Wars and ru­mors of wars

A cred­i­ble mis­sile de­fense sys­tem would send ad­ver­saries a mes­sage more pow­er­ful than words

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

One month af­ter the elec­tion, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump made a “vic­tory tour” of states that had helped de­liver his sur­prise win. In Fayet­teville, North Carolina, Mr. Trump in­tro­duced his choice for sec­re­tary of De­fense, Gen. James Mat­tis, and pledged the fol­low­ing: “We will stop rac­ing to top­ple for­eign regimes that we know noth­ing about, that we shouldn’t be in­volved with. In­stead, our fo­cus must be on de­feat­ing ter­ror­ism and de­stroy­ing ISIS, and we will.”

He ap­pears to be ful­fill­ing the sec­ond part of that pledge, less so the first. Think North Korea, Iran, Rus­sia, and now even Venezuela, which has had new sanc­tions placed on it fol­low­ing fraud­u­lent elec­tions giv­ing dic­ta­to­rial power to Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

While Venezuela is no threat to Amer­ica and Rus­sia is a ma­jor headache, North Korea and Iran are clear and present dan­gers. These two rogue regimes are com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons ca­pa­ble of reach­ing U.S. cities no mat­ter what we do.

Clearly this can­not be al­lowed to hap­pen, but the ques­tion is how to stop them short of all-out war that has the po­ten­tial to kill mil­lions and cre­ate a dooms­day sce­nario rem­i­nis­cent of Cold War movies like “Fail Safe,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “On the Beach.”

The best of­fense re­ally is a good de­fense. When Ron­ald Rea­gan pro­posed his “Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive” (SDI) in a na­tion­ally tele­vised ad­dress on March 23, 1983, many on the left mocked him. They called his pro­posal science fic­tion and un­work­able, de­ri­sively la­bel­ing it “Star Wars.”

They’re not mock­ing that pro­posal now. The De­fense De­part­ment has had sev­eral suc­cesses with its Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude De­fense (THAAD) anti-mis­sile sys­tem, but only at tar­gets that rep­re­sent medium-range mis­siles. In May, the U.S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency also suc­cess­fully in­ter­cepted’ an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile dur­ing the first test of its ground-based in­ter­cept sys­tem.” That’s not science fic­tion.

Read­ers should re­visit Mr. Rea­gan’s speech as a tem­plate for deal­ing with mod­ern threats. In that ad­dress from the Oval Of­fice, Mr. Rea­gan said the risk of war is less­ened when the U.S. has a strong de­ter­rence, which he de­fined as “mak­ing sure any ad­ver­sary who thinks about at­tack­ing the United States, or our al­lies, or our vi­tal in­ter­ests, con­cludes that the risks to him out­weigh any po­ten­tial gains. Once he un­der­stands that, he won’t at­tack. We main­tain the peace through our strength; weak­ness only in­vites ag­gres­sion.”

Mr. Rea­gan said the strat­egy of de­ter­rence had not changed, but what it takes to de­ter had changed. While ac­knowl­edg­ing it might take decades to achieve his Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive (SDI), Mr. Rea­gan said he wanted to take the first step. He con­cluded his ad­dress: “I am di­rect­ing a com­pre­hen­sive and in­ten­sive ef­fort to de­fine a long-term re­search and devel­op­ment pro­gram to be­gin to achieve our ul­ti­mate goal of elim­i­nat­ing the threat posed by strate­gic nu­clear mis­siles. This could pave the way for arms con­trol mea­sures to elim­i­nate the weapons them­selves. We seek nei­ther mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity nor po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. Our only pur­pose — one all peo­ple share — is to search for ways to re­duce the dan­ger of nu­clear war.

My fel­low Amer­i­cans, tonight we’re launch­ing an ef­fort which holds the prom­ise of chang­ing the course of hu­man his­tory. There will be risks, and re­sults take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this thresh­old, I ask for your pray­ers and your sup­port.”

Pres­i­dent Trump should em­u­late his pre­de­ces­sor, mak­ing his first tele­vised ad­dress from the Oval Of­fice dur­ing which he ex­plains to Amer­i­cans why North Korea and Iran pose an im­me­di­ate, or ul­ti­mate, threat to the United States. He should an­nounce a fast-track ef­fort to es­ca­late THAAD so it can de­stroy ICBMs. A space-based, anti-mis­sile sys­tem should then com­ple­ment our de­fenses in or­der to pro­tect Amer­ica and our al­lies from nu­clear at­tack.

As Mr. Rea­gan noted, weak­ness en­cour­ages tyrants. Tehran and Py­ongyang must be en­cour­aged at what ap­pears to be in­sta­bil­ity in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. A cred­i­ble mis­sile de­fense sys­tem would send them a mes­sage more pow­er­ful than words.

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