The Israeli Air Force, on June 7, 1981, carried out Operation Opera, in which F-16s flew hundreds of miles and successfully destroyed the nuclear facility in Osirak, Iraq -- the difficulty of the task only increased by the absence of laser-guided technology and the distance the jets had to fly.
When, shortly after, President Ronald Reagan was asked whether a National Security Council emergency session should be called to "assess what to do," he replied, "Well, boys will be boys," and calmly proceeded to the presidential helicopter. No NSC session was convened.
This was a time when Americans cheered when the "tough guys" -- John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Keefer Sutherland, Bruce Willis, Sean Connery -- defended the "good guys."
In that 1981 raid, the Israelis, the good guys, God bless them, defended not only Israel, but all of us. Thirty years later, are we willing to defend ourselves?
Or do too many Americans, if we use military force, see our country as a "bully"?
Franz Fanon, a cult figure in the 1960s and the Marxist author of the book, "The Wretched of the Earth" -- favorably mentioned by our nation's President in "Dreams From My Father" and still widely read on American college campuses -- apparently saw America as an imperialist nation and our military as an instrument of oppression.
In addition, according to Wilmington News Journal on October 24, 2001, the top Democratic lawmaker on foreign policy, Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee argued to the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States would be perceived as a "high tech bully" if, in Afghanistan, we did not put troops on the ground and fought only using air power -- as if the United States, or anyone else, should fight according to some notion of "fairness" that requires making your own troops as vulnerable as your adversaries'.
Others credit the U.S. for creating the very terrorism we worry about. The Washington Blog of October 19th, 2012 details these claims, including Richard Clarke, for instance, formerly the cyber advisor on the National Security Council, claiming that as a result of our liberation of Afghanistan, the U.S. was actually creating thousands more terrorists.
In a July 19, 2004 letter to the author, Congressman Chris Shays explained that Clarke, then a National Security Council aide, told his House Terrorism subcommittee in June 2000 that there were "so many terrorist threats to America that it made no sense prioritizing them." When asked whether he could advise the Congress how best to spend homeland security funding, wrote Shays, Clarke said, "No."
Others, including former including former President William Clinton, asserted that the creation of a Palestinian state would "take about half the impetus in the whole world, not just the region...for terror away. It would have more impact than anything else that could be done."
As the esteemed Middle East expert Shoshana Bryen countered (in JINSA Report #1030, October 8, 2010, which examined President Clinton's claim), "Blaming the existence of Israel for half the world's terrorism -- not Arab rejection of the UN process under which Israel declared itself independent -- is abhorrent."
The Strategic Defense Initiative Meets the Nuclear Freeze
With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 -- on an explicit platform of "peace through strength" -- the notion that the U.S. military was an instrument of bullying was rejected by a large majority of the electorate.
Reagan set out to accomplish three key strategic objectives: modernize U.S. nuclear forces; begin to research, develop and eventually build missile defenses, and simultaneously seek major reductions in nuclear weapons to build a more stable strategic environment.
But beyond these policies lay a further goal: to undermine, and eventually bring down, the former Soviet Union.
Others were aghast at the administration's plans. Just days after the President's inauguration, Johnny Apple wrote in the New York Times on February 5, 1981: "Some Soviet officials are evidently worried by the possibility that Mr. Reagan will find himself imprisoned by his own philosophy."
The hostility of the "arms control community" to the administration coalesced around support for the Soviet initiative called the "Nuclear Freeze." The Soviet nuclear arms were modernized, but the US arsenal was approaching block obsolescence. A "freeze" would lock in a Soviet advantage in the "correlation of power."
By the spring of 1983, hostility to Reagan's policies had reached a peak, but three events changed all that.
First, the administration secured Congressional and NATO approval for the deployment of U.S. Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces in Europe to counter the Soviet SS-20 missiles. Second, on March 23, President Ronald Reagan proposed that the U.S. build the Strategic Defense Initiative [SDI].
And third, in May, Congress approved the deployment of the first fleet of Peacekeeper [MX] ICBMs. Thus, in just a matter of months, Reagan's policy of "peace through strength" was fully endorsed by the U.S. Congress and our NATO allies.
