The Need for a National Missile Defense (NMD) Program in the United States
Several hundred Soviet, nuclear tipped, ballistic missiles streak towards the United States without any form of opposition or challenge to their impeding destruction. The result of a situation like this would be no doubt disastrous, but it is a situation that could very well take place if the United States does not install a national ballistic missile defense program. An anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system is a precaution that the American government must pursue with all of its resources in order to protect and preserve our society as we know it.
Really, what are the chances of another nation launching a ballistic missile attack on the U.S.? Well, an attack may be a lot more likely than most Americans ever even dare to think. In 1998 Iran tested an intermediate-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and North Korea launched a three-stage rocket, Taepo Dong 1(Timmerman), capable of an attack on Alaska, Hawaii, and possibly the west coast of the United States.(Richter) In 1998 Congress appointed a blue ribbon panel headed by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to take a look at just how real the threat is of an adversary developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of attacking the U.S. mainland.(Timmerman) In his conclusion Rumsfeld warned that, "rogue countries could soon have missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland—without the United States’ even knowing it."(Richter) Rumsfeld also concluded that of the rogue nations, Iran was the furthest along with the capability of
developing a missile that could reach U.S. targets "in an arc extending northeast of a line from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to St. Paul Minnesota", in less than five years. Next in line was Iran’s long time friend, North Korea, who could develop missiles capable of attacking the western United States "in an arc extending northwest from Phoenix, Arizona, to Madison, Wisconsin." This threat is increased when taken into account the extensive friendship of Iran and North Korea. A calculated and combined attack could easily place nuclear ICBMs all over most of the continental U.S.. Even when the Taepo Dong missile was tested on August 31, 1998 an Iranian delegation was flown to North Korea bringing with them an entire plane load of telemetry equipment to monitor the test. Shortly after the test the delegation returned to Iran with the full results of the test.
The very test of the North Korean Taepo Dong missile just goes to show how very clueless the United States is as to the development of ICBMs by foreign countries. The CIA’s national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, Robert D. Walpole, admitted that nobody in the intelligence community expected North Korea to develop an ICBM capability so soon. "Although the launch of the Taepo Dong 1 missile was expected for some time, its use as a space launch vehicle with a third stage was not. The existence of a third stage concerns us. We hadn’t anticipated it." Debris from the rocket’s third stage was found some 3,500 miles from the site of the launch, showing that North Korea has the ability to target Alaska and possibly America’s west coast, admitted Walpole. "Clearly if you can put something into orbit, you get awfully close to ICBM capability."(Timmerman)
During the Cold War the United States and Russia both rushed to stockpile as many nuclear missiles as possible, thus prompting each other to build a missile defense system. The very first interceptor missiles were developed in the early days of the Cold War. In 1958, the Army developed a long-range interceptor missile with a nuclear warhead, the Nike-Zeus. Due to doubts about the missiles’ radar, and the frightening danger of a low-altitude detonation over the U.S., the project was shot down. Soon after in 1963 the Nike-X replaced the Nike-Zeus with a better radar, and a better short-rang interceptor called "Sprint". The long-range Nike-Zeus became known as the "Spartan". In 1966 the Russians began to build a massive ring of ABMs around their capitol city Moscow. After failed attempts at reaching an ABM agreement with Premier Leonid Brezhnev, President Lyndon Johnson responded by approving a "Sentinel" system to protect the U.S.. In 1969 President Richard Nixon came into office and combined the "Spartan" and "Sprint" programs into a larger "Safeguard" system designed to protect U.S. ICBM sites, Strategic Air Command bomber bases, and the capital. After all this, however, only one "Safeguard site was built, and the day it was opened its funding was cut by a Democratic congress.(Omicinski) Soon after each country began developing these missiles and missile systems, they came to realize that creating them "would be destabilizing and pointless", and in 1972 both countries agreed to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) saying that they would not defend their countries against each other’s ICBMs. One cynic described the 1972 ABM Treaty as "merely confirming the mutual failure of the U.S. and the USSR to
develop effective ABM systems".(Grant) Never the less, the two countries based this treaty on the idea of deterrence; "that maintaining the ability to launch a nuclear counter-attack that would inflict massive destruction on the other side was necessary to ensure that the other country would not attack first".(Gronlund) Geostrategist Max Lehner deemed this time as the "age of overkill", and coined the acronym MAD, short for mutual assured destruction.(Grant) A missile defense for either country could weaken or even void the retaliatory capabilities of the other country, which would make a nuclear attack for either country practically a free shot.(Gronlund) The idea of deterrence lasted until the mid-1980s when President Reagan, "rejecting the logic of the ABM treaty", launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). "Star Wars", as this project was often called, was designed to focus on advanced forms of technology for defending the U.S. from an attack. One of these technologies was space-based lasers capable of destroying incoming missiles and providing a "multi-layered defense" against an all out nuclear attack from Russia.(Gronlund) In the years following the conception of "Star Wars" Congress would pour hundreds of billions of dollars toward research and development, but from the start the project had problems. The number one problem was the lack of technology. The SDI promised to do things that were physically impossible. Using lasers, neutral particle beams, or having hundreds of satellites collide with an incoming ICBM was by most accounts an absurd idea. Fueled by rising amounts of criticism, Congress soon began cutting the budget on "Star Wars", thus quieting the idea of a NMD system.(Grant)
This idea remained quiet until September 21, 1991, when President Bush, after watching live on CNN Iraqi SCUD missiles being intercepted by American "Patriot" missiles high over Tel Aviv, proposed a plan to allow the "limited deployment of non-nuclear defenses to protect against limited ballistic missile strikes". In October of 1992 Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to this plan.(Grant) However, in 1992 a strongly Democratic congress reduced the funding for "Brilliant Pebbles", the most promising missile defense program to emerge from the SDI, sharply. The cuts were made primarily because of the fact that deploying such a system would be in violation of the ABM Treaty. When elected into office President Bill Clinton managed to completely destroy the whole missile defense program within two years, cutting spending from $1.8 billion in 1993, to $380 million nearly two years later, "taking the stars out of Star Wars," as Secretary of Defense Les Aspin liked to say.
In 1995, in a series of Congressional bills, Congress showed what it thought about Clinton’s budget cuts by mandating the deployment of a national missile defense program, and authorizing the funding to make it happen. Clinton responded by vetoing the bills, and eventually the three-plus-three compromise was reached. This compromise allowed three more years of research, and if successful, in three more years an NMD system would be implemented. The Clinton administration has already blown the initial 1999 deadline for a full systems test. However, after this test does occur the U.S. will be able to, in three years and if the threat warrants it, deploy a ABM system.(Timmerman)
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said, "There is a threat, and the threat is growing, and we expect it to pose a danger not only to our troops overseas, but also to Americans here at home".(Richter) Until the day that all nuclear weapons are destroyed, the United States must have a plausible way of defending itself from foreign invaders. Without an ABM system the United States is a sitting duck in the world pond just waiting to be pulled under water by any country with the capabilities to launch a few rockets.