Ronald Reagan is Smiling

Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I’m taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose — one all people share — is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

It has taken twenty-three years, but Ronald Reagan’s dream of a Strategic Defense Initiative is that much closer to being realized. Here is yesterday’s AP report:

Military Shoots Down Test Missile Target

USS Lake ErieHONOLULU — For the first time, a Navy ship at sea successfully shot down a long-range missile in its final seconds of flight, the military said Wednesday.

The test was seen as an important step toward giving ships the ability to shoot down weapons as they are about to hit their targets. Until now, the Standard Missile 2 was only launched from ships to intercept a long-range missile in the early or middle stage of flight.

For the test, a missile fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai was destroyed in its final stage by an SM-2 launched from USS Lake Erie.

The Navy already can shoot down a missile in its final stage with a Patriot Advanced Capability 3, or PAC-3, missile launched from land.

The experiment with the SM-2 could broaden a warship’s capability, said Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, director of surface warfare on the staff of the chief of naval operations.

The Pearl Harbor-based Lake Erie is equipped with technology that allows it to detect and track intercontinental ballistic missiles. Since 2004, U.S. warships with ICBM tracking technology have been patrolling the Sea of Japan, on the lookout for missiles from North Korea.

The U.S. military is installing missile tracking radar and interceptor missiles on 18 U.S. Pacific Fleet ships. It is also equipping underground silos in Alaska and California with interceptor missiles.

Why did it take twenty-three years instead of five, or ten?

Readers of a certain age will recall the immense resistance to SDI that President Reagan encountered in a Democrat-controlled Congress. His successor, George H.W. Bush, was surrounded by stability-freaks — the Scowcroft wing of the national security establishment — and never pressed overly hard for something the Democrats would have obstructed in any case.

When the House passed into Republican hands in 1994, the situation changed, but by that time there was a Democrat in the White House to obstruct SDI from the executive side. Short of killing the project outright (which was not possible, given the statutory mandate), President Clinton did everything he could, withholding funding, delaying testing, weakening and reducing component projects, all in order to appease an enemy who no longer even existed.

It wasn’t until George W. Bush took office that SDI became more than a dream and a set of plans. Now we are that much closer to making the North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities irrelevant, at least as far as the United States is concerned.

The past two decades of delay demonstrate the rigid lock that the pacifist Left has had on public conversation about our national security.

It is bizarre and quaint to assert that preventing a nuclear attack against our country is “destabilizing” and “provocative”, and endangers peace. But that was the dogma for many years, and still is in some circles. Remember all those editorials… “Star Wars” won’t work, and would be a bad idea even if it did work. What more could you expect from that amiable dunce?

Just think how a successful missile defense redraws the strategic map. The United States and Canada — and maybe Western Europe, if they behave themselves — will be protected from long range missiles. Iran is still a threat, but not to the same players in the game. It could still threaten Russia, and China, and Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, just to name a few…

I wonder which world leader is going to change his tune, and when.

UPDATE (from Dymphna): Spook 86 at “In From the Cold” has an expanded version of this saga, with the kind of information which makes his blog so invaluable. Read Missile Defense From the Sea.

15 thoughts on “Ronald Reagan is Smiling

  1. The fruits of his labors are the true tribute to Reagan. A free Europe, Atlantic to the Urals. From a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Perhaps the greatest tribute to the success of Reaganomics is that, over the course of the past 276 months, the U.S. economy has been in recession for only 15.” Communism no longer viewed as a viable option in the third world. A mighty military where the members are paid much better than the pitiful sums pre-Reagan. And now, the true anti-nuclear war activist’s bold program has produced results.

    Not a bad legacy for a “dottering old dunce.” The legacy of 8 years of Democrat presidency in the 1990’s: recession at the end of it, new enemies emboldened by a bomb & run policy, no new vision, no new direction, no progress.

    “The tired old man we elected king” still benefiting the country with his vision two years after his death, 18 years after he left office; now that’s a legacy few can brag to have.

  2. The red tape that used to bog down new technologies has been cut as well. Fortunately commercial off the shelf technology has helped the Navy shorten the development and deployment time of some of these systems. I worked on a project in 1985 that was replacing VACUUM tube receivers with solid state. It had taken the Navy lab over a decade to develop. Those days are coming to a close and hopefully new weapons will be in the hands of the warfighter that much sooner. GO NAVY!

  3. As much as I favor anti-missile defense — I still remember sitting in my ‘sealed room’ listening to the pop-pop-pop in the distance as Iraqi Scuds hit Tel Aviv in Gulf War I — I have to remind people that the trash from an intercepted missile strike still falls to earth at great speed. Whenever missile parts land, a whole team of weapons experts in full gear has to go check them out. What happens when the leftover parts of a chemical, bio, or nuclear missile falls to earth? Probably better than having an active warhead strike, but worrying, nonetheless.

  4. First of all, I support and always
    have the development of ABM systems
    but the world has changed mightily
    since Ronald Reagan’s day.

