Iran recently held several days of missile tests, including weapons that could hit not only targets in the Middle East, but in parts of Europe. Among the missiles Tehran said it tested was a new version of the Shahab-3, which officials have said has a range of 1,250 miles and can carry a one-ton warhead. The Iranian actions demonstrate the need for missile defenses in a world were offensive missile technology is proliferating. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement with the Czech Republic to emplace a missile-defense radar in that country the day before the Iranian launches started. The United States continues talks with Poland about deploying interceptor missiles in that country. “We face with the Iranians -- and so do our allies and friends -- a growing missile threat that is getting ever longer and ever deeper, and where the Iranian appetite for nuclear technology to this point is still unchecked,” Rice said in Prague.
The Russian Foreign Ministry objected to the U.S.-Czech agreement, saying that if U.S. strategic missile defense elements are deployed near Russia's borders in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow would be forced to respond with a “military-technical approach” rather than a diplomatic one. Russia has rattled its saber several times against defenses that might blunt its use of nuclear missiles against Europe. Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, did so again July 9, claiming, “The Czech authorities have surrendered their people to nuclear slaughter in favor of the interests of military and industrial groups.” Such threats only increase the need for active counter-measures.
China should also be added to the equation. During their meeting in Beijing May 23, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev issued a joint statement criticizing the U.S. plan to establish “global missile defense systems.” The statement claimed such defenses “harm the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.” Though Moscow and Beijing have long opposed the U.S. missile defense program, this was their first formal joint declaration. Both countries have been giving material and diplomatic support to North Korea as well as Iran. What all these regimes have in common is the desire to have the freedom to intimidate others in a defenseless world.
The United States is not the only country to see the danger. On June 17, France published a new White Paper on defense and national security, the first since 1994. It states, “As we look to the 2025 horizon, France and Europe will fall within the range of ballistic missiles developed by new powers; new risks have appeared.” In his remarks attending the release of the white paper, President Nicolas Sarkozy said, “you must have chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective equipment.
This is why we must develop advanced ballistic missile launch detection systems.” Yet, he did not go the extra step and talk of an active defense against missile attack, even though he had proclaimed “Europe and France are today more exposed. The task of protecting the people and territory must thus be given priority.” Instead, he voiced reliance on nuclear deterrence by retaliation as “the nation's life insurance in an uncertain world.”
France, along with Germany and England has been trying to negotiate a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. They have made no headway, while Tehran continues to enrich uranium and extend the range of its delivery systems. But Europe is not the only region becoming vulnerable to attacks from Iran. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency estimates that Tehran could develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United Sates by 2015.
In December 2002, President George W. Bush directed the Department of Defense to begin fielding ballistic missile defenses to meet near-term threats to the American homeland, deployed forces, and allies. The Missile Defense Agency responded and by late 2004 fielded a system to provide a limited defense capability to intercept any ballistic missile launched from North Korea or Iran before it could strike the United States. There are currently 24 ground-based interceptors based in silos in Alaska and California, and 21 sea-based interceptors on Navy warships. The MDA plans to broaden and deepen this defensive network by deploying more sensors and interceptors in forward locations. There are already advanced radar stations serving the MDA network in Japan and England.
The sad point is that it took over 20 years for the strategic concept proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 as the Strategic Defense Initiative to be turned into an operational deployment. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush had announced a deployment plan called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS). The following year, in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s use of ballistic missiles in the Gulf War, a Democratic Congress approved GPALS. President Bill Clinton, however, canceled both the SDI program and the Bush plan to defend America. The budget for missile defense was cut by about 80-percent. Also canceled were key technology development and demonstration programs important to assuring the viability in the face of enemy countermeasures. In particular, all space-based defenses were abandoned by the Democratic administration. Programs to build theater missile defenses to protect troops fighting overseas were continued, but with smaller budgets.
The 2008 presidential election may bring another setback to the defense of the American homeland and overseas allies as in the Clinton years. While in the Czech Republic, Secretary Rice called on presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to continue the Bush administration plan for a European missile defense system. Even if an agreement with Poland to base 10 interceptors there were to be reached this year, construction of either the Czech or Polish site could not begin until next year. The decision to move forward will be made by the next president. “Ballistic missile proliferation is not an imaginary threat,” Rice said. “It's hard for me to believe that an American president is not going to want to have the capability to defend our territory, the territory of our allies – whether they are in Europe or in the Middle East – against that kind of missile threat.”
According to the McCain campaign website, “John McCain strongly supports the development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses. Effective missile defenses are critical to protect America from rogue regimes like North Korea that possess the capability to target America with intercontinental ballistic missiles, from outlaw states like Iran that threaten American forces and American allies with ballistic missiles, and to hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China. Effective missile defenses are also necessary to allow American military forces to operate overseas without being deterred by the threat of missile attack from a regional adversary.” The Republican candidate rejects the “balance of terror” deterrence argument, saying “America should never again have to live in the shadow of missile and nuclear attack.”
The Obama campaign website makes no mention of missile defense. Indeed, there is no national security issue area as there is on the McCain site. Discussion of defense topics is subordinated under the heading of foreign policy. This reflects Obama’s focus on diplomacy over military options. For example, consider the following statement, “Iran has sought nuclear weapons, supports militias inside Iraq and terror across the region, and its leaders threaten Israel and deny the Holocaust. But Obama believes that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them. That's why Obama stood up to the Bush administration's warnings of war, just like he stood up to the war in Iraq.” Obama made no mention of missile defenses or other issues associated with research and development of high-tech weaponry in his Foreign Affairs article published a year ago.
Last February, however, when speaking before a meeting of Caucus4Priorities, Obama pledged, “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space.” This is an exact repeat of Clinton era rhetoric. Caucus4Priorities is a project of the Priorities Action Fund, a non-profit organization “dedicated to educating the public about the inequities of our current federal budget. We aim to redirect 15% of the Pentagon’s discretionary budget away from obsolete Cold War weapons towards education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger, deficit reduction.” Tehran (among other adversaries) would be very happy to see a candidate that pandered to such a group elected president.
In the wake of the Iranian missile tests, both presidential candidates struck familiar poses. Both spoke of the growing threat posed by Tehran, but Obama again called only for “direct, aggressive and sustained diplomacy” with the Tehran regime. McCain warned against a purely diplomatic approach, which over the last five years has failed to slow Iranian military advances. He said that the tests highlighted the need for a missile defense system in Europe.
The contrast between McCain and Obama on Iran reflects the profound difference in their approach to national security in general that extends back from overseas issues to whether the United States should itself be defended from attack. As John F. Kennedy once said, “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” Whatever other problems may be facing America, the only thing that could actually devastate the country would be a barrage of nuclear missiles striking major urban areas. There are people in a number of foreign capitals thinking about how to launch such attacks, and putting resources to work to acquire the means to carry out such attacks. Building a defense against these plots should be a top priority and a central issue in any presidential contest.