- - Thursday, May 12, 2016

Luke Skywalker and Jabba the Hut weren’t the only characters making waves around the world in the 1980s.

Ronald Reagan and his missile defense strategy, or Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), was derisively dubbed “Star Wars” and ridiculed by the left. “Ronald RayGun” was vilified in the press on both sides of the Atlantic for his supposed stupidity in suggesting that the U.S. could defend itself from nuclear missiles and need not rely on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction for its safety and security.

However, Moscow was not laughing. In fact, the fear of not being able to keep up with the West in a missile defense arms race was a big factor in the fall of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin realized it could not keep up financially and technologically with the American president’s vision. Reagan even suggested making the technology available to both sides to prevent a nuclear war and strove to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons. This is a key piece of Cold War history that has been forgotten by or was never taught to most Americans.

Vladimir Putin remembers.

Mr. Putin was a young KGB officer during the SDI debate. The scars produced by the collapse of the only world the Soviets knew can be seen in the Kremlin’s actions and statements down to this day. A perfect example: the total Russian freakout over American efforts to restart missile defense efforts in eastern Europe, on soil once dominated by the old Soviet Union. This really bothers the Russian strategic command, even though NATO and the Obama administration insist the effort is not aimed at Russia but at rogue states such as Iran launching missiles into the heart of the alliance. NATO is bringing operational a new Aegis missile system in Romania and plans another site in Poland. Sea-based platforms also exist in the Baltic Sea near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

“From the very outset we kept saying that, in the opinion of our experts, the deployment of an anti-missile defense poses a threat to Russia,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency. “The question is not whether measures will be taken or not; measures are being taken to maintain Russia’s security at the necessary level.”

Upon successful testing, Russia is soon to deploy the “Satan 2” ICBM and could reach an advanced operational capability in 2018 with 70 percent modernization of its strategic rocket forces. The weapon is a monster that carries up to 15 warheads, including decoys and other methods built in to defeat American missile defenses. Clearly, Russia means to prevent the U.S. and NATO from gaining a strategic advantage again with an anti-missile capability, no matter how much the White House promises the effort is not aimed at Moscow.

Part of this overarching concern is that although Moscow’s conventional forces have drastically improved thanks to massive budget increases under Mr. Putin, the Russian military still relies mainly on its nuclear forces for deterrence and to secure its place at the geopolitical table. Russia’s conventional forces are only around 30 percent modernized. Most of the army is underequipped and undertrained, with the best of its force deployed in Syria. Although very capable internally, the Russian military’s ability to project power is still limited — hence the reliance on nuclear weapons. Mr. Putin routinely reminds the world to “not forget Russia is a nuclear power.”

I have no doubt that if Mr. Putin thought using those weapons were necessary, he would do so. This is all the more reason for the next administration to modernize the American nuclear triad and pursue a robust missile defense for the United States and our allies. An enhanced missile defense capability will never totally protect us from a Russian nuclear onslaught. However, it may spark just enough of a doubt in the Kremlin about its offensive capabilities to prevent the missiles from being launched in the first place.

L. Todd Wood, is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, The New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

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