Since the Reagan administration, the United States has, under various guises, sought to develop technology that would render enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles non-threatening to its people and interests. The national missile defense program has been aimed at bringing about the end of foreign missile threats from rogue states and geopolitical foes alike. Missile defense systems have grown exponentially more effective and sophisticated, and have culminated in an interceptor system that will soon make missile attacks on areas shielded by such systems pointless.
Much of what has held back the wider development and roll-out of missile defense systems in the United States and in the territories of its allies has been a degree of skepticism about their effectiveness. The strategic fear has been that missile defense systems might prove scary enough to rivals to spark aggression while being insufficiently effective to actually halt that aggression. In the past several weeks, we have seen the practical vindication of such systems (on a smaller scale) in Israel.
The Proof is in the Iron Dome
The missile defense shield of Israel, known as the Iron Dome, is an extremely sophisticated missile interceptor system based on American technology. It has successfully knocked most of the missiles fired into its territory by Hamas out of the sky. It is actually quite astounding how rapidly the technology has improved. T
The United States has, for several years, been developing the most extensive and complete ballistic missile shield ever devised. When fully armed with a complement of anti-ballistic missiles both within the United States itself, and in allied nations in Europe and Asia, the shield will be virtually impregnable to external missile attack. This means the chance of a nuclear attack (the worst-case scenario and original raison d’etre of the missile defense program) succeeding against it will be very unlikely, reducing the chance not only of a full-scale nuclear war between the United States and another nuclear power, but also against missiles fired by rogue states or terrorists, the biggest threats in terms of actual use of nuclear weapons.
The Iron Dome has shown that nuclear weapons are not the only potential targets of a missile defense system. They provide a powerful defensive tool against missiles and ordnance. American military technology is the most advanced and prodigiously financed in the world, so it is good that its military investments are directed toward the development of weapons platforms that are by their nature defensive. Missile defense technology is one of the great hopes for the defense of America and its allies.
Under America’s Aegis
The system currently being put into operation by the United States is the Aegis combat system, designed for deployment on American naval vessels. Basing a missile system on specially modified destroyers is serving to sidestep somewhat the problems associated with ground and space-based missile defense arrays, due to the slow response time of ground missiles, and the still unfeasible orbital deployment. Most important to geostrategic thinking is the fact that the sea-based defense array lacks the problem of the land-based system in that it does not need to be placed on the soil of countries other than the United States in order to be effective.
A flaw with this latter reasoning has been revealed by the recent events in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Russia has been bellicose toward its former Soviet neighbors for several years, yet the United States and NATO have largely sought to ignore or underplay the threat the Putin regime represents. It has taken Putin’s tremendously brazen aggression in annexing Crimea and backing pro-Russian separatists to galvanize the West to lay sanctions on Russia. Putin has been able to exploit the relative inattention of America and the EU and has gambled on their unwillingness to take the steps necessary to stop him and bolster Eastern Europe against the resurgent Russia. A missile defense system operational in these border nations could serve to dampen Russia’s ambitions.
For Peace, Prepare for War
The United States should seek to build further missile defenses on the soil of its vulnerable allies. It is a less costly endeavor than maintaining huge foreign bases and puts fewer American lives at risk while at the same time guaranteeing the security and providing an essential moral boost to embattled allies. Russia could not act with such impunity if its air and missile power were neutered by a missile defense screen courtesy of the United States. In an Eastern Europe that is ever more terrified of Russia and more and more unsure of whether America and NATO would come to their aid, this policy would be a simple way to shore up support for liberal democracy.
Military spending and “entangling alliances” certainly rub against the conventional grain of free market, small government ideology. But sometimes we must face the ugly realities of a world in which thugs try to push free nations into servility. The United States has an interest in preserving a world order that believes in the values of free trade and limited government. That means being willing to support allies in that cause who are under threat.
An operational national missile defense system renders intercontinental ballistic missiles more obsolete. When a country can shoot down all enemy missiles, those weapons lose their power. The future of war, once countries have access to missile shields, will no longer be marked by fingers held over the proverbial red button. Rather, the incentive for conflict between states armed with effective missile defenses will be to seek diplomatic solutions to problems.
The technology will likely be in the hands of many nations very soon, as the United States has already provided the technology to Japan and Australia, and will be building defense batteries in Romania from 2015. With missile defense, war will be less likely and, should it occur, less destructive. To secure a safer world, America must show leadership. If our ideals are to survive and thrive, we must be willing to defend them.