More than 30 years ago, 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.
Last week, the Missile Defense Agency successfully shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile heading for the American heartland. It was just a test, but as the rogue regime in North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program and missile capabilities, Reagan’s wisdom is more apparent than ever.
“Let’s be honest. Wednesday’s successful intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile heading towards the U.S. was a major step forward for the National Missile Defense Program, a real technological and operational achievement,” writes Daniel Goure for RealClearDefense.com. “After a testing hiatus of some three years, the test went off on time, and the system worked by intercepting a realistic target, one reported to have dispensed countermeasures. This is progress. The Missile Defense Agency is hopeful that with the planned additions of new or upgraded radars and the procurement of new interceptors with advanced kill vehicles, the National Missile Defense Program will be able to interpose a credible defensive shield between this country and North Korean ICBMs.”
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.
Goure warns that progress is being impeded. He cites “a reluctance in some parts of the government and military to accept the idea that [middile] defenses need to become a core, integrated capability of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
But 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 allies against the threat of nuclear missiles.