As evidence mounts that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile – possibly, an InterContinental Ballistic Missile with enough range to reach the United States – President Obama no longer has to put U.S. nuclear forces on alert or threaten a pre-emptive first strike on North Korea, thanks to national missile defense interceptors deployed in California and Alaska.
When North Korea conducted its first test of a missile with ICBM capabilities in 2006, “some [of the President Bush’s advisors] were urging him to launch a pre-emptive attack” on North Korea, Lt. Gen. Henry A. “Trey” Obering III reveals in a soon-to-be released documentary produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Unhappy with that option, President Bush rushed into deployment sea-based missile defense systems on board of Aegis-class cruisers in the Pacific that were still under development and had never been used in combat. He also placed on alert the handful of silo-based interceptors his administration had installed at Fort Greely, Alaska starting in July 2004, and ordered his commanders to intercept and destroy any incoming North Korean missile, something they had never done under battlefield conditions before.
The president would not have had that option without the $100 billion the United States taxpayer has invested in missile defense research and deployed systems since 1983, Lt. Gen. Obering and other experts interviewed in the new Heritage Foundation documentary said.
Lacking credible missile defense systems, “the only other ability you have is to apologize to those that die,” Lt. Gen. Obering said. Not to develop such systems would be “morally bankrupt,” he added.
The Heritage Foundation documentary, screened recently to a select audience of Washington, DC insiders, takes its title, “33 Minutes,” from the time it would take an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) to reach the United States if launched from North Korea or Iran.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. intelligence community has now reversed its highly controversial National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that claimed Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program in late 2003.
U.S. intelligence officials now “expect the Islamic Republic to reach [nuclear] development milestones this year,” the Times reported, noting that President Obama himself described Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” as one reason giving urgency to his plans to talk to Tehran’s leaders.
And yet, despite these alarming developments in Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration has said it plans to review funding of missile defense systems, arguing that the technology must be “proven” for current deployment plans to continue.
Heritage Foundation expert Dr. James Jay Carafano, who helped produce the documentary, scoffed at such criticism. “We are long past the time when you could question whether this technology works,” he said, citing dozens of successful tests.
Missile Defense Agency officials frequently have described their kinetic kill vehicles, which strike incoming missiles head on and destroy them without using explosives, as “hitting a bullet with a bullet.”
But in recent years, the technology has gotten even better, Lt. Gen. Obering said. “We are now able to hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet.”
Heritage is encouraging its 400,000 members to host home-screenings of “33 Minutes,” and hopes to strike a television deal, Heritage vice-president Rebecca Hagelin said on Wednesday night after the screening.
“We are also making two ten-minute shorts, a seven minute trailer you can download from our website, and even a two-minute version,” she said.
Using dramatic computerized simulation of a nuclear missile attack on New York, the documentary also includes an exclusive interview with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who rarely has appeared in public since a series of strokes slowed her down in 2002.
As Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher was a strong supporter of the President Ronald Reagan’s initial missile defense program, known as the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Speaking slowly but emphatically, the “Iron Lady” lived up to her reputation, warning that nuclear missiles in the hands of rogue dictators pose an unacceptable threat to the free world.
“If America is held hostage, then the free world is held hostage,” Lady Thatcher said. “American leadership is essential. You know what you must do. You must do the right thing.”
Dr. Kim R. Holmes, a Heritage vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy studies, said after the screening that recent comments about missile defense from President Obama and others in his administration were “not encouraging.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated publicly that our deployed missile defense systems “could be a bargaining chip” with the Russians and the Iranians, he said.
There is a real possibility that the arms controls battles of the 1980s and 1990s that pitted conservatives against disarmament liberals could come back under the Democrat-controlled Congress, he warned. “History could repeat itself with a new arms control treaty” that could ban missile defense systems.
“In a way, we’re victims of our own success,” Dr. Holmes said.
Once President Bush took office in 2001 and announced that the United States was withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the administration talked less about missile defense as a Republican-controlled Congress appropriated tens of billions of dollars to test and deploy real systems.
That could all change under Obama, Dr. Holmes warned.
“We want to put missile defense back on the conservative agenda,” he said.
Dr. Carafano noted recent polls showing that 90% of the American people believe a missile strike against America is a credible threat, while a majority believe that missile defense systems should be funded and deployed.
“There is a huge credibility gap between what Washington wants, and what America wants,” he said.
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