- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008

COMMENTARY:

The spectacular intercept of a long-range ballistic missile over the Pacific on Dec. 5 shows once again that the technology works. The ground-based national missile defense now has destroyed its target in eight intercept attempts. It is simply inaccurate for critics to keep saying it does not work. This defense now should be placed in Europe.

Today, 22 of these ground-based midcourse interceptors are operational in Alaska and California, protecting against North Korea and other Asian threats, and 22 more are being fielded. That technology also should be used to protect the Eastern United States and Europe against Iran and other Middle Eastern threats, by installing the interceptors planned for Poland.

Iran is continuing to test new solid-fuel and longer-range missiles, and experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran already has enough fissionable material to build a nuclear warhead. But the Middle Eastern threat is wider than Iran and could include international terrorists or rogue elements in Pakistan, which already has both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

The test last week was the most challenging to date. The target missile was launched from Kodiak Island, Alaska, toward the ocean off California, where it was struck and destroyed by an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The target was tracked by four radars on land and sea. The fire control system then combined the radar data and fed it to the interceptor, enabling the shoot-down of a complex target.



Missile defense opponents keep calling for more flight tests and oppose funding for the base in Europe until the “new” interceptors to be used there have been thoroughly tested.

In fact, the interceptors destined for Europe will be simpler two-stage versions of the existing three-stage rockets now operational in Alaska, one of which was tested successfully last week. And besides, the two-stage version is to be tested next year.

Key members of Congress such as Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ellen Tauscher, who chairs a House armed services subcommittee, this year delayed the program to put interceptors in Europe, “until the technology has been thoroughly tested.” On Nov. 13, a press report from Moscow crowed that Miss Tauscher told a TASS reporter that President-elect Barack Obama will not put missile defenses in Poland that have not yet passed serious tests. But last Friday was a serious test.

President-elect Obama used similar language during the campaign, saying he would only favor missile defenses, “when the technology is proved to be workable.” But what is more workable than a test against a threat-representative target that mimics a likely launch from North Korea or Iran, with a similar trajectory, speed, time and distance?

How many more test intercepts does Congress need, at a cost of $115 million per test, before allowing construction of missile defenses in Europe? If Congress approves the funds, work on the silos in Poland could begin next year, the radar destined for the Czech Republic could be operational by 2013, and the system could be defending Europe and America by 2014. Just in time to protect against Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear and missile programs, which the intelligence community estimates could be able to strike us by around 2015.

Moscow, meanwhile, has threatened to put short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to target the interceptor site nearby in Poland. This is reminiscent of the mid-1970s Soviet deployment of SS-20 medium-range missiles targeting Western Europe. It took NATO’s counter-deployment of Pershing II missiles and the subsequent Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty to eliminate these weapons.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was thought there would be no more missile threats within Europe, but now Russia is returning to the same old Cold War strategy in a new attempt to split NATO, prevent its expansion to the East, and bring its former satellites back under its domination.

The Moscow leadership of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev has faced President-elect Obama with an early challenge: Stay out of our area of influence. The choice for Mr. Obama is clear. He can follow France, Germany and Italy in appeasing Moscow. Or he can lead NATO, press for admission of Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance, and begin building those missile defenses in Poland.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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