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The Dangerous Decline of Missile Defense

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“Star Wars” is often used as an anti-Reagan epithet, to make the former president appear doddy or delusional. Star Wars was in fact the brilliant strategy that would place in earth orbit defensive weapons which could shoot down entire salvos of nuclear payload ballistic missiles before they reached North America. This was not science fiction. A space-based global missile defense shield was not just possible, but relatively cheap (in defense budget terms) to implement.

The proper national reaction to potential nuclear threat from ballistic missile attack should be first to defend against such an attack. At the outset, to defend is cheaper than the attempt to disarm the enemy. Anti-ballistic missile defense, unlike multi-national disarmament, is something which the United States government can control. It is sophistry to think that because the United States of America is a “good” country full of “nice” people, that our example will be sufficient to pacify antagonistic regimes. It is also foolish to believe that if we decrease our stockpile of nuclear deterrents and defenses, other nations will respond to our helplessness with compassion. These scenarios are the philosophical landscape of President Obama, and he has backed us into a corner from which we have no adequate strategies to escape.

An April 20, 2011 analysis paper by James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation outlines the history of ballistic missile technologies and the efforts by the United States to construct adequate defenses against them. The paper is a sad indictment of failures in the Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama administrations to address what is the single most dangerous threat to the security of North America.

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Arms Treaty was an attempt to curb the threat of nuclear missile attack between the United States and the Soviet Union. It called for limits on the manufacture of offensive nuclear arms, and allowed for limited, ground-based interceptions of ballistic missile launches. It was not an effective strategy for the free world and was abandoned by the Bush II administration in 2003.

Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or Star Wars), was a leap in thinking that would place defensive operations into earth orbit. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was unacceptable to Reagan. He opted for the “protect and defend” capabilities of a high tech, space-based array of ABM weapons. The program was underway, but incomplete, when Reagan left office. However, the mere possibility that this technology could exist sent the Soviet Union into a frenzy of military spending that was partly responsible for its collapse in the early 1990s.  Unfortunately, with the fall of the “Evil Empire,” Bush I did not follow through with SDI and without the threat of nuclear strike from the USSR, the program was mothballed.

Clinton gutted the space-based missile defense programs. He also used the elimination of U.S. ground-based, short-range missile defenses in an effort to appease the wounded Russian regime. The Republican Congress in 1999 passed The National Missile Defense Act which was subsequently signed by Clinton. But that law was limited in its effectiveness because of obstacles in defense appropriations. By this time momentum for missile defense programs was waning.  Although Bush II de-authorized the ABM treaty of 1972, he was unable to mount a vigorous missile-defense program during his presidential tenure.

The worst is yet to come. One of Barack Obama’s first acts as president was to cut the missile defense portion of the defense budget by up to 50 percent. In an inexplicable act, he cut ground-based interceptors in a number of tactical locations in the United States by 30 percent. The Obama administration then cut the Bush II-era “third site” ballistic missile defenses located in Poland and Czech Republic. This was not only an affront to the national security of the United States, but a slap in the face to our allies in Eastern Europe. When the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) was ratified by the Obama administration and Democrat controlled Congress late in 2010, it was another in a series of acts that would effectively neutralize the United States as a nuclear super-power, giving the Russians room for nuclear weapons development and expansion, while decreasing the power and scope of our nuclear capabilities. The unintended, and terrifying, implications of START and the severe cuts in missile defense, are that the Russians are the least of our worries. Rogue and unstable regimes such as North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan have displayed their ability to send Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in our direction. President Obama has ripped away what little protection we had prior to his inauguration.

Obama does not have a budgetary problem with anti-ballistic missile defense. The budget for missile defense is roughly 2 percent of the defense budget. The portion of the federal budget which is devoted to the defense of this nation is only 5 percent of the whole. Obama does have an ideological problem with the United States as a military super power. Barack Obama likes the U.S. military inasmuch as it bolsters him politically, but there appears to be an innate contempt on his part for the greatness of the American armed forces and national defense. This kind of ideological response to a devastating and deadly threat is simply unacceptable.

The Heritage Foundation, in an instance of ironic timing, produced a video in 2008, 33 Minutes, which lays bare the ramifications of a weak ballistic missile defense program. Little did we know how much more real those ramifications would become with the newly elected president.

