Monday, March 21, 2005

Missile defenses are again in the news. Our critics are complaining that we need to use the “fairness doctrine” in determining whether national missile defenses should be deployed and whether they will work. In tests so far, the interceptor rockets and kill vehicles have successfully smashed into a dummy warhead five times.

In recent congressional testimony, our missile defense officials said the system needs more testing to ensure that it becomes realistic to expect the system to work repeatedly over time. Fair enough. This is not inconsistent with other comments by our missile-defense officials that in an emergency, our interceptors now deployed in Alaska could be used to shoot down a rocket launched, say, from North Korea.

But to our critics, this has to be challenged. Since the tests have not been 100 percent successful, critics therefore claim even an operational system won’t always work and therefore in a one-on-one engagement, success is uncertain. In short, a new version of the fairness doctrine has emerged in the media and on Capitol Hill as the basis for judging missile defenses. The system is judged entirely on the fanciful idea that if North Korea launched a rocket at the United States, we would be limited to launching in response only one interceptor.

As foolish as this may sound, it is close to being reality. Only last year, at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, our nation’s leading space commanders explained our nation’s security strategy as working toward “space dominance” and being able to deny our adversaries the use of space to attack our forces or our people.

In response, a congresswoman from California, Ellen Tauscher, exclaimed: “Why general, those are fighting words!” She later explained she was worried the United States would use space to attack our adversaries recklessly. I suppose to be fair, we could cede half of all the airspace above the future battle-space where we find our brave soldiers. After all, as Sen. Joe Biden complained shortly after the beginning of the liberation of Afghanistan, the United States was in danger of being considered a “bully” because of the rapid success of our taking down the Taliban and al Qaeda.

And so, too, with missile defense. It is repeatedly cited as a threat to North Korea, Iran or even China. One so-called arms control leader warned “first the shield and then the sword” in calling for the termination of the program.

In ridiculing the current readiness of the now deployed system, I am not quite sure what the problem is. Do our critics wish the system to be ready, and because it is not yet ready to be “repeatedly” used, in the words of a Department of Defense official, they are saying let’s get moving to make it operational? Are the critics saying no matter what we do, it won’t ever be ready because it will always have glitches and therefore this is something just too hard to do? Others complain we need at least a decade more of testing. This in turn implies we adopt a mutual assured destruction policy for dealing with the madmen in Pyongyang and Tehran. Now, there’s a plan.

In addition, our critics do not apply this same test to any other weapon system. For example, could we use the system in an emergency? Well, have we launched the system? Has it found a target in space? Has it intercepted such a target? The answer to all these questions is “yes”; five times we have done this. Now, are we limited to launching only one rocket at an incoming warhead? Are we to be bound by a new fairness doctrine? One attacking warhead, only one interceptor? And if we have 20 interceptors, or 30 or 40, we can’t use them? Or if we do, none will work? Ever?

The president said he wanted a system by 2004. OK, it wasn’t operational. And, my response is: So what? Former Department of Defense official Philip Coyle says we should test for 10 to 12 years. Well then, using his criteria, we would not have a system, even on an emergency basis, until well into the next decade. At that time, how many rogue states other then North Korea and Iran might very well have an arsenal of rockets? This makes America safer?

During the Clintonista regime, some polls showed a majority of Americans thought we had a working national missile defense system. Did any of these critics blame Mr. Clinton for giving the American people the false sense we were protected? Or when Herr Slickmeister said “there are no missiles pointed at America’s children”? A phrase he used 321 times. Where was the criticism that detargeting was not exactly a robust defense of our country given the detargeting was being done by our adversaries vis-a-vis “a promise.”

I can imagine the testimony of a future secretary of defense. “Well yes, senator, we are protected because the commies in North Korea, being so trustworthy, have promised us they have detargeted their rockets and no longer are aiming them at New York. So yes, Senator Foghorn, America’s children are safe.”

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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