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Close the Missile Defense Gap Now

Missile threats are real and missile defense science is solid. The funding costs are low and the moral case is overwhelming.

by
Larry Greenfield

Bio

April 29, 2009 - 12:00 am

Modern missile technology, in the hands of terror states and their proxies, threatens.

The next level of national security advocacy has therefore arrived as well.

It is the public campaign for funding and deployment of missile defense systems against rogue states and terror groups who are not deterrable by the threat of counterstrike or mutually assured destruction.

The enemies of the West have concluded that 20th century tactics have not worked to defeat or destroy the Jewish state.

Over decades, through fortitude, technology, and the alliance with the United States, Israel has withstood Arab manpower force advantages; coordinated multi-front enemy attacks; Russian and petrodollar funding; and the fervor of jihadist boycott, pedagogy, propaganda, and suicide/homicide bombers.

The 21st century reveals that Israel’s declared ideological and regional enemies have shifted military strategies and are now procuring increasingly dangerous missiles — delivery systems that carry chemical, biological, and, soon, nuclear warheads.

From short-range Hamas mortars and rockets in Gaza that disrupt and harm civilian life, to the longer-range missiles held by Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran that span the range of Israel’s geographical and defense bases, Israel is surrounded by the largest missile fleet in the world.

Unfortunately, there is yet another existential threat level. EMP (electromagnetic pulse) is a nuclear weapon that does not land on, but explodes over a country like Israel (actually over the eastern Mediterranean due to the earth’s curvature), causing immediate destruction of all electronics. Think just three days of food and water coupled with societal panic and the end of contemporary civilization.

Israeli Air Force pilots, courageous paratroopers, patriotic reservists, and even well-built security fences can’t halt incoming missiles. Missiles can fly 24/7 and in any weather. They arrive at lightning speed — in seconds or minutes. They are easy to purchase, prepare, and deliver at the push of a button. They disrupt commerce and the call-up of reservists in times of crisis. And launchers can hide among civilians, giving the enemy cover and fueling the argument that retaliation is disproportionate.

Israel’s last two wars were defensive responses to untargeted terrorist rockets from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in northern Gaza. These terror groups have continued to produce and import increasingly lethal and longer-range weapons stockpiles. Israel’s dilemma wasn’t whether its response was disproportionate, but if it was effective in deterring or defeating committed enemies.

Put more broadly, can Western democracies, including the United States, preempt or defend attacks before a crisis develops, rather than merely planning and preparing to retaliate while meekly surviving post-disaster as a destroyed nation?

Israel has one missile defense system it can deploy — the Arrow II interceptors — designed to hit Iranian-launched Shahab missiles. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has apparently decided not to fund further production, leaving Israel potentially vulnerable to mass attack. The Israeli Missile Defense Association argues that Israel must organize a range of multilayered defenses to intercept both short-range rockets using lasers and longer-range missiles. Boost phase technology would enable Israel to hit an enemy missile in her own territory, limiting risk and potentially aiding deterrence.

With significant assistance from North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia, Iran is today closing in on the capability to make real  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s genocidal threats. North Korea, the client state of China, continues to develop and test its missiles. The recent launch of the Taepodong-2 missile raised international concerns from Japan and Europe to the Pentagon. Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and a government at risk of falling to jihadism. Russia plays a variety of difficult roles in the politics of grand strategy.

The United States has some deployed, tested, and working missile defense systems, including perhaps a few dozen interceptor assets based in California and Alaska — and on Aegis cruisers meant to also assist Japan. Test after successful test of anti-missile missiles shows that President Ronald Reagan’s original vision of missile defense — not the immoral and limited option of  massive retaliation — has become attractive both in the United States and Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic are logical sites for radar and system deployments. However, President Barack Obama’s recent European tour did not give our friends confidence that he would continue our path to defend Europe.

And President Obama has also indicated a dramatically-declining commitment to robust missile defense for the U.S. and our allies like Israel. He has proposed significant cuts in research and development funding, even though the price tag is in the low tens of billions of dollars, compared with trillions of taxpayer dollars being spent domestically by the federal government.

Several important developing U.S. missile defense projects all face looming budget cuts, including the Airborne Laser, a “boost phase” defense, which counters North Korean or Iranian long-range missiles; the Ground Based Interceptor program (our only operational system capable of destroying a Taepodong-2 missile approaching the U.S. mainland); the Multiple Kill Vehicle, designed to destroy multiple missile stages and warheads in space; and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, which discriminates between real warheads and decoys in space, thereby defeating an enemy’s ability to overwhelm our missile defense system with countermeasures.

Missile threats are real and missile defense science is solid. The funding costs are actually quite low and the moral case is overwhelming. Political obstacles must be overcome, including the left’s rejection that the U.S. would be strong or independent in the world and the military establishment’s repeated bureaucratic resistance to using funds for projects that aren’t their own.

Rockets continue to rain on the children of Sderot in southern Israel. Syria has 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel, many buried in underground silos. Hezbollah in Lebanon has rockets that can now reach Tel Aviv. Iran has twice tested offensive ballistic missiles from ships. Israel is in danger. And threatening foreign military doctrine and stated enmity suggests the U.S. too is vulnerable to an EMP attack.

This is, alas, our 21st century strategic security challenge. For the sake of our allies, and ourselves, we should close the missile defense gap now.

Larry Greenfield is a fellow in American studies at the Claremont Institute, and senior fellow of the American Freedom Alliance.
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