BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE IS NOT YET REALITY
By Brian T. Kennedy
Nowhere is it written that America is invincible. Yet, the threat of nuclear attack has somehow seeped out of our consciousness. Because it didn’t happen during the Cold War, perhaps we presume it never will. But Islamic terrorists did fly planes into our buildings, and, if they obtain nuclear weapons, they will not shrink from using them on us. Nor do they pose the only threat to America of nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail.
Let us examine the three countries that present the greatest challenge to U.S. interests and security.
In 2005, President Putin announced that Russia was developing a new ballistic missile. The prototype of a new hypersonic vehicle, he said, had proved its ability to maneuver while in orbit, thereby enabling it to dodge an enemy’s missile shield. Russia clearly believed that the U.S.A. would build missile defense systems, and has taken steps to build weapons to negate them. With thousands of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, Russia remains a most serious threat to U.S. security.
Nor did our victory in the Cold War entail the disarming or reorganization of Communist China, which, in fact, has over two million men under arms. And, although China’s Navy and Air Force are not as sophisticated as Russia’s, they still possess a minimum of 30 intercontinental ballistic missiles — most of them aimed at the U.S.A. — and hundreds of short and medium range nuclear missiles for use in an Asian theater of combat. Today, in an unprecedented build-up that has even Liberal policy analysts concerned, the Chinese are building and testing more than one ballistic missile per week.
Furthermore, China’s military thinking is openly anti-American. Its military journals write candidly about unrestricted warfare using a combination of traditional military power, cyber warfare, economic warfare, nuclear warfare, and terrorism. China is also working to develop a space-based military capability and is investing in launch vehicles that include manned spaceflight, a space station, and extensive anti-satellite weaponry meant to negate U.S. global satellite coverage (the latter was successfully tested last year).
Both the Russians and the Chinese know that the only nation that can limit their influence is the U.S.A. Thus they seek to limit our influence on the world stage, and will undertake whatever policies serve that end.
Meanwhile, the goal of Islamism, or radical Islam, is the conversion, subjugation, or destruction of the infidel peoples — first and foremost the citizens of the U.S.A., Western Europe, and Israel. Even after 9/11, we appear not to take that threat seriously. But Islam is not fragile. It has survived for over a thousand years, and has controlled at various times much of what we know as the civilized world. Even more worrisome, today its determination is matched with modern weaponry and it enjoys alliances with powerful non-Islamic powers.
Consider Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have control of key strategic parts of the Iranian government, and the IRGC is capable of operating as a terrorist training unit both inside and outside of Iran (witness Iran’s support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and its backing of lethal attacks on Americans in Iraq). For the past decade, Iran — with the assistance of Russia, China, and North Korea — has been developing missile technology. It is believed that the Iranians have produced hundreds of Shahab-3 missiles. This is not the most sophisticated missile in the world, but it is capable of carrying a payload to Israel or — if launched from a ship — to an American city.
The current controversy over Iran’s nuclear production is really about whether it can produce an industrial infrastructure that would be capable of producing nuclear warheads. It has sought nuclear capability since the time of the Shah, as most nations do, since nuclear weapons bestow on a country great military and political power. Even a fully democratic and pro-Western Iran would want such weapons.
Ahmadinejad said in 2005:
What about this do we not get?
Consider this scenario: An ordinary-looking freighter ship heading toward New York City or Los Angeles launches a missile from its hull or from a canister lowered into the sea. The missile hits a densely populated area and a million people are incinerated. The ship is sunk and no one claims responsibility. There is no firm evidence as to who sponsored the attack, and thus no one against whom to launch a counterstrike.
But as terrible as that scenario sounds, consider a second one: Let us say the freighter ship launches a nuclear-armed Shahab-3 missile off the coast of the U.S. and it explodes 300 miles over Chicago, creating an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Gamma rays scatter in what is called the Compton effect, and three separate pulses disable consumer electronics, some automobiles, and, most importantly, the hundreds of large transformers that distribute power throughout the U.S. All of our lights, refrigerators, TVs, and radios stop running. We have no communication. This is what is referred to as an EMP attack, and such an attack would effectively throw America back into the early Nineteenth Century. Perhaps, hundreds of millions of us will die from lack of food and water and as a result of social breakdown.
Opponents of missile defense call such scenarios far fetched, on the basis that the U.S.A. would launch a nuclear attack against whatever nation attacks us. That is, they continue to rely on the doctrine of mutually-assured destruction that our leaders prior to President Reagan relied on during the Cold War. But, in my scenarios, we would not know who attacked us, so that doctrine is no help. And, in any case, even if Iran could be identified as the attacker, who is to say that it wouldn’t gladly sacrifice itself to destroy the Great Satan? As the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said in 1979, during the American hostage crisis: “I say let [Iran] go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the world.”
I do not use the word “destroy” lightly: An EMP attack on the U.S.A. would mean the end of American civilization, and dropping nuclear weapons on or retaliating against whoever caused the attack will not bring our civilization back. Nor is this science fiction. Twice, in the Caspian Sea, the Iranians have tested their ability to launch ballistic missiles in a way to set off an EMP. And the congressionally mandated EMP Commission, including some of America’s finest scientists, has released its findings and issued two separate reports, the most recent in July, 2008, describing the effects of such an attack on the U.S.A.
The most effective form of missile defense is from space, using space-based interceptors that destroy an enemy warhead in its ascent phase when it is easily identifiable, slower, and has not yet deployed decoys. We know this can work from tests conducted in the early 1990s. We have the technology. What we lack is the political will to make it a reality.
Despite the growing Iranian, Chinese, and Russian arsenals, it is said we are postponing serious missile defense because we must win the war on terror first, as if we cannot do both simultaneously. It is also said that we need the help of Russia and China in the war on terrorism, and that such help will not be forthcoming, if we build a missile defense. But the Iranian threat makes such concerns meaningless, and it should be our national policy to defend ourselves from the Russian and Chinese arsenals in any event. In the nuclear age, one does not have the luxury — if one could call it that — of a Pearl Harbor, after which we were able to regroup and rebuild and fight on to victory.
In the face of the threat of an EMP attack, the time for missile defense is now. Our enemies should understand that we will defend our freedom at any cost. In the words of Ronald Reagan, who put America on the road to missile defense:
Imprimis, September, 2008, Volume 37, Number 9
Copyright © 2008 Hillsdale College
Reprinted by Permission from Imprimis,
A Publication of Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan
Military Weaponry & International Security
International Politics & World Disorder:
War, Peace, & Geopolitics in the Real World:
Foreign Affairs & U.S. National Security
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U.S. National Security Strategy
The foregoing article by Brian Kennedy is adapted from a speech he delivered on May 20, 2008, at a Hillsdale College
National Leadership Seminar in New York City. The article first appeared in Imprimis, September, 2008, Volume 37,
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