- - Monday, January 28, 2019

Immediately following President Trump’s rollout of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review (MDR), Russia responded that the new U.S. strategy was proof “Washington’s desire to ensure uncontested military domination in the world will inevitably start an arms race in space with the most negative consequences for international security and stability, will not strengthen security of the U.S. and its allies and will have the opposite effect and deal another heavy blow to international stability.”

This reaction reminded many of us of events immediately following Ronald Reagan’s March 23, 1983, speech that initiated his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program — the famous “Star Wars” speech. Within days, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov warned that if strategic defenses were built, “the floodgates of a runaway race of all types of strategic arms, offensive and defensive, would happen.”

This intensified when, in October 1983, we began deploying our Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) systems — Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMS) — in five West European nations. This countered the Soviet SS-20 IRBMs being deployed to threaten our NATO forces and allies.

The Soviets also walked out of the ongoing INF negotiations, as well as all other arms control talks — and executed a worldwide propaganda campaign, seeking to affect the pending elections throughout Europe and in the United States. Nevertheless, all five NATO nations deploying our INF systems re-elected their leaders who supported the deployments — and Ronald Reagan was re-elected by an overwhelming margin.

Nevertheless, and a few days later, four American arms control advocates McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kenan, Robert McNamara and Gerard C. Smith — continued the opposition chant: Their article title in Foreign Affairs said it all, “Arms Control: The President’s Choice: Star Wars or Arms Control?”

Meanwhile, the SDI program made widely acclaimed strides demonstrating not only President Reagan’s seriousness, but also that the Pentagon, led by Secretary Caspar Weinberger, was making impressive progress, including early testing that demonstrated U.S. technical expertise and the viability of Mr. Reagan’s SDI vision.

And our INF deployments continued, as did Mr. Reagan’s “Strategic Modernization Program” that was rectifying the atrophy of our military forces during the Carter administration, when our Army, Navy and Air Force strategic and tactical forces merited Army Chief of Staff Gen. “Shy” Meyer’s “hollow army” label.

Mr. Reagan’s persistence got the Soviet’s attention — and in March 1985 they agreed to return to the negotiating table. In fact, SDI played a major part in supporting Mr. Reagan’s basic arms control strategy that sought “Peace through Strength” — a slogan now echoed by President Trump.

From the very beginning of the new Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva, the Soviets insisted that there could be no reductions in offensive nuclear forces unless we abandoned SDI — claiming it undermined “strategic stability” and would lead to an “arms race in space.”

However, and as it turned out, SDI did not block arms control efforts. In fact, when Mr. Reagan walked out of the October 1986 Reykjavik Summit because Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that our research on space-based defenses be limited to the laboratory, it strengthened our bargaining position — and the Soviets ultimately agreed without further limitations on SDI.

After the Berlin Wall fell, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher memorably noted that SDI had ended the Cold War “without firing a shot.” And, as SDI continued, we achieved historic INF and Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START) Treaties.

Moreover, in 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin actually proposed further reductions while at the same time working together to build a joint global defense to protect the world community. His proposal was entirely consistent with Mr. Reagan’s instructions we had advocated and defended in Geneva for five years.

Regrettably, the Clinton administration scuttled SDI efforts in early 1993, did not pursue talks with Russia on Yeltsin’s proposals and even reverted to Cold War rhetoric that gave preference to limiting strategic defenses. No wonder Russia’s immediate response to Mr. Trump’s Missile Defense Review (MDR) — and his Space Force initiative — is the same old Cold War rhetoric we got from the Soviets and our own “arms control community” in 1985.

Just as Mr. Reagan and his defense and foreign policy team did, todays elected and appointed “powers that be” must hold firm and execute Mr. Trump’s Missile Defense Review (MDR). Only then will the American people get the defenses and security they deserve, and all without ending fruitful diplomatic efforts — any more than did SDI in the Reagan-GHW Bush era.

Indeed, today’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems can finish the job that Ronald Reagan began 35 years ago — the job that was abandoned by the Clinton administration and has been only partially revived since then.

In particular, Mr. Trump can employ today’s much improved technologies to build even more cost-effective space-based BMD systems than was “Brilliant Pebbles,” the most cost-effective system concept advanced during the SDI era (1983-93) — but scuttled in early 1993 by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, as he “took the stars out of Star Wars.”

Bottom line: If our sustained diplomatic efforts insist that Mr. Trump’s Missile Defense Review agenda proceeds with advanced SDI concepts — especially in countering the new “hypersonic” threat posed by Russia and China, American technology will again provide not only the negotiating leverage to support our diplomacy but also the effective and affordable ballistic missile defense systems we need.

• Henry F. Cooper and Daniel J. Gallington served in a series of senior national security related positions, including the Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union.

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