“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.