• There is presently concern that programs to prevent short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from reaching Europe will be delayed under pressure to make concessions to both Russia and Iran, to secure a deal on Iran's nuclear program,

  • Once deployed, an adversary's long-range missiles could be used for coercion, terror or blackmail. It would seem more prudent to anticipate such threats before they become a reality.

Countries stretching from North Korea through South Asia and into the Middle East are apparently trying to bolster their military capability by building long range rockets capable of coercing, terrorizing or blackmailing their neighbors.[1]

In the past month, for example, we have seen Hamas try a new kind of diplomacy, while launching over 1000 rockets at Israel.

In Iraq, the terrorist army ISIS, now controlling large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, paraded a Syrian Scud missile through the streets of Al-Raqqah, in an attempt to demonstrate its power.

In Ukraine, rebels used Russian missiles to shoot down a Ukraine troop transport, killing thirty soldiers.

In Syria, rockets launched by Damascus have forced Turkey, a NATO member, to deploy missile defenses to protect its civilian population.

And in Iran, Tehran's leaders have not only dismissed any attempts to curtail their ballistic missile capability as part of the negotiations on their nuclear program, they continue to produce more missiles than any other nation except China.[2]

An Iranian "Khalij Fars" mobile ballistic missile on parade in Iran. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Missiles are indeed becoming the weapon of choice of both terror groups and rogue states.

A reasonable question, of course, is whether America should care.

Former Congressman Ron Paul wrote that Americans have little reason to care what particular flag was planted in some piece of geography "thousands of miles" from the United States. He further argued that Russia's annexation of Crimea was therefore of no consequence.

Today's missiles, however, make such assertions by Mr. Paul highly questionable. No longer would a nation need to deploy missiles in Cuba, just a few miles away from Florida, for example, as the Soviet Union did in October 1962, to threaten the interests of the United States.

Missiles launched by Iran, Syria or Hamas, for example, could turn Middle East oil fields into a highly dangerous environment, driving the price of a barrel of oil beyond $148, reached on the July 4, 2008, which precipitated the financial crisis that lost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars.

Missile threats from Russia to Ukraine also threaten to undo the progress made since the end of the Cold War to integrate Eastern Europe economically into the free economies of the West.

Missile threats can have consequences: not only must you watch your neighbor, you also have to watch nations on the other side of the globe.

So despite former Congressman Ron Paul's quick dismissal of "flags" deployed thousands of miles away, it does matter whose flag flies where.

North Korea, for example, according to former CIA top analyst Dr. Peter Pry, has become a major supplier of missile technology to Iran. It has demonstrated an ability to launch what is known as a "space launch vehicle" -- rockets that put satellites into orbit. The Defense Intelligence Agency has also concluded that North Korea "has probably been able to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile."

North Korean missile threats are no longer limited to the Republic of Korea or Japan. And no longer are Iranian missile threats limited to its Middle Eastern neighbors and American allies such as Jordan, Egypt and Israel.

Those threats are indeed both serious and worrisome.

The news gets worse.

Dr. Pry explains that the nuclear tests by North Korea have apparently been of a low yield weapon: "Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] effects over wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century."

Dr. Pry further explains in a joint op-ed essay with the former Director of Central Intelligence, Ambassador R. James Woolsey, that the trajectory of North Korea's KSM-3 satellite launch (2013) had the characteristics for delivery of a nuclear EMP attack against the United States. The satellite was launched to the south, away from the U.S., transited the South Pole, and approached the U.S. from its southern blindside -- at the optimum altitude for placing an EMP field over all 48 contiguous United States.

On April 16, 2013, the KSM-3 satellite was over the Washington, D.C.-New York City corridor -- also the optimum location and altitude for placing a peak EMP field over the area most likely to blackout the Eastern Grid. The Eastern Grid generates 75% of U.S. electricity and is indispensable to national survival.

Pry and Woolsey further explain that the peak EMP field would also maximize damage to Washington and New York, the nation's political and economic centers. Such an EMP attack would plunge our electricity-powered civilization into a blackout lasting months or years. What is to stop North Korea from providing Iran the means to "take down" the Great Satan?

Missiles are shortening the distance and time between our nation and those "thousands of miles away," as well as providing less powerful rogue nations the power with which seriously to harm our country.

A number of worrisome connections run through these missile threats.

First is the role of Russia. It is the largest supplier of weapons to Iran and Syria, both rogue states that sponsor terrorism.

Both Iran and Syria have also exported thousands of rockets to Hamas and Hezbollah over the past few years.

Keeping the Iranian and Syrian regimes in power is what keeps Hamas and Hezbollah in business. And their business is to threaten, and if possible to attack, Israel and American allies in the region.

As for Russia, planting its flag in eastern Ukraine or the Crimea in contravention of the Budapest Treaty of 1994, gives Moscow a foothold in newly freed Eastern Europe, from which to wreak more mischief, the least of which was to fracture NATO and render suspect U.S. and NATO security guarantees for such countries as the Baltic republics and Poland.[3]

In Egypt, to use Congressman Paul's terms, "planting the Muslim Brotherhood flag" in Cairo -- as was done two years ago -- allowed Iran and Syria to funnel rockets by the many hundreds through the Red Sea, to Sinai, and then to Gaza, from where they could be fired into Israel. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood did not just look the other way; they facilitated the transfer of such weapons.

