As a nuclear Iran becomes increasingly likely, and North Korea continues to flaunt its missile capabilities, many researchers and thinkers are pressing for more comprehensive measures to prevent the use of missiles already in existence. Many consider missile defense, once considered a fantasy, to be the United States’ best option for deterring missile use, and the only way of stopping missiles mid-flight.
For some, President Obama’s effectiveness will rest on how he handles the question of missile defense. Missile defense programs have traditionally moved forward under the direction of the President—it was conceived under Ronald Reagan, and most of the current structure was put in place by George W. Bush.
The Heritage Foundation, one of Washington’s leaders in missile defense research and advocacy, recently released a documentary and accompanying reader entitled “33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age.” The title refers to the estimated time it would take for a ballistic missile to hit the U.S. after being fired. The “33 Minutes Reader” introduces its audience to a range of views on the costs and effectiveness of missile defense, and argues that an effective missile defense is the best, and possibly only, way to protect America in the coming years.
“33 Minutes” describes the current state of affairs in the world as much more volatile and dangerous than in the Cold War. As a result of Islamic terrorism, among other things, “America is in more danger today than it ever was during the Cold War.” America is now the world’s target, for good or ill.
Implementing a missile defense system could prevent the catastrophic damage that even a single nuclear weapon could cause in a major U.S. city. “33 Minutes” describes the effects of a nuclear blast on Manhattan, which would be followed by uncontrollable fires, destruction spreading for miles, survivors being cut off from food, water and electricity and mass chaos as people attempted to loot and flee the city.
Options for preventing this kind of disaster exist, however, and their technological feasibility is proven. “While progress has been slow and expensive, it has been real,” the book reads. “The lessons learned at each step have been built upon rather than repeated. If there is a concern, it is that progression has only left the U.S. in a position of rough parity with respect to current missile threats.”
Missile defense systems have proven effective through years of testing. “33 Minutes” explains that missile defense is like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. If this sounds impossible, then the impossible has been achieved, according to the Reader. “Dr Charles McQueary, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation at the Department of Defense, offered important perspective on how far the program has come when he stated: ‘Hit-to-kill is no longer a technical uncertainty; it is a reality being successfully demonstrated many times over the past few years.’”
Missile defense can involve land, sea, or space-based systems. Many agree that a space-based system would be the most effective, because such systems would be able to target missiles in their most vulnerable phase. The arguments against space-based defense have been steady, however. “33 Minutes” denounces critics who say that space-based missile defense would be an act of militarization, as well as those who argue that it would have a destabilizing effect. It reads, “A fear that these systems may be too effective, and therefore destabilizing, seems to drive the criticism. The concern regarding excessive effectiveness even goes beyond missile defense. The critics appear to be worried that these technologies will give the U.S. extensive military advantages in space.”
Much of the recent controversy over missile defense has centered on the proposed land-based interceptors that are scheduled to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Washington Times ran two articles on February 19 about the Obama administration’s apparent hesitancy to go ahead with these plans. Though President Obama has not taken a stand on the issue yet, many believe that it is his duty as President to “provide for the common defense” by implementing whatever systems are necessary and available to protect Americans from an attack. No other options have the same potential to avoid the destruction that could be caused by even a single enemy missile.