Two recent commentaries in Defense News ("US Needs To Prepare for Space War," by Elkridge Colby, Feb. 22 2/22 and "NATO Must Reopen Its Nuclear Dossier," by Karl-Heinz Kamp, March 21 3/21) raise important security issues that have been outstanding for decades but remained neglected by successive administrations.
The Colby In "US Needs To Prepare for Space War" (Feb. 22), Elkridge Colby drew attention to China's and Russia's efforts the efforts of China and Russia to develop capabilities to disrupt the satellite systems on which we are so dependent for our communications, intelligence and other activities. In effect these potential adversaries have been preparing for a war in space, while because of political considerations we have deliberately neglected related activities that could have considerably enhanced our own security.
When President Reagan reinitiated missile defense (MD) research in his March 1983 address on the Strategic Defense InitiativeSDI, the concept had been to derive a system that could defeat the type of massive nuclear attack that the Soviet Union could initiate.
There was considerable uncertainty among allies at the time that had benefited from the enhanced security of American extended deterrence. They became concerned that an effective defense for America could leave them more vulnerable to a Soviet attack because such a defense might affect the US leadership's willingness to respond on their behalf. To counter this perception the US modified its initial requirement for missile defense, later referred to as anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM), to intercept all attacks on a global scale, thus bringing allies under the protection umbrella.
The modified requirement has remained as a capability to defend globally against missiles of all ranges in all phases of their flight. Such an objective was always recognized as being difficult to accomplish, although at the time it was hoped that speed-of-light weapons such as lasers and particle beams would enable rapid and effective interception of attacking missiles. These assets have not yet materialized, and we are still dependent on limited numbers of ground-based missiles capable of intercepting small raids during their terminal phase of attack. During the Clinton administration the Defense Department was directed to concentrate on the terminal phase of tactical defense that could be accomplished with the equipment then under development. The Israelis have taken this capability to an advanced stage as exhibited during the clashes with Hezbollah, but there has been little enhancement within the US of the strategic defense against the steadily improved modern missiles becoming available to hostile nations.
This means that after 33 thirty-three years of active development, the systems currently deployed are still well short of meeting the longstanding requirements.
The benefit of space-based kinetic interceptors was recognized early on as possibly the means of meeting President Reagan’s objective of nullifying the effectiveness of ballistic missiles. In a book published in 1991 ("Faith in G.O.D.S. — Stability in the Nuclear AgeGlobal Orbiting Defense System") one of us noted that such a system was the only feasible way of meeting the objectives of the then-SDI program. The space-based interceptors would be effective for intercepting missiles during their ascent phase when they are most vulnerable.
Later in a Defense News Inside View article ("Where is BMD Headed?" Aug. 9, 2004 8/9/04) we noted that the vital requirement for boost-phase interception was not achievable globally relying solely on ground-based interceptors. At that time the program was not pursued because there was such reluctance to confront the political opposition that was mounted against basing interceptors in space space basing of interceptors.
The referenced article by Mr. Colby makes it clear that potential opponents such as Russia and China have not been inhibited from conducting anti-satellite capabilities in their efforts to thwart the effectiveness of our even limited defenses. These ABM defenses need not have been so limited had the work recommended by several others, including Ambassador Henry Cooper, a previous director of the predecessor of MDA, been undertaken.
The nuclear deterrent policy referred to in Karl-Heinz Kamp commentary, "NATO Must Reopen Its Nuclear Dossier" (March 21), similarly raises an issue that has been long neglected and again adversely affects our national security.
In a Defense News commentary we raised the same issue 13 years previously ("Living With Proliferation," Sept. 23, 2003Defense News 9/23/03). Our thesis was that as proliferation continues, we have to make changes in our deterrence policy because we shall soon be living in a less stable world where deterrence as we now know it will no longer be effective.
Events at the time illustrated that the United Nations would remain strongly opposed to any pre-emptive action taken against any state, despite overwhelming evidence of broken agreements, coupled with attempts to develop nuclear warheads.
Despite that request for a new approach repeated by successive further warnings such as another Defense News commentary ("Move from MAD to MARS," Dec. 8, 200812/8/08), little has been undertaken. The 2008 article explained the need to progress from a policy of mutually assured destruction Mutual Assured Destruction policy to one of a measured assured response strategy. We suggested new thinking is required to ensure that signals sent to a potential enemy would be interpreted as intended, and not lead to an escalated situation.
Despite the need for new thinking, strategic issues have continued to be downplayed in the United States and virtually ignored by our European allies. As a result there is minimal public discussion, and little appreciation of how national and international security has been downgraded by continued proliferation of missile and warhead technology.
It would be good to think that the appeal by Mr. Kamp for a re-examination of strategic issues and the related appeal by Mr. Colby for recognition of a coming space war will be heard, but sadly the signs are not hopeful.
Eugene Fox is vice president and Stanley Orman is chief executive of Orman Associates, Rockville, Maryland, a defense consulting firm.