The new Egyptian government, conversely, may have facilitated Israel's capture on the high seas of a major shipment of long range rockets as well as mortars and cluster bombs from Iran destined for Gaza in March 2014. These smuggled rockets, had they reached Gaza, would have been the longest-ranged of any held by Hamas at the time.

Therefore it is important whose flag is planted in, say, Egypt, the largest and most populous country in the Arab world, or in Ukraine, one of the largest of the former Soviet republics, independent since 1991.

In addition, these conflicts, while indeed "thousands of miles away," could be used, in a nuclear agreement with Iran, as leverage to induce America to make concessions that would strengthen Iran but weaken American security. If the U.S., for instance, had taken forceful action against Moscow to stop its aggression in Ukraine, Russia's resident, Vladimir Putin, could have made life difficult for the U.S. during negotiations on Tehran's nuclear programs.

Similarly, if the U.S. made life difficult for Iran for smuggling missiles to Hamas, Iran might become even more difficult to cajole into an agreement to sideline its nuclear program -- assuming such an agreement is even in the cards at all, which it almost certainly is not.

As is available in reports from the U.S. intelligence community, Iran is continuing work on a long-range ballistic missile that could be flight-tested by next year. This despite a January 2014 Pentagon report to Congress on Tehran's military, which puzzlingly omitted earlier references to this looming ICBM threat. As Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, warned earlier this month, "The 2014 Iran Military Power report confirms that Iran could have an ICBM capability by 2015."

The assumption is that the only warhead worth placing on a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile is a nuclear device.

Iran's ballistic missile threat combined with its clandestine nuclear program gives the Free World a problem.

The growing Iranian missile capability -- abetted by North Korean help -- is why the U.S. has pushed for the current European Phased Adaptive Approach [EPAA] to missile defenses, aimed at defending against Iranian short and medium range missiles.[4]

The Bush administration had sought to build, in addition to such missile defenses, a long-range intercept capability in Poland and the Czech Republic. That capability was eliminated by the Obama Administration in 2009.

Russia has long objected to all U.S. missile defenses in Europe, under the false claim that such defenses would be able to intercept Russian long-range rockets aimed at the United States (a technical impossibility given the speed of the U.S. interceptors planned for deployment and their geographic location).

The Bush administration's proposal to build interceptors in Poland to defeat Iranian and other Middle East long-range missile capability was jettisoned in part under the belief that such defenses would no longer be needed, and as part of a new "reset" foreign policy approach that Washington wished to have with Moscow.

There is presently concern that phases two and three of the EPAA -- preventing Iranian short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from reaching Eastern Europe -- will be delayed under pressure to make concessions to both Russia and Iran to secure a deal on Iran's nuclear program.

Phase four of EPAA -- dealing with anticipated long-range Iranian missile capabilities -- was cancelled in March 2013. In part as a response to this, Congress has added funding to begin exploration of a third missile defense site or more in the eastern United States, the better to deal with what still appears to be an emerging long-range missile threat from Iran, as well as an existing North Korean one. The further defense sites would be developed in addition to two missile defense sites in Alaska and California.

Critics of these plans say it is better to wait for such missile threats before acting. One former Pentagon official complained that if the U.S. accelerated the EPAA in European NATO countries, such a development would be a "threat to Iran."[5]

Once deployed, an adversary's long-range missiles could be used for coercion, terror or blackmail, while any missile defense deployments in response would take many years to put into place.

It would seem more prudent to anticipate such threats before they became a reality.

At the request of Congressman Chris Shays, in June 2000, Richard Clarke of the National Security Council briefed a House Subcommittee on the terrorist threats then facing the United States.

Such threats, Mr. Clarke said, were so numerous -- even then, well before the attacks of 9/11 -- as to make setting counter-terrorism priorities difficult, but that the Clinton administration would "look into it."

Shays, not at all pleased, described the presentation in a brusquely worded letter to Clarke as "less than useful."

When asked if his office had prepared an "integrated threat assessment," Clarke responded that this would have been "difficult to accomplish because of all the different threats faced by the United States."

When committee members then asked if Clarke had prepared a "comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism," Clarke said it would be "silly" to believe such a strategy could be developed. "If there are no clear requirements or plan," Shays wrote, "how does the administration prioritize the $12.9 billion it intends to spend" on counter-terrorism and related activities?

Clarke never did send a follow-up to the Congress.

Fifteen months later, on September 11, 2001, we saw how that turned out.


[1] "The Revenge of Geography" by Robert Kaplan (2012) and "Kaplan Elevates the Place", Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 18, 2012.

[2] Personal communication with Uzi Rubin, President of Rubincon, and former head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, and internationally renowned Middle East missile expert, July 2014, and "Iran Missile Threat", The English Review, April 2014.

[3] This point was made by Russian expert and American Foreign Policy Council Fellow, Dr. Steve Blank in remarks at the Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series, Washington, D.C. on May 23, 2014.

[4] It was initially announced in May 2011 as a new policy on missile defenses in NATO, "The purposes of EPAA and US policy" discussion here is based in part on both a presentation by missile defense expert Rebeccah Heinrichs, who works with the American Enterprise Institute, on these issues to the Congressional Breakfast Seminar series on July 8, 2014 and personal communications with Bruce Bechtol, Associate Professor of political science at Angelo State University, and author of the new book on the subject, The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il, April 2013.

[5] Remarks of Phil Coyle, Brookings Institution, Missile Defense Panel Seminar, June 16, 2014.

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