What would Ronald Reagan say if he were alive today and saw Hawaii living in fear, panicked by the false alarm of a nuclear missile strike from North Korea?
Surely, President Reagan would ask: “Why did you abandon my Strategic Defense Initiative? Prospective space-based defenses won the Cold War, and if deployed would have rendered nuclear missiles obsolete. SDI defeated the Evil Empire — will America be destroyed by nuclear pygmy North Korea?”
Beijing and Moscow are quietly laughing. North Korean nuclear missiles are built on Russian and Chinese technology — their North Korean nuclear gun aimed at our head.
Significantly, North Korea never makes nuclear threats against China or Russia.
Ronald Reagan was right that SDI — derided by the press as “Star Wars” — leveraged U.S. technological superiority to checkmate the USSR’s nuclear threat, winning the Cold War. Liberal press and academics still belittle “Star Wars.”
However, history and testimony of allies and adversaries alike supports Ronald Reagan’s SDI.
“There was one vital factor in the ending of the Cold War. It was Ronald Reagan’s decision to go ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative,” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said.
“Our leadership was convinced that the great technical potential of the U.S. had scored again,” said Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin. “Behind all this [SDI program] lies the clear calculation that the USSR will exhaust its material resources, and therefore will finally be forced to surrender,” added USSR Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Another foreign minister, Alexander Bessmertnykh, agreed: “[Reagan’s SDI speech] made us realize we were in a very dangerous place. [SDI] accelerated the decline of the Soviet Union.”
Senior Russian foreign policy analyst Genrikh Trofimenko said, in retrospect, “Ninety-nine percent of Russian people believe that you won the Cold War because of your President’s insistence on SDI.”
SDI technology was proven and ready to deploy. But President Clinton opposed “Star Wars” ideologically. Protecting America risked Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and “strategic stability.” So Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, boasted he “took the stars out of Star Wars” canceling SDI.
What remains is the technologically truncated National Missile Defense that cannot defend allies and has Hawaii hiding in bomb-shelters.
We can win the New Cold War by resurrecting SDI and deploying space-based missile defenses. We are still technologically superior to all potential adversaries and can leverage that superiority to protect America from growing nuclear missile threats.
Russia, China, and North Korea are investing billions in nuclear missiles aimed at the United States. It would serve them right — and be the best guarantor of world peace — to checkmate their investment in offensive nuclear missiles with space-based defenses.
Space-based defenses offer revolutionary advantages over existing National Missile Defenses (NMD), that cannot protect U.S. allies or bases overseas, might be hard-pressed to defend the U.S. mainland against increasingly sophisticated North Korean threats, and cannot defend the U.S. from large-scale nuclear missile threats from Russia or China.
Space-based defenses potentially can do all the above.
SDI-type defenses can intercept missiles during all phases of flight: boost-phase, mid-course, and terminal-phase. Such a system could shield U.S. allies and troops overseas; much better protect Hawaii, Alaska, and distant U.S. territories; and could not as easily be attacked, overwhelmed, or fooled with decoys as NMD.
These advantageous characteristics of space-based defenses are all the more important because of the existential threat from nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. Even a single warhead successfully delivered against allies overseas or against the United States could black out an entire nation and kill millions.
Even a single weapon detonated for EMP at mid-course, over the ocean, would have catastrophic consequences for the world economy. Ambassador Henry Cooper warns: “Whether deliberate or accidental, the EMP from such high-altitude explosions could disable the world’s entire undersea cable network that reportedly carries about $10 trillion of financial transactions in a single day as well as huge volumes of data, from e-mails to classified government-to-government information.”
“Star Wars” would certainly not be seen as laughable by Russia, China, and North Korea, but as so technologically intimidating they would be far less likely to attack, and might even give up on nuclear blackmail.
Thus, we could win the New Cold War with “Star Wars.” Henceforth “Star Wars” should be an honorific.
Last but not least “Star Wars” would render MAD obsolete, as Ronald Reagan intended, and really “provide for the common defense” of the American people, instead of merely avenging them.
Congress has given a gift to the American people in the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (HR 2810). It includes section 1685, “Boost phase ballistic missile defense,” and section 1688, “Plan for development of space-based ballistic missile intercept layer.”
If President Trump’s ballistic missile defense review runs with these provisions, President Reagan’s vision will be realized of replacing the insanity of MAD with the humanity of “Star Wars” as will his legacy of "peace through strength."
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry served as chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, and also on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA.
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