The Tipping Point

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U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced a strategic arms control agreement with Russia in which he refused to give in to demands of limitations on U.S. missile defense, thereby reaching the tipping point of a successful mutual conclusion with Russia on reducing strategic weapons and platforms. The defiance to include limitations on U.S. missile defense is similar to President Ronald Reagan’s stance on missile defense with the former Soviet Union in 1985. This gives the United States a significant tool to defend national security and protect our troops and allies in the Middle East and Asia from current and future missile threats by North Korea and Iran. These efforts also can be applied to stabilize future international crises driven by proliferation.

A new concept called “shared deterrence” was put forth by Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the 8th annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference in Washington as a replacement for the current extended deterrence policy of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This new concept has a proposed mixture of defense, with one of those defensive elements being missile defense assets from both the United States and allied nations. Non-nuclear offense is included in this mixture and combined with its defensive counterpart makes the case for deterrence much stronger and more credible to proliferating nations such as North Korea and Iran. Shared deterrence is especially important when dealing with Iran, a nation that may not be dissuaded or deterred by U.S. nuclear force or conventional military strength.

A version of shared deterrence is in play today in the case of nuclear-capable North Korea. It has been inherent in the prevention of Japan and South Korea from taking pre-emptive military action or becoming nuclear in order to respond to threats from North Korea. The ability of the United States to provide defenses through shared deterrence to its partners and friends in the Middle East, including the western Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, is critical for the deterrence of Iran, the security of the United States and regional stability in a future where a nuclear Iran is a foreseeable reality.

Placing no limits on U.S. growth of missile defense in follow-on Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks provides a significant opportunity that opens the core debate about the revolutionary technology being developed to destroy ballistic missiles in flight. Does the United States continue to press forward technologically to eventually eliminate the threat of ballistic missiles, as was put forward by President Reagan 27 years ago, to provide a parallel path or hedge for President Obama and the global arms control community to achieve and sustain global zero? Or does the United States hold to a self-imposed Cold War ideology of limited amounts of missile defense so as not to upset the “balance of nuclear terror” between the United States, Russia and possibly China, while continuing to live in a proliferating world?

U.S. taxpayers are spending around $10 billion a year on missile defense, which is equal to less than 2 percent of the total defense budget. They also have paid close to $6 billion over the past decade on developing the Airborne Laser, a directed energy defensive weapon that recently intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles. The cost of firing the current Airborne Laser, a single-beam system that has the capability to fire multiple shots, is approximately $70,000. That is 28 times less than the cost of firing the least-expensive, currently deployed short-range missile defense interceptor, the PAC-3, and 700 times less than the currently deployed long-range ground-based interceptor.

Only 1 percent of the annual funding for missile defense now goes to the Directed Energy Research program, which the Airborne Laser and other laser systems fall under. Why would our nation not vigorously pursue, develop and eventually deploy this revolutionary cost-efficient technology, instead of cutting the program and reducing it to a technology experiment?

In the military world of offensive and defensive systems, defense always costs more than offense. When a technological change allows the defense to become cheaper and more numerous than the offense, the offensive system becomes ineffective. It would seem that the current amount of tax dollars invested in our nation’s directed energy development programs does not reflect the future cost benefits, let alone revolutionary game-changing technology, that it could provide. At only 1 percent of the missile defense budget, directed energy is not adequately funded, and as such its development and deployment will be slowed considerably.

With a cost-efficient land-, sea-, air- or space-based chemical or solid-state laser technology developed and deployed, could we not make ballistic missiles obsolete? Could we not share that technology to ensure that no one lives under the terror of nuclear ballistic missiles that we continue to live with today and into tomorrow? When President Reagan first introduced the idea of missile defense, he stated, “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.” Those comments are as true today as they were in 1983. A tipping point for our nation and the world is within President Obama’s grasp.

 

Riki Ellison is chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (www.MissileDefenseAdvocacy.org).