The reaction of his critics was nonetheless angry and swift.
Senator Edward Kennedy, on March 24, just one day after the SDI speech, called Reagan's remarks a "misleading Red-Scare tactic" and a "reckless Star Wars scheme," as reported in Space News on March 25, 1983.
A few months later, on June 4, after the Peacekeeper missile deployment was approved, Senator Kennedy continued in the same vein, arguing that "a nuclear freeze" was necessary because "we cannot let the administration modernize our forces with the most threatening of weapons" according to a press statement released by the Senators office.
The next spring, the leadership of the Union of Concerned Scientists prepared a lengthy attack on Reagan's defense policies. In the April 24, 1984 New York Review of Books entitled "Reagan's Star Wars", they predicted that U.S. missile defense policies would undermine strategic stability, cause a worsening arms race, end any possibility of arms control and make conflict with the USSR more likely.
President Reagan, however, stuck to his plan. Together he and subsequent presidents successfully moved forward on all three strategic initiatives. The U.S. adopted the INF, START I, Moscow and New START Treaties, which cumulatively reduced U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear weapons by over 20,000 warheads. And the U.S. simultaneously modernized its fleet of nuclear forces, including the B1, B2 and B52 bombers; the Peacekeeper and Minuteman III ICBM, and the Trident submarine and its contingent of D-5 missiles. They still largely form the bedrock of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
As for missile defense, the U.S. laid the groundwork for the eventual deployment of what is today over 1,000 American missile defense interceptors -- first by establishing research, development and testing; then by adopting a law requiring the U.S. to be defended from ballistic missiles; then by getting rid of the ABM treaty, which had been the major impediment to missile defenses; and finally by beginning the task of actually building a global, layered missile defense architecture.
Of course, the policy of peace through strength worked as the Soviet empire imploded.
Missile Defense in the Age of Jihad
Today missile defenses are supported by an overwhelming number of Americans -- upwards of 84-88% in both a July 2007 and June 2009 poll by Opinion Research Corporation, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Despite such strong public support, however, the task of fielding missile defenses has not been easy.
For close to twenty years after Reagan announced his goal of building major missile defenses to protect the United States and its allies, the U.S. was largely restricted to doing only research.
The restrictions of the ABM treaty, or the 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile systems, prohibited developing or testing national missile defenses.
The U.S. could put nothing in the field to defend its population as a whole.
The idea during much of the Cold War was that if the U.S. and the Soviets were both totally vulnerable to nuclear missiles, no one would be tempted to use them in a crisis. Left unexamined was whether such a strategy would also work with any newly-nuclear-armed rogue states and their terrorist affiliates that we might face in the future.
In 2001-2, President George W. Bush jettisoned the ABM treaty, first giving notice that we intended to leave the treaty, then formally leaving it. He secured Congressional support for building, over time, what was characterized as a "global, layered missile defense," including for the American homeland -- a task that still requires much to be accomplished.
What the effort faced, and still faces, is political barriers. Space-based systems, for instance, were taken "off the table." As reported by the Monterey Institute (April 15, 2002) and Global Issues on May 13, 2001, space was "pristine," not to be "weaponized" -- but does anyone imagine that Russians or the Chinese got this message?
Further, because of inertia from the Clinton administration, a ground-based system of interceptors became the initial "program of record" with which to defend the United States.
The ground-based system uses a non-explosive "kill vehicle," which, in space, literally "runs into" the adversary's warhead -- a maneuver called "hit to kill." The U.S. has succeeded in doing this seven times against intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and 60 times against all classes of missiles. Just recently, however, when a battery did not work, a test of the national missile defense system failed.
Some missile defense opponents, quick to react, called for all tests of the system to stop.
For example, Yousaf Butt, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, called, in a July 30, 2013 letter to the New York Times, for the elimination of funding for the mid-course defense of United States territory.
He asserted that rogue states would not strike the US with weapons delivered by missiles that such delivery by missiles was simply the means the Soviets and Americans had agreed to use during the Cold War but would not be used by rogue states.
