We live in a time of increasing nuclear peril. One Muslim country, Pakistan, already has nukes. A second, Iran, who is much more antagonistic towards us, is developing them, along with the medium range missiles necessary to use them on Israel and Europe. North Korea probably already has them, and is working on long range ballistic missiles capable of hitting us. Of course, we can’t forget China, who has had primitive nukes and ICBMs for decades, but has only recently, through espionage, acquired systems in line with our own. We also can’t forget Russia: a dormant threat, but not an extinct one. Amidst these threats, the only real, credible hope we have of deterring or even stopping a nuclear missile attack on this country is with a working, fully operational, and fully deployed missile defense system. Yet, predictably, in this time of gathering storm clouds, it is the newly elected Democrat majority in congress that is threatening to take away our umbrella.
In the eighties, when a missile defense system was first proposed in earnest by the Reagan Administration under the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the two main arguments used against it were that it would be “de-stabilizing”, and that the technology necessary to get it working was a good twenty years out. Well, it’s been twenty plus years now. The stability issue seems to have faded, and the technology to get a basic, first generation system up and running is here. Launch sites have been set up in Alaska and California; indeed the system was even brought online in late June of this year with an eye towards possibly shooting down North Korea’s Taep’o-dong 2 missile if it was test launched against the protests of the entire world. It’s entirely possible that it would have succeeded in shooting down that missile when it was launched, had the target stayed airborne long enough for us to even try.
Much progress has been made, although there is still testing and tweaking to be done in order to make the system completely reliable. It is this necessary testing that is giving some long-time foes of missile defense their opening to attempt to cut funding for the program, with an eye toward eventually killing it. By using the “testing issue”, program opponents, led by Senator Carl Levin, can set an impossibly high standard for the system to live up to.
All of this is symptomatic of the Democrats continuing inability to understand a key fact in both life and war: The perfect is the enemy of the good. Yes, the system may not be perfect, and probably never will be. Yes, some of the interceptors may fail to hit their target. This is to be expected at this early stage of development. It is not yet a mature technology. It is, however, much cheaper than the alternative. An interceptor missile, even at this early stage of development, is far, far cheaper than the cost of the nuclear missile it is targeting. One interceptor launched at an ICBM may miss, but ten launched at the same target will not, and will still be less expensive than the nuke they destroy. If our enemies can build dozens of nukes a year, surely we can build hundreds or even thousands of interceptors per year to mach.
Some may consider this approach wasteful, but it is surely less wasteful than the alternative of allowing a nuclear missile launched by a foreign foe to vaporize one or more American cities. Senator Levin should be reminded that his constituents will not be amused to find one of their state’s major cities destroyed because he felt protecting it wasn’t worth the cost of a handful of interceptor missiles.
There is also the argument that a missile defense system will not protect us from the threat of a terrorist nuke smuggled across our boarders and detonated inside one of our cities without warning. This is very true, in much the same way that it’s true that the fire department won’t be able to help me if someone is trying to break into my house. Yet, I don’t hear any calls for disbanding the fire department on those grounds. If you’re trying to make breakfast, you don’t throw out the toaster for being unable to properly fry an egg.
None of these arguments successfully distract from the basic point that once an enemy ballistic missile is fired at you, the only two responses are either to shoot it down, or to take the hit like a man. I know which course of action I prefer, and when it comes right down to it, I think that given the choice, the majority of Americans would agree with me. It’s disturbing that this newly elected congress, who has expressed a desire to be taken seriously on matters of national security, seem to disagree.