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About Marjorie Haun

  • Baronius

    Really good article. I see you’re new to the site. I hope for more.

  • Leroy

    Terrible article. Full of strawmen, it’s basically just a diatribe against Obama.

  • Clavos

    Terrible article. Full of strawmen…

    Care to elucidate, Leroy?

  • Marjorie Haun

    If facts and verifiable history constitute a diatribe, then so be it. Obama has written his own history, and it is not good news for our national security.

  • Cannonshop

    There are a considerable number of raw technical hurdles to any missile-defense project-at least, if one insists on a BMD that actually, y’know…works and stuff.

    It’s probably not a bad idea to work on the underlying technologies (many of which actually might have applications in the real world-certainly the ability to detect, identify, track, and intercept an all-aspects attack reliably has applications if we are ever to get off this damn rock), but a truly field-ready system in any sort of reasonable timeframe?

    I have my doubts about THAT, esp. as it will be built by the lowest bidder, likely with a majority of off-the-shelf technologies, subject to the funding whims of Congress and teh tide of public opinion (a fickle beast, that), when even the loudly vaunted performance of Patriot against mere scuds (many of them half-assed work-overs with obselete targeting systems firing at near-horizon or near-over-the-horizon distances), a performance that, in retrospect, turned out to be…well, not so spectacular as was first reported.

    The greater your engagement range, and the greater your needed coverage, the less likely an anti-missile-missile or gun system is to work effectively.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Marjorie –

    Pay close attention to what C-shop said, for we’ve spent well over a trillion dollars over the years on Star Wars (which, btw, I strongly supported for many years), but even after three decades we’ve made much less progress on it than we have with, say, fusion power.

    Why? Because of the premise of ‘Star Wars’, which is essentially that we’re supposed to be able to hit an object moving three times (or more) faster than a speeding bullet with another object moving three times (or more) faster than a speeding bullet…and this is to be done within a time frame of fifteen minutes, which includes launch detection, verification, and targeting the missile launch.

    I’m loath to say anything’s impossible, but the above concept is certainly close to impossible even if it’s just one ballistic missile. If it’s thousands of missiles, then…given our level of technology, that IS impossible. Yes, we’ve had a few successful tests of anti-ballistic-missile missiles and ABM lasers…but all of these were made in strictly-controlled (and thus NOT real-world) conditions.

    Think about it, Marjorie – WHAT DID REAGAN DO a few years after he proposed ‘Star Wars’? A little something called the START Treaty:

    START for (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was a bilateral treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. The treaty was signed on 31 July 1991 and entered into force on 5 December 1994. The treaty was signed by the United States and the USSR, that barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers. START negotiated the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, and its final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence. Proposed by United States President Ronald Reagan, it was renamed START I after negotiations began on the second START treaty, which became START II.

    If it was SO ‘contemptuous’ of President Obama to make cuts in missile defense, then what are you to say of Ronald Reagan, who proposed the START treaty in the first place? Hm? Especially since we’ve made so little REAL progress in developing such a defense that has shown FAR less success than little things like ‘diplomacy’ and ‘treaties’…which, though very successful, (like interrogations of terrorists which DON’T involve torture) aren’t real high on the popularity list among Republicans.

    BTW – you also erroneously clumped the Eastern European short-range ballistic missile defense radar sites in with the overall (and very different) scope of ‘Star Wars’. They might be under the same overall program, but as C-shop pointed out, there’s a vast difference between shooting down Scuds and shooting down a full-fledged intercontinental ballistic missile.

  • Marjorie Haun

    Glenn, cite your sources.

  • Marjorie Hau

    You must be referring to the Salt II treaty which was intended by Reagan to leave the United States at a strategic advantage over the Soviets. Obama’s START treaty not only leaves us at a disadvantage but allows Russia to expand its existing program.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    About what? The speed of an ICBM? The amount of time it takes for an ICBM from launch to target…particularly if it’s launched from a submarine? The few successful tests we’ve had in controlled conditions? The short-range ballistic missile radar sites in Eastern Europe? Or our progress on fusion power?

    The trillion or so dollars we’ve spent on Star Wars? Maybe I blew this one out of proportion…but maybe not:

    The Reagan administration peddled the program energetically within the United States and among NATO allies. In April 1984 a Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was established within the Department of Defense. The program’s futuristic weapons technologies, several of which were only in a preliminary research stage in the mid-1980s, were projected to cost anywhere from $100 billion to $1 trillion.