Many of the most prominent missile defense critics today were the same as those who had ridiculed original missile defense proposals in 1983 as "Star Wars" as some kind of movie fantasy.
Even before any missile defense element was first tested, they had opposed building defenses for America, and as late as 2001, when the US finally jettisoned the ABM Treaty, still had not changed their minds.
Missile defense, they said, could not technologically work. They also still warned that getting rid of the ABM treaty -- which prohibited national missile defenses -- would not only undo any chance for nuclear arms control, but would also provoke a war with the Soviets. [Much of this flawed analysis is contained in the lengthy essay referenced above published by the New York Review of Books.]
Contrary to their fears, however, nuclear weapons in Russia and the United States have actually been collectively reduced by over 15,000 since 2002, when the ABM treaty was junked and the U.S and its allies starting building missile defenses in earnest.
Undaunted, and faced with such facts, critics go back to the false claim that the technology does not work.
When faced with information that 60 of 74 tests were successful -- an 80% success rate -- they claim -- as William Broad reported in the New York Times on June 9, 2000 – "the tests are obviously rigged."
The New Debate: Technology or Politics?
The debate over how to proceed with missile defense is therefore not as simple as it seems.
At the center are two problems. The first is a technology problem, which can be solved.
But the second, the political problem, continues to be tougher.
Critics claim that in the vacuum of space, in the mid-course, a missile cannot distinguish between the real warhead and lighter decoys fired along with it to "confuse" a possible interceptor. The critics claim, therefore, that no intercept is possible.
In the first 3-5 minutes of flight, however, the warhead and decoys remain intact, as part of the missile. Thus, if it were intercepted early, there would be no decoys to worry about. This approach, however, requires an extremely fast interceptor and a favorable geographic setting. Although it can be performed from land, sea or space, the U.S. does not yet have a boost-phase intercept capability in the field to intercept warheads early in flight. Those technologies, which were being researched and tested, were eliminated in 2009.
That particular technological problem, however, can be solved. As former Missile Defense Director USAF Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Trey Obering recently explained in a July 23, 2013 Foreign Policy Initiative Forum in Washington, D.C., in two mid-course tests, the kill-vehicle was able to distinguish between the warhead and decoys. Funding for that research work, unfortunately, was also eliminated in 2009. We of course still need to do more tests. Critics, however, will not support more tests of boost-phase technology.
Although today our sea-based missile defenses -- projected to be included on nearly 38 Navy Aegis combat ships -- are used primarily for the defense of our forces and friends overseas, they could easily be used for the homeland as well. They just have never been tested for the boost-stage, or early-intercept, of long-range missiles. Unfortunately, in 2009, funding was also eliminated for boost-phase research and development, including funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), the multiple-kill-vehicle (MKV), a system with a lot of kill-vehicles able to go after the warheads and decoys simultaneously, as well as the KEI, or kinetic-energy interceptor, a extremely fast two-stage missile capable of getting to its target quickly.
At the moment, opponents in Congress can block space research. In fact they will not even support a research study of possible space capabilities, let alone build defenses that would be the best means of defending against missile threats, including those that use decoys. From space, you can be right over the target all the time, with an ability to see a launch almost instantly, and shoot and destroy the threatening missile.
The protection we have at present consists of 30 deployed ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, and Aegis Navy cruisers with missile-interceptors aboard, able to defend America if the ships, when steaming, are near the continental United States (CONUS).
The U.S. urgently needs complimentary capabilities to defend against ocean-borne threats from freighters or submarines, but even though such defenses are under consideration, no one has yet decided to build them.
The House version of the defense bill explicitly calls for a new East Coast missile defense site, which could both protect against long-range missile threats as well as missile launches from maritime regions around the United States.
One can only ask: Why are more robust U.S. defenses not being put in place to defend America at home?
Lessons for the Hunt for Red October
At the end of the Cold War, when Congress and the George H. W. Bush administration were debating how to proceed with missile defenses, The Hunt for Red October, the Tom Clancy thriller, was speculating about the possible Soviet plan for a first-strike against the United States; it would be able to destroy U.S. cities and simultaneously decapitate its ability to retaliate. This idea morphed into the worry that once the Soviet Union broke up, an authorized, unauthorized or even unintentional launch of Russian missiles might, in the resulting turmoil, come America's way.