    I think I have speculated here on
    ocassion as to why Iran is putting
    so much money and effort into its
    long range missile programs knowing
    full well firing any of them at the
    US or its allies will invite the
    kind of retaliation that Iran can
    do nothing about. Obviously Iran,
    North Korea or even Pakistan, even
    if their missiles could reach the
    US, cannot engage in a nuclear war
    with the US and survive for any
    longer that it would take a SSBN
    to place a salvo from their 24
    Tridents with 8 hydrogen bombs per
    missile on target. If they were off
    the coast, from launch to impact
    would take less than 15 minutes.

    Truly only a madman would fire a
    single, untested, Hiroshima sized
    warhead, knowing that A. it could
    be shot down B. Even if survives it
    may not work and C. Allows the US
    to respond with its nuclear arsenal

    Still having this shipborne ABM
    capability is a wonderful theatre
    defense system. It frees our Navy
    to go where it otherwise might not
    and allows the American nuclear
    umbrella to retain its credibility.

    However, it does force the new and
    emerging nuclear powers to look for
    other methods than missile or plane
    to deliver an atomic bomb.

  5. About two weeks ago, NATO received a report advising a new, expanded and modernized missile shield in Europe pronto. The usual European idiots, the Russians and miscellaneous “peace” activists are of course painting this as US “imperialism”, but public opinion in Europe has gotten much frinedlier since the “no-dong” missiles have been poining at them (who names these things, anyway?)

    scott – The “other methods” of delivery are available now. Having a defense against missiles doesn’t make us more vulnerable to “suitcase bomb” or ship container attack, but it allows us to concentrate our (intelligence) defenses agains those threats. If a missile attack were not the preferred mode, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to develop it.

    The overwhelmingly consistent and persistent resistance to SDI is one of the things about the Democrats that makes me realize we don’t inhabit the same mental universe.

  6. Whoops – should have said Eropean public opinion has gotten “friendlier” to the idea of missile defense. They still don’t like us.

  7. It wasn’t until George W. Bush took office that SDI became more than a dream and a set of plans. Now we are that much closer to making the North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities irrelevant, at least as far as the United States is concerned.

    This defense was too long in coming, but we’ve got it now. May we never have to use it! (But I suspect that we will have to)

  8. The opposition to anything which would protect America had its psychological beginnings in the sixties, when the “military-industrial complex” became the enemy. The fact that Clinton still opposed SDI in the 90’s is proof that he never left the sixties ideological mindset. The liberal wing’s propensity to oppose any war which would tend to advance American power is also instructive. It is truly chilling what we have to face if Hillary ascends to the Presidency.

  9. corndog–

    Being a Pollyanna by nature, I like to think of Hillary’s inherent imperialism rising to the fore. Then it will be “her” country, and while she may run the domestic spending into the stratosphere, she may also decide that nobody else gets to do anything to “her” land…

    …just a thought. But somehow, I don’t think she’ll get elected because that would mean Billy running loose in the halls of the WH and it’s not an image most people could tolerate for long.

    We’ll probably get Kerry or somesuch…he’s already making noises. Incoherent noises, per usual, but you can find the kernel of hope if you dig thru his sludge.

  10. I never said “it would be a bad idea even if it did work.” I did say, and still see no reason to doubt, that we could not build a system capable of defending against 5,000+ incoming warheads mixed with N times that many decoys. It seems to have turned out that the plan worked fairly well as a bluff anyhow–the Soviets would have had to rebuild their missile systems for fast boost and double or triple the number of missiles (to launch all those decoys), and I guess they couldn’t afford it. (I was involved with a scheme for identification of decoys during the coasting phase–it wouldn’t have worked, and my boss was not happy with that news…)

    Defending against a few dozen missiles from a smaller region is another matter. That’s probably doable, but very hard.

  11. Just an FYI, the soviets, when they were still red, had a missile defence system around moscow and other strategic areas of the soviet union for years. It’s still operational as far as I know.

  12. james – the whole point of deterrence is not to use the weapon, or the counterweapon, but to change the level of uncertainty of outcomes. It may indeed have been impossible for an SDI system to protect against a full-scale attack with decoys, as you say, but could they be certain it wouldn’t work? If not, then it would have done its job. And in a much better way than thourh actual use. As has been pointed out, actually deterring a huge missile attack would be a dirty and deadly business. Like the hydrogen bomb, the full-blown SDI system was not designed to be used (may God forbid) but only brandished, to prevent the worst from happening.

    Another side point – there is a very good chance that a large number of existing Soviet and US missiles would malfunction in use. After all, many are old, tests are relatively few, and “Stuff happens”. Does that mean they aren’t a threat? Of course not, its just another element of uncertainty that may tend to preserve the peace by making estimates of first strike success less sanguine.

    During the 80’s the Doonesbury types thought it was a clinching argument that if the SDI system could let a single missile through, it was worse than useless, it was evil – in fact, it was the cause of that missile. I never quite understood that “logic”.

    On the other hand, limited theater nuclear defense against a small number of missiles has long been seen as completly feasible, but most of the anti-SDI folk have adamantly opposed it just the same.

  13. The report doesn’t mention what TYPE of missile was intercepted. This could well have been a test of the Sea Ram system, meant to replace the US Navy’s Phalanx CIWS

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