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OPINION

Reagan's SDI Vision Was To Save Lives, Not Avenge Them

ballistic missiles

Ballistic missiles. (Adrea/Dreamstime.com)

Henry F. Cooper By Friday, 22 March 2024 03:10 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

On March 23,  1983, President Ronald Reagan reported to the nation on the then-challenging U.S.-Soviet strategic balance (including our defense modernization, arms control, and related foreign policy efforts).

In 1983, by any measure, we were behind the Soviets in essentially every quantitative measure one might have considered pertinent.

He was pursuing a critically important modernization program to reduce this imbalance in the threat to us, and to our allies, as he briefly discussed, concurrently engaging in related nuclear reduction arms control talks intended to reduce that imbalance.

And they turned out to be quite productive . . . in my opinion, due to the initiative he announced in the final few minutes of that 30-minute address.

President Reagan concluded with a three minute challenge to the scientific community who gave us nuclear weapons to take advantage of then advancing technology: ". . . to develop a long-term program for defense" rather than relying totally on a "balance of terror," then called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), to deter nuclear attack on the United States.

In his introductory comments, he memorably asked, "Wouldn’t it be better the save lives than to avenge them?"

In effect, this Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was Reagan’s response to Robert Oppenheimer’s concerns recently heralded in the concluding scenes of the film that celebrated his efforts (and won most of the Oscars this year).

Many in the scientific community accepted Reagan’s challenge and indeed succeeded in producing the basis for the ballistic missile defense systems that we and our allies now count on in dealing with ballistic missile threats we, and they, now confront.

With one major exception.

Last year, I reviewed much of the detailed history that led up to this important speech and noted that Reagan’s vision was still the right one.

Much of that history should be remembered when considering the current scene when we are again confronting the result of years of inadequate defense funding and "resting on laurels" from the Reagan policies that in the 1990s led to a major reduction in the nuclear threat.

We again need a "Peace Through Strength" approach, funding a major defense modernization course — and again emphasizing the potential role of space-based defenses that were the most cost-effective SDI concepts.

And as I noted in that article, our most cost-effective ballistic missile defense program on my watch as SDI Director was the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor program, that was cancelled by congressional direction, in favor of investing in more expensive ground- and sea-based ballistic missile defenses, as documented in Historian Don Baucom’s "The Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles."

From its beginning, SDI was ridiculed by many skeptics—­e.g., by calling it “Star Wars,” and especially by exaggerating the cost of space-based defenses. SDI’s first Director, USAF Lieutenant General Jim Abrahamson, and I strongly disputed these exaggerated claims a few years ago.

We need to “Go Back to the Future."

We can, only if we have the will to do so.

Four years ago, then-President Donald J. Trump initiated the U.S. Space Command under the U.S. Air Force, and it is now an independent U.S. Space Force.

But alas, there is no notable effort to develop and deploy the needed cost-effective space-based defense systems.

In particular, such space-based defense systems could be uniquely effective in countering the hypersonic missile threat, involving technologies where we are playing "catch-up" with Russia and China.

Recall: Great Britain’s prime minister and President Reagan’s key partner, Margaret Thatcher, famously observed that "SDI ended the Cold War without firing a shot."

And the core SDI effort was space-based defenses.

We should again recall Thatcher's wise counsel.

Exaggerated cost estimates for space-based defense system have since dissuaded our leaders from reestablishing those efforts. I’ve repeatedly reported on these issues — in particular, consider my article on the 35th anniversary of Reagan’s historic speech.

Sadly, little has changed.

We spend the most money on much less effective, more expensive defense systems, while ignoring the best defenses that were included in Ronald Reagan’s vision four decades ago.

Could private sector cutting edge technology provide these products to the government? Without a doubt Elon Musk could if he was supported to do so.

Hope springs eternal.

Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, a PhD engineer with a broad defense and national security career, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Defense and Space Negotiator with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports - Here.

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HenryFCooper
We spend the most money on much less effective, more expensive defense systems, while ignoring the best defenses that were included in Ronald Reagan’s vision four decades ago. Could private sector cutting edge technology provide these products to the government?
brilliantpebbles, mad, sdi
748
2024-10-22
Friday, 22 March 2024 03:10 PM
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