GPALS [Global Protection Against Limited Strikes] and ALPS [the Accidental Launch Protection System] were both put forward as possible missile-defense frameworks. As former missile defense chief Hank Cooper, now with High Frontier, explained to me, the George H. W. Bush administration proposed a space-based and ground-based combination of missile defenses to protect the United States, and even explored with some senior Russian experts the idea of joint collaborative work.
Again, politics intervened, and Congressional leaders -- many opposed to missile defense – agreed, in a compromise, to research a land-based component while postponing any kind of space-based element far into the future.
A year later, in 1993, the new Clinton administration announced, as reported by the Federation of American Scientists on May 13, 1993, that it had "Taken the 'Stars' out of Star Wars" designed to protect the American homeland, while cutting, as well, upwards of 25-40% of the funding for short-range missile-defense systems -- those largely protecting our military forces and bases overseas.
Thus began an extended national debate over whether there were any ballistic missile threats to the U.S. that even justified research efforts to examine a national missile defense (NMD) effort. A CIA report claimed no such threats to the U.S. were on the horizon – forgetting, however, to mention to Congress that the report had arbitrarily excluded from its assessment both Hawaii and Alaska.
To connect the dots accurately, Congress then mandated a new study, conducted by a newly created "Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," and it directed it to include Hawaii and Alaska. In 1998, the Commission completed its work and released a unanimous report concluding that a country such as Iran or North Korea could develop a long range missile threat to the United States within five years of a decision to do so -- much faster than previous U.S. intelligence studies had estimated.
The report also concluded that the U.S. could not count on rogue states undertaking an extensive missile test period; thus there would be less warning of such developments than previously assumed. The report also noted that previous U.S. intelligence reports were erroneous for assuming that rogue states would develop rockets from indigenous sources only. The report warned that cooperative help from other states, such as Russia and China, could dramatically compress the time frame in which threats could emerge.
Ironically, these fears were realized within weeks of the release of the Commission report, when in a surprise, North Korea test-launched a long-range rocket. While the third stage motor failed, it was determined that if all rocket motor stages had worked, the missile would have had the capability to reach the United States.
That event, in turn, once again led to a fierce debate in Congress whether to accelerate development of a national missile defense and actually make a deployment decision, yes or no.
At the end of the Clinton administration, the President decided "No" -- not to move toward deployment, and not to test a key interceptor.
His decision came despite overwhelmingly bipartisan support for the 1999 National Missile Defense Act, which called for the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) "as soon as technologically possible."
The National Missile Defense Act had passed the Senate 97-3, and the House 317-105. Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Curt Weldon, were the heroes who secured its passage. Although the bill was signed into law, President Clinton said about testing, "Not today."
Beyond Mutual Assured Destruction [MAD]
It was two years later, on December 18, 2002, when the new George W. Bush administration formally jettisoned the ABM Treaty, which had prevented deployment of missile defenses. That came while the administration also put forward a plan to deploy the initial stage of a national missile defense by the end of its first term.
During the Cold War, the mutual vulnerability of both superpowers to one another's missile strikes was often described as "MAD" or Mutual Assured Destruction -- a doctrine that had been enshrined by the 1972 ABM Treaty ban on missile defenses.
By the end of the Cold War, however, U.S. deterrent policy had evolved to a doctrine of holding our adversaries' military weaponry at risk, including their nuclear forces, to prevent them from remaining in a sanctuary from which to fire -- cost-free and at will -- against the United States and its allies.
By the end of the George W. Bush administration in 2008, some 1,200 American missile defense interceptors of all kinds were deployed, were scheduled soon to be deployed, or built worldwide. It was finally hoped that America would not need to embrace any aspect of MAD much longer. Instead of avenging a missile strike on the United States, we could simply intercept the warhead and destroy it. In a crisis, an American president would have the extra diplomatic maneuverability to avoid being blackmailed or terrorized by a hostile nation aiming missiles -- especially those launched secretly -- at U.S. cities.