    Note that said projections were from back in the 1980’s…and back in the days when we thought we’d make a LOT more progress with SDI than we have by now.

    Marjorie, I read a lot of news, usually on history, politics, and science…and I can usually back up what I say. Sometimes I’m wrong, and I’m one of the few people you’ll find who will be sincerely grateful to be proven wrong. But I’m usually right. So let me know where it is that you think I’m wrong.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Marjorie – did you not read my post? I said it was the START treaty. Here’s some more from the Wikipedia:

    START (for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was a bilateral treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. The treaty was signed on 31 July 1991 and entered into force on 5 December 1994.[1] The treaty barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers. START negotiated the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, and its final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence. Proposed by United States President Ronald Reagan, it was renamed START I after negotiations began on the second START treaty.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And exactly how does the new START treaty give an advantage to Russia? Especially since – as before – we’re to have an equal number of warheads?

    And bear in mind that we have by far the most effective launching platforms – our Trident submarines. The Russian missile subs (including the Typhoon class that we in the Navy got so worked up about) were never as quiet as our Tridents…which have often been referred to as “holes in the water” – because they’re simply not there, even when they are.

  • Marjorie Haun

    Glenn, wikipedia is a dubious source. Try these links below.

    Eurasia Review


  • Leroy

    C’shop makes an excellent point in #4 (last para): as intercept range increases difficulties and requirements increase disproportionately.

    Thus we have a project for Boost Phase Intercept, where the strategy is to locate ABMs, close to enemy missile sites (perhaps subs, friendly territory, etc.), that can accelerate fast and intercept a fired missile within 300 seconds and blast it with a (probably nuclear) warhead. Perhaps while still over enemy territory.

    BPI gives the USA a tremendous advantage over everybody else, for a whole bunch of reasons, which you should be able to figure out for yourself.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    HERE, Marjorie –

    TIME magazine’s story about the START treaty.

    It was published on May 17, 1982.

    OKAY? START started with Reagan.

    And BTW…while Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, they’re not bad – the editors usually do a good job demanding good references for any changes…and the above TIME magazine was the reference used by the Wikipedia.

    You can reference your Heritage Foundation links all you want…but I’m not real interested in revisionist history. I’d rather get the news that was published at the time (no pun intended).

    Speaking of the Heritage Foundation, here’s a little quote from 1980 you might enjoy from Paul Weyrich. You see, he was the founder of the Heritage Foundation, and this was part of a speech he gave before 13,000 Baptist ministers. The audience also included Jerry Falwell and somebody named Ronald Reagan:

    “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome – good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    Who truly supports democracy? Is it the party that wants less people to vote? I don’t think so.

    This, Marjorie, is one of the reason I don’t trust the Heritage Foundation, no, not at all.

  • Cannonshop

    Um…okay, I’m not gonna take that bait.

    I WILL say that, while I don’t think we can feasably field an effective BMD, doing the research in order to DEVELOP one isn’t a bad use of time or money-because the base technologies to make one have a broad variety of other uses that the public at large may benefit from in the absence of a Ballistic Missile threat.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    C-shop #15 –

    true enough – with development of new technology, there’s nearly always beneficial spinoffs, and often in directions never expected…as we’ve learned over the years with the space program.

  • Leroy

    BPI renders SDI moot.

  • Excellent article, Marjorie, thank you for stating the facts of the matter. Ignore the critics for they have no function in life except to disagree with any subject contrary to their socialist/commie agenda.

  • Marjorie Haun

    Thanks, the sources for this article are the top experts on missile defense.

  • Homie g

    was going to cut this for policy debate but your qualifications are to bad

  • Marjorie Haun

    Follow the linked sources. I am a writer. James Jay Carafano is the expert.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Marjorie –

    I notice you didn’t want to admit that Reagan started the START treaty. You’ve been able to refute nothing I’ve posted. It takes courage to admit when you’re wrong, you know.

  • Marjorie Haun

    Not at all. Reagan proposed SALT III in 1982, which was a nuclear downsizing proposal much like START of 1991. Reagan’s proposal was very different than the START of 2010 which leaves at a strategic disadvantage while Reagan’s SALT III gave us a strategic edge. This will update you on the implications of START 2010.