It was more than 30 years ago, that President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative — a bold vision to defend America from nuclear missiles with something more than the “mutually assured destruction” our own offensive arsenal threatens.
And now, with little fanfare, that vision has been realized. In a world grown even more dangerous than it was in March 1983, the United States military has shot down a realistic simulated missile.
“The U.S. missile defense system managed by Boeing Co. on Sunday hit a simulated enemy missile over the Pacific in the first successful intercept test of the program since 2008, the U.S. Defense Department said,” the Reuters news agency reports. “The intercept will help validate the troubled Boeing-run Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system which provides the sole U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles, and the Raytheon Co. kill vehicle that separates from the rocket and hits an incoming warhead.”
The system has suffered some setbacks in recent years.
“Sunday’s high-stakes test came after the system had failed to hit a dummy missile in five of eight previous tests since the Bush administration rushed to deploy the system in 2004 to counter growing threats by North Korea,” Reuters explains. “Earlier this month, [Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James] Syring said that another test failure would have forced the Pentagon to reassess its plans to add 14 more interceptors to the 30 already in silos in the ground in Alaska and California.”
Let’s look at why this is important. Reagan was the first leader to recognize the immorality of “mutually assured destruction” — the outright rejection of any concrete measures to keep Americans safe.
“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” Reagan asked in his March 23, 1983 speech.
He acknowledged the technology didn’t exist yet to fully implement what would later be called the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.”
“That will take years, probably decades of efforts on many fronts,” Reagan warned. “There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs. … But isn’t it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war?”
The left was dismayed; historian Frances Fitzgerald dismissed it as “Reagan’s greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller.”
But history has proven Reagan right. Short- and medium-range missile interceptors are already in place in many parts of the world — including Israel, which has the most to fear from outlaw regimes in Iran and Syria.
The missile defense system still has hurdles to overcome, however. The current design must be improved and its ratio of hits to misses must be increased.
But those advances will come, just as Ronald Reagan assured us they would. The recent test is proof that we can build a workable system to defend ourselves and our families against the threat of nuclear missiles.