by Austin Bay
August 23, 2006
North Korea's July missile volley raised legitimate concern
about American vulnerability to ballistic missile and cruise missile attack.
Hezbollah's rocket barrage of Israel demonstrated that terrorist
organizations (non-state actors) can acquire and use missile systems.
The next step, for both North Korea and Hezbollah, is adding a
weapon of mass destruction (WMD) -- most likely a warhead carrying either
nukes or nerve gas.
The longer-range rockets Hezbollah used (for example, Russian
FROG-7 variants) can be classified as short-range or "battlefield" ballistic
missiles. With range exceeding 100 hundred kilometers, these missiles can
strike well beyond the frontline.
There is good news. The United States isn't completely
vulnerable. It possesses a nascent, "thin shield" ballistic missile defense.
The defense consists of bits and pieces of tactical and
theater-level anti-missile programs supported by a dozen or so long-range
missiles positioned in Alaska and Hawaii.
This defense has layers. The Patriot PAC-3 is designed for
short-range, "point-target defense. The Patriot PAC-3 is a completely
different missile from the Gulf War's Patriot PAC-2. The PAC-2 was an
"enhanced" and "upgraded" anti-aircraft missile. The PAC-3 is a genuine
anti-ballistic missile (ABM).
The Army's THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) missile
and the Navy's Standard-2 and Standard-3 missiles extend the "anti-missile
umbrella." The Navy systems are particularly useful. They can be deployed on
Aegis cruisers and destroyers. The Navy systems can quickly place
anti-missile firepower in the Persian Gulf (to thwart a shot from Iran) or
the Sea of Japan (to intercept a North Korean launch).
The Standard-3 missile had a highly successful missile test in
June. In a July test at the Army's White Sands range, a THAAD intercepted a
SCUD-type ballistic missile.
The nascent defense, however, is an inadequate defense -- I
don't think that's a debatable point.
Yet it is a defense in being and a defensive system in the
process of expansion. Though limited and frail, it demonstrated political
utility in July when North Korea launched its missile volley. What do I mean
by that? Japan -- a threatened ally -- asked for Patriot PAC-3s to bolster
its defense. The United States agreed to provide them.
We also have a new U.S.-Japanese missile monitoring station in
Japan, activated earlier this year.
Our limited anti-missile system isn't what it should be or could
be, and yes, myopic, wrong-headed politics played a key role in delaying
program funding, testing and deployment.
The anti-ABM cant of certain influential major media -- in the
case of The New York Times, a fossil of its 1980s opposition to the Reagan
administration -- certainly hindered development.
Resistance from McGovernite Democrats was a potent and
problematic factor in Washington. The Cold War's "balance of terror"
strategy created a "strategic culture" wedded to the notion of "Mutual
Assured Destruction" (appropriately named MAD). If the Soviets launched a
missile strike against the United States, U.S. retaliatory capabilities
ensured that Moscow would be turned to radioactive glass. An ABM, in the MAD
minds, altered the certainty of mutual Armageddon. An ABM "destabilized" the
ability to assure Moscow and Washington they would both perish in a nuclear
The rise of rogue states and fanatic, "suicide" terrorist
organizations, combined with the proliferation of ballistic missiles and
WMDs, turned MAD into utter madness.
A suicide bomber cannot be deterred by the threat of "mutual
Hezbollah's rocket rain offers a chilling example. Hezbollah
demonstrated it is quite willing to sacrifice its own people and
neighborhoods. Remember, Hezbollah is Iran's puppet, and Iran is led by a
clique that believes the destruction of Israel will accelerate their version
of apocalyptic end times. North Korea has already sacrificed its own people
(via starvation) to finance its missile and nuclear programs.
In February 2003, I wrote a column titled, "The Hell Formula for
the 21st Century." The formula: terrorists plus rogue states plus WMD.
Breaking the Hell formula requires offensive action against terrorists and
rogue states -- and we've taken that, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I also
wrote that "breaking down the Hell Formula will take time."
A more robust missile defense system buys time and blunts the
political effects of "fear us" campaigns waged by North Korean and Iranian