- - Monday, July 23, 2012

The security of the United States, its NATO allies and its friends in the Middle East — especially Israel — remains significantly dependent on America’s ability to provide a robust defense for its own territory and that of its allies. In the post-Cold War era, this may seem an anachronism, but recent events highlight the need for America’s military strength.

Russian military supplies for Syria may be convoyed by Russian navy vessels. Not only small-scale weapons, but high-tech helicopters and eventually MiG airplanes appear to be on Damascus’ shopping list. In addition, Moscow has furnished more than $5 billion in critical military equipment to Iran over the past few years.

Rebecca Heinrich of the Heritage Foundation has noted Russia’s use of explicit nuclear threats 15 times over the past few years, a phenomenon outlined in congressional testimony by Mark Schneider of the National Institute of Public Policy. In an unpublished paper, another Russia expert within the U.S. government has explored stated Russian strategic and nuclear doctrine. The investigation uncovered explicit Russian consideration of using nuclear weapons early in a crisis as a de-escalatory move, whether dealing with Chinese conventional threats to Russia’s east, terrorist threats from the Caucasus in the south, or high-tech NATO threats from the west.

Particularly worrisome is the continued Russian avoidance of sanctions against Iran. This includes loopholes in United Nations resolutions and waivers granted by the U.S. administration from congressionally passed sanctions. While perhaps not intended, this action has given Moscow a green light to arm both Iran and its key ally, Syria. Notably, included in those arms has been ballistic missile technology, though Russia claims only rogue business elements have been furnishing such technology to Iran.

A new U.S. government report, required annually by Congress, says Iran has dramatically improved its offensive missile capability with respect to range, destructive power and day-to-day alert status. While many analysts see little threat from Iran to the continental United States, they assume Tehran’s reach is solely a function of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, which the mullahs have not yet deployed.

Buried in the new report to Congress is a repetition of the findings of an earlier assessment acknowledging that Iran very well may acquire such a long-range missile capability as early as 2015. Tehran could deploy ballistic missiles of various kinds in the Western Hemisphere, say in Venezuela, Nicaragua or even Cuba. Combine that scenario with the fact that the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, just predicted that Iran would be nuclear-capable within two years, and it is clear that Americans and our allies have every reason for concern.

A replay of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 could be precisely what the Russians and their allies might engineer, with their surrogate coalition partners in Tehran carrying out such designs. An electromagnetic-pulse-type attack using rockets launched from offshore freighters sitting somewhere in America’s vast maritime environment could kill millions of innocent American civilians and cripple the U.S. ability to respond to a crisis in the Middle East or elsewhere. And the identity of the attacker could be masked.

Critical to defending against such threats is the acquisition of an adequate inventory of missile defenses, especially the U.S. Aegis-based standard missile and the SM-3 1B variant, Iron Dome units like those just deployed by Israel, and some combination of interceptors devoted to protecting the East Coast and Gulf Coast of the United States.

When Congress debated whether to add a third site to the missile-defense inventory — which now includes two sites in Alaska and California — critics were quick to complain that a ground-based interceptor (GBI) deployment in the East would not be technically capable of intercepting freighter-borne threats within hundreds of kilometers of the U.S. coast.

They assumed, wrongly, that the only interceptor being considered was additional GBIs. An East Coast deployment could and should include Aegis cruisers, armed with SM-3 IA and intercontinental ballistic interceptors, batteries of shore-based Aegis interceptors at U.S. military installations, or Iron Dome batteries capable of protecting major American urban areas.

However, our current and planned inventory of such missile-defense interceptors is not adequate for the task at hand. It must be ramped up. That starts with the administration and Congress devoting greater funds to missiles currently deployed and in development.

Without this action, our federal government will fail to appreciably fulfill its constitutional oath to “provide for the common defense.”

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac.