisdom of this approach -- lessening super power dependence on large city-killing nuclear arsenals and limiting the danger of ballistic missiles. Both Presidents Bush and Clinton supported missile-defense research. As the technology matured, George W. Bush then withdrew from the 1970s era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that inhibited the fielding of comprehensive missile defense.
The partisan-bickering was over. Washington was behind the "protect and defend" strategy -- until now. More and more the Obama presidency is looking like "That 70s Show."
President Obama has systematically walked back from his campaign commitment to support "proven and cost-effective" missile defense. Even as the Senate ponders how the New START agreement, which Obama signed with Moscow, may hamstring our future missile-defense programs, new disclosures suggest the administration's commitment to missile defense is more than suspect.
Recently, Inside Missile Defense reported on excerpts from an "official use only" Defense Department report where the administration tried to justify cutting, from 44 to 30, the planned number of ground-based interceptors to be deployed specifically to protect the U.S. homeland.
Obama also cut the 10 interceptors that were going to be put in Europe. That means the White House cut missile protectors by a total of 44 percent.
The administration claims that will still be enough to "defend the homeland for the foreseeable future against the projected threat from North Korea and Iran," even though there is no evidence their programs are slowing.
Now, there comes word that the U.S. is negotiating on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. What they are negotiating? Some suspect a revival of the anti-ballistic missile treaty.
Meanwhile, it seems North Korea is moving forward with a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, according to a new report from the Institute for Science and International Security.
It appears that Obama intends to take America back to the bad old days when the U.S. could not defend itself from missile attack. The difference is that now Obama is also allowing the U.S. nuclear stockpile to atrophy.
Instead of protect and defend, the U.S. will have to ward off enemies with hope and prayers and exquisitely negotiated pieces of paper.
Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Examiner