Or so we thought.
Given the absence of an effective national missile defense, retaliatory deterrence alone would still remain the basis for U.S. safety. But that policy assumes that the adversaries are rational.
However, can the mullahs in Iran or the Kim family in North Korea -- or their terrorist affiliates -- be relied upon to be perpetually rational?
Even though we have the protection of the initial 30 interceptors -- planned to be increased to 44 -- in Alaska and California, everyone understands that the U.S. national missile defenses need more work.
The mullahs in Iran may love death more than life, and their allies in Pyongyang may again look -- surreptitiously -- for a means of striking the United States. But missile defense would protect against these rogue states, and could prevent the U.S. from being blackmailed.
Adversaries of the U.S. and its allies get to vote, too, and their threats will grow. One cannot stand still.
The fiercest critics of missile defense appear simply not to like defenses. They see them as giving America too much power, what Bill Keller, the New York Times op-ed columnist, later to become its Executive Editor, described as America being able to exercise an "unfettered self-interest" (November 25, 2001).
In 2009, despite widespread progress in building missile defenses for the past decade, and even as missile threats proliferated, the Center for American Progress, for instance, proposed cutting our missile defense budgets from $9 billion to $2 billion, a dramatic cut which would have all but killed the program and its 18 key elements.
At the end of the day, the administration cut funding by $2 billion (from $9 billion to $7 billion annually), but as we have seen, these cuts did serious damage to missile defenses.
As Senator Kelly Ayotte, a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently noted, (July 23, 2013, Foreign Policy Initiative Forum) overall NMD funding has been cut 50% since 2009. And despite the U.S. facing even greater missile threats, plans for testing have suffered as well.
Opponents of missile defense also simply do not want to go into space even though Russia and China are doing just that. In addition, space is the most likely theater of the next war, especially if left undefended.
Not only is space-based missile defense off-limits, but funding for boost-phase research from the sea or land is still nowhere to be seen in the MDA or Missile Defense Agency.
While the current 30 U.S.-based long range interceptors now deployed provide some defense, they need to be improved. Many missile defense critics, however, want such enhancements scrapped.
The eastern United States and the Gulf region approaches are also in need of protection. Critics, however, say there is no need for an East Coast defense. Although such funding for the East Coast has been approved by the House Armed Services Committee, its Senate counterpart has approved funds only for an environmental-impact study of new basing possibilities.
All this potential work is easily able to be undertaken, but until it is approved, much of the United States and its allies will remain undefended in key, critical areas.
There are superb additional missile defense options for our protection beyond those now deployed.
Currently, for example, the U.S. is planning to put Navy interceptors "ashore" in Romania to defend Europe against Iran. Why can't the U.S. deploy on land the same interceptors on its own eastern seaboard? The U.S. could then help defend against ocean-going threats, which may be the optimum means of a surreptitious EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) missile attack by its adversaries.
A U.S. missile defense simply assumes that the U.S has a right to protect itself because it is threatened.
Missile defense opponents, however, such as Bill Keller apparently are uneasy about that. Another prominent critic Joe Cirincione, the head of the Ploughshares Fund claims, "First the shield, then the sword", (Arms Control Today, April 2000), implying that US missile defenses are in reality a preparation for aggression.
Others claim that America's "chickens are coming home to roost" (abcnews.go.com, March 13, 2008), implying that the U.S. deserves the terrorist attacks it suffers -- even if they come from missiles.
On April 12, 2013, the New York Times wrote that America's negotiating conditions with North Korea and Iran are "too severe" -- implying that if the U.S. would only stop building defenses, its adversaries would stop building missiles, too.
A corollary belief is that "they" -- North Korea and Iran, for example, -- want only "regime survival." What is not asked is: "Survival to do what?"
For example, this view was most recently expressed by Professor Graham Allison of Harvard in the Atlantic (August 1, 2013, "Will Iran get a Bomb—or Be Bombed Itself—This Year?"). Despite evidence to the contrary, he asserts that Iran will only build a nuclear weapon "if it thinks the regime is threatened" by the United States or Israel.
