Ronald Reagan’s vision that the United States would one day need a missile defense system was again validated last week when North Korea assembled and fueled a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to American cities.
On March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced from the Oval Office, “I’ve reached a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the 21st century.” He explained his vision — and his defense budget’s inclusion — of the genesis of this nation’s missile defense effort.
Liberals, and most of the media, derided the president’s project as “Star Wars.” Reagan’s visionary effort, which included men like Edward Teller as an adviser, proposed to assemble “the best and brightest” minds of American technology to master what critics considered the impossible dream: the in-flight destruction of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons headed toward the United States from hostile shores.
Now, again a grateful nation can pause to thank President Reagan.
Just last week, these activities underscored the success of this long struggle to master the difficult technological challenges of missile defense; challenges similar to those encountered by President Kennedy’s decision to put men on the moon:
A U.S. Navy AEGIS cruiser at-sea detected, tracked and destroyed a ballistic missile. In eight at-sea tests, the Navy has been successful seven times.
A Japanese Navy AEGIS destroyer performed a surveillance and tracking exercise during the test, the first time any U.S. ally has taken part in a U.S. missile defense intercept test. Japan’s indigenously produced destroyers combine U.S. and Japanese technology to provide the ballistic missile tracking system.
A third AEGIS ship used in the test linked up with a land-based missile defense radar to evaluate the ship’s ability to receive and use target data from missile defense command centers. This vital technology, called “cueing,” allows sensors to internet missile tracking data from one platform to the next. This technique will allow, for example, sensors in Japan to detect a North Korean missile launch and initiate launch orders to interceptors at-sea; or in the U.S.
Japan took custody of a long-range X-Band ballistic missile tracking radar at a base in northern Japan. This radar will one-day become a critical link in the “cueing” effort should North Korea ever launch a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear weapon.
Also in Japan, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer, signed an agreement which commits the two countries to jointly produce interceptor missiles. By previous agreements, the United States has been sharing missile defense information with Japan. But this agreement also allows the transfer of ballistic missile defense technology from Japan to the United States, a breakthrough for Japan which since World War II has adhered to a self-imposed ban on arms exports.
Finally, America’s initial land-based ballistic missile interceptors were placed on a full war alert. These few missiles have only undergone their initial testing. But under a philosophy developed by the Bush administration to deploy capability incrementally (a little ballistic missile defense is better than none at all) these interceptors are now poised to face an attack by missiles on America.
These many achievements are neither an end nor a beginning. Rather, the ballistic missile defense effort, often-criticized, has been a long national investment effort of dollars, technology, but most importantly, the innovation and hard work of Americans and others.
Strategically, ballistic missile defense is changing the world. When Ronald Reagan made his famous missile defense address in 1983, “deterrence” was the trump card of the Soviet Union and the United States to “guard” against ballistic missile attack. That policy called for annihilation by nuclear weapons of the aggressor nation. Now, technology and years of hard work and scientific achievement have changed the strategic landscape.
Terrorists and rogue nations striving to attain nuclear weapons and long range missiles have also changed the strategic balance.
In an age where deterrence seems not to deter the likes of North Korea or Iran, and certainly not terrorists without a country, finally there are other options: missile defense options, for the president of the United States facing the bluster, coercion or even the warfare intent of another nation or even a terrorist cell.