Missile Defense Systems: Why and How
Currently, America's enemies, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are developing ballistic missiles of increasing range and accuracy and deploying them in growing quantities. Some worry that Iran's leaders are not rational and may not be deterrable with nuclear weapons, and that consequently, they will use nuclear weapons first. Some people are worried that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of similarly intractable terrorists.
What is the solution? Is it disarmament? A first strike against Iran? No. The solution is missile defense.
Certainly, all possible options (including multilateral negotiations, direct talks, sanctions, cyber-sabotage, economic sabotage, and, as a last resort, a naval blockade) should be explored and tried if feasible. However, a first strike against Iran would be disastrous for Israel, for the U.S., and for the entire West. It would unite the Iranian people around a regime they currently despise; further stoke anti-American sentiment across the entire Middle East (Iran would be the fourth Muslim country in a row attacked by the U.S.); provoke Iran to retaliate by mining the Gulf, closing the Straight of Hormuz (thus shutting down half of the world's oil supply), and using Hezbollah cells to attack the West; and, as a result of the consequences for oil supplies, bring the U.S. economy and other Western economies down. This is something that the U.S. can ill afford, especially at this time of economic trouble. And what would be the benefits? In the best case, we might delay the Iranian nuclear program (which is dispersed among many facilities, some of them probably underground) for no more than a few years.
Should Iran obtain nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence may be a feasible option, depending on whether or not Iran's leadership is rational. Iran would have much to lose in the case of a retaliatory Western strike -- the wiping out of large Iranian cities and industrial centers would be a consequence that Iranian clerics could not ignore -- but there might still be a risk that the mullahs really do want to bring about the end of the world and the coming of the Mahdi. And the U.S. cannot afford guessing games when it comes to keeping its citizens safe.
Which brings me to the best option to keep America (and its allies) safe: missile defense.
This protective weaponry can actually intercept incoming missiles if they are launched far above the Earth, thus allowing the target to remain unharmed and rendering an enemy's nuclear weapons useless unless deployed in large numbers (vide Russia and China). And if an enemy does launch a nuclear-armed missile, only missile defense systems will offer the target any protection. Without missile defense, your only recourse is to apologize to the families of the dead and retaliate with your own nuclear weapons.
Even one nuclear weapon detonated in or above the U.S. would be devastating for this country. The resulting EMP would revert the U.S. (or at least a large part of it, depending on where and how high the nuclear warhead would detonate) back to the late 18th century by disabling all electrical devices.
It should be stressed that missile defense does not eliminate the need for nuclear weapons. It reinforces one's own nuclear deterrent while providing an umbrella in case nuclear weapons fail to stymie the enemy.
If a global or even national missile defense system is deployed in the U.S. and allied countries, including allies geographically close to Iran and North Korea, the civilized world will have almost foolproof protection against weapons of mass murder and ballistic missiles. Any such weapons that rogue states (such as Iran and North Korea) and terrorist organizations might possess or be pursuing will be rendered useless and irrelevant.
These states are pursuing weapons of mass murder and ballistic missiles not to commit suicide, but to bully and blackmail their neighbors, the U.S., and America's allies. With these weapons, they can threaten to destroy an entire city (or even several cities) if their demands are not met. Rendering these weapons useless would make it that much harder for rogue states to blackmail anyone. It would make it pointless for them to pursue and produce nuclear weapons.
And should they be dumb enough to launch a nuclear-tipped missile at anyone, such a missile would be intercepted.
So what systems should be deployed and where? Firstly, the Airborne Laser Program should be resumed, and groups of ABL planes (preferrably C-130 variants) should be deployed in South Korea, Persian Gulf states, and Turkey. That would be the Boost Phase Segment, designed to shoot down missiles during their boost/ascent phase, when they are most vulnerable.
For the Midcourse Segment, the U.S. should deploy 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an associated radar in the Czech Republic, as originally planned by the Bush administration, and continue to increase the number of interceptors in Alaska. BMD-capable Aegis warships should be deployed in the Gulf and the Black Sea. Japan should continue to build BMD-capable warships, and South Korea should upgrade its Sejong the Great class vessels to be BMD-capable.
As for the last portion -- the Terminal Phase Segment -- PATRIOT and Terminal High Altitude Area Air Defense (THAAD) batteries should be deployed in Gulf states (e.g., Bahrain, Qatar) and in Romania. Japan and South Korea should likewise buy their own PATRIOT and THAAD batteries. Israel should deploy a third and a fourth Arrow BMDS battery. The U.S. should also deploy a THAAD battery in Florida (to protect it from Iranian missiles deployed in Venezuela), another one on the East Coast (e.g., Fort Eustis or Wallops Island), and another one -- together with a PATRIOT battery -- in the National Capital Region to protect Washington, D.C. Today, the only capital protected by an ABM system is Moscow.
Promising missile defense programs, such as the Multiple Kill Vehicle (designed to allow each SM-3 naval interceptor missile to intercept several targets simoultaneously) and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, should be revived and pursued to completion. The feasibility of space interceptors and space sensors should be studied. France is already doing so.
For far too long, the U.S. has been dependent solely on nuclear deterrence -- i.e., mutually assured destruction -- and phony arms reduction treaties to ensure its citizens' safety. That is not good enough. The U.S. must be able to protect itself against enemies who may not be deterred and do not obey any treaties -- rogue states and terrorists. What if, for example, a radical, suicidal faction of mullahs replaces Khamenei, or if the Supreme Leader himself is undeterrable, or if terrorists obtain Pakistani (or hypothetical Iranian) nuclear weapons?
The only thing that can protect the U.S. in any of those cases is missile defense. That is what the U.S. should bet on.