In September, I flew to Europe for discussions with Czech Republic and Polish officials regarding the U.S. proposal to deploy components of a vital missile defense site in their respective countries. Their response was encouraging and manifestly fruitful.
While meeting with these officials and later giving the keynote address at an international missile defense conference in Maastricht, Netherlands, I focused upon two important themes. One was the threat from a common enemy of the West and Europe and the cooperative defense that the interceptors and radar will provide.
The other theme was the influence of Russia in these decisions. Iran is the world’s largest financier and enabler of terrorism. Guided by religious fanaticism and a fundamental hatred for everything freedom embodies, Iran is determined to refashion the Middle East in its own radical image. The intelligence community has reported that Iran has tested current variations of medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges capable of threatening Eastern Europe, Israel and allied bases in the Persian Gulf; and it could well have long-range missiles before 2015. I just returned from Israel, and their intelligence predicts that Iran could have nuclear weapons capability in far less time.
The U.S. government has determined that to meet this threat we must cooperatively deploy a European missile interceptor site with 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. This is the optimal location to protect the majority of Europe against intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles as well as to protect the United States from intercontinental missiles launched from the Middle East.
As a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee and an active participant in the missile defense debate, I have run into two types of opposition to missile defense in general, and the European site and the defense of space specifically. Some in Congress claim that missile defense technology is not worth the money or investment. Thankfully, this group is small given that there is empirical evidence – including hardware and dozens of successful tests – that the physics and technology behind missile defense, which only two decades ago was considered purely theoretical, has in fact become a tangible reality. Other opponents argue that our ground-based interceptors have not been tested thoroughly, and that negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic have not been finalized.
Although I could find points that I agree with in the second camp, I
am convinced that their lack of urgency could carry devastating consequences. Our predictive time tables have often been wrong in the past. In 1998 the intelligence community said North Korea was years away from developing long-range missiles, and then
31 of that same year, North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 missile that landed between Japan and Hawaii. If the test had been successful, the North Koreans would have demonstrated an ability to hurl a 200-kilogram warhead onto the shores of the western United States. We must be prepared before the threat is upon us.
The second theme I addressed was broached by European leadership even more often than the first – Russia’s influence over the deployment of the European site. Russia repeatedly has demonstrated a desire to exert a certain amount of control over many nations in Europe. However, after my visits to the Czech Republic and Poland, my convictions are stronger than ever that the European site is an opportunity for the Czech and Polish leaders to make independent decisions and not to be coerced by any country’s saber rattling.
This system will be defensive in nature only, carrying no explosives and posing absolutely no threat to Russia, which has fiercely labeled the European defense initiative an act of military aggression. On the contrary, as I often reiterated in my discussions, the site would not even have the capability to defend against a Russian Federation strategic offensive – Russia’s missile arsenal could easily overwhelm it.
The United States has kept the Russian Federation informed of its plans to deploy the European interceptor and radar sites. Its mission is to defend hundreds of thousands of innocent lives against ballistic missiles from the Middle East. Despite this, Russia continues to resist its deployment. Consequently, in my speech I communicated both a message and a challenge for Russia. The message is simply that, indeed, the Cold War is over. This saber rattling is counterproductive and not helpful to these constructive efforts to increase our collective security.
Thus, I offered the following challenge to the leaders and people of Russia: There was a time in history when America and Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, had a massive arms race and built thousands of missiles and nuclear warheads that have cast a foreboding shadow of fear across humanity ever since. But times have changed. Missile defense systems like the one to be potentially deployed in Europe are not only the last line of defense against a missile attack; they are the first line of defense against proliferation. The fact that it is now technologically possible to build systems capable of defending our citizens against an attack from the Middle East diminishes not only the military and strategic value of nuclear missiles, but ultimately, their very purpose for existence.
So to Russia: Let us have another race, and let it be one of cooperation or of competition, as Russia chooses. Let us together turn Mutually Assured Destruction into Mutually Assured Survival.
In an age of nuclear capability and radical Jihadist terrorism, whose proponents are committed to the destruction of the Western World, every nation devoted to the cause of freedom stands at a critical juncture in which our collective determination to defeat that enemy will determine our success in meeting future threats.
We possess an unprecedented technological capability that has taken years of scientific genius, engineering prowess and tenacity within the industrial community and relevant fields.
Granted, these systems have been produced at the expense of billions of dollars and precious time; and there may be a day when as leaders we must apologize to the American people and the citizens of allied nations for building an expensive missile defense system that we did not use. I can face that gratefully.
However, history will grant us no acquittal if we fail to protect our children and future generations from a nuclear blast or any other missile attack, when we had the technological capability at our fingertips, but failed to pursue and build an effective global missile defense system.
Poland and the Czech Republic must be encouraged to remain resolute and stand firmly for the cause of ultimate peace and human freedom.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) is a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.