The same excuse is reflected in Pyongyang's oft-repeated refrain that it is building a nuclear capability because of America's "hostile policy." As just about any U.S. action is described by Iran and North Korea as "hostile," this reasoning implies that no one should be armed except Tehran and Pyongyang.
The Arms Control Association, apparently angry about the U.S. ending its adherence to the ABM Treaty, wrote in a 2001 editorial: "The U.S. does not play nice in the international sandbox."
Yousaf Butt, in the same July 31, 2013 New York Times letter referenced above, went so far as to conclude that U.S. deployment of missile defenses causes rogue states to build more missiles aimed at America -- in short, that the problem is "our fault for defending ourselves."
Still another prominent critic from the Union of Concerned Scientists claimed, at a May 2, 2001 press conference, "Fire, Aim, Ready" that, "No missile defense is the best defense" -- a statement echoed at the same press conference by Congressman Rush Holt (D) of New Jersey.
So should the U.S. just give up and adopt mutual assured destruction with North Korea, China and Iran?
Many Americans might say that is not good enough.
On July 10, 2013, the U.S. Air Force and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center completed a major review of the ballistic missile threats to the US mainland. It concluded that "China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world" and is building more ballistic missiles than anyone -- and faster.
The review concludes that by 2015, both Iran's and North Korea's long-range missiles will be able to reach the United States.
One can only conclude that, deep down, many critics of missile defense want to see America not protected. Whatever their criticisms, they keep looking for more and more convenient excuses to camouflage an inherent bias against defending America.
As Bill Keller of the New York Times again put it, an effective US missile defense would undermine the power of North Korea and Iran (see the Orlando Sentinel, "Dreamers, Schemers, Deceivers: Behind ABM Treaty Withdrawal", February 4, 2002).
Perhaps some other Americans are also happy to allow enemies of the United States, such as Iran, North Korea, and their terrorist offshoots, to hold the U.S. hostage to their demands -- whether political, military or economic. But those Americans, despite thousands of years of military history to the contrary, would seemingly prefer the U.S. to succumb to blackmail rather than to exercise a natural, legitimate, and constitutional right of self-defense.
Lessons of Iron Dome
Late last year, Israel successfully defended its homeland from hundreds of rockets launched by the terrorist group Hamas.
Israel's short-range missile defense system, Iron Dome, was built and fielded in three years. The technology was further improved while actually in use. 90% of the attempted intercepts were successful.
Israel's short-range missile defense system, Iron Dome, was built and fielded in three years. (Image source: Nehemia Gershuni)
When one prominent opponent of U.S. missile defenses, Ted Postol of M.I.T., claimed that at best only 15% of Hamas rockets were destroyed, further investigation into that claim by missile defense expert Uzi Rubin revealed that Postol's criticisms "turned out to be without foundation, they were laughed at."
U.S. Air Force General Bernard Schriever, after a go-ahead from Air Force Chief General Arnold "Hap" Arnold in 1958, built and deployed the Minuteman ICBM in just four years ("A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon"). It was a remarkable achievement that was just years earlier had been considered impossible. And now over half a century later, the Minuteman's successor, the nuclear ICBM Minuteman III, is still in use, with 450 deployed missiles in five states. The ingenuity we applied during the Cold War and represented by Schriever's success in deterrence should now be equally aimed at building the added deterrent value of missile defenses.
It is often noted that if nuclear deterrence alone worked against the Soviet Union for so many years, why would we need anything different today? However, even though nuclear deterrence worked during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, are we certain that North Korea or Iran, or their proxies, will not try to attack us surreptitiously with missiles?
They could, for example, be launched from a freighter or submarine off-shore, or perhaps in an EMP [electro-magnetic pulse] mode, in which a nuclear warhead is detonated some 70-100 kilometers above the U.S. to shut down the nation's grid and critical infrastructure?
Having the added insurance of missile defenses would be prudent.
Maybe it is time America decided it was time for our "boys to be boys" -- in service to that constitutional requirement: "To Provide for the Common Defense."