The coming weeks will see Congress debate various recommendations from the so-called deficit reduction super committee and the stakes could hardly be higher. This committee has until Thanksgiving to find $1.5 trillion in budget cuts and failure to do so will lead to an automatic reduction of $850 billion in defense spending. However this debate turns, it’s likely to include a substantive discussion of the merits of producing and more broadly fielding the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) system, a high profile and integral part of the United States’ missile defense program.
Regardless of what one thinks of war, history suggests the inevitability of it, leaving us to answer the question of what sort of war would we choose to wage were it necessary. We could reasonably agree that war is best served as cold, small and brief as possible, which compels us to make choices on how to achieve those ends. But it also forces us to consider the threats that generate regional instability and the sparks that may ignite war.
Our crystal ball in forecasting conflict is usually a bit foggy, but the images of Iranian ballistic missiles or this summer’s launch of an Iranian satellite show clear trends in that nation’s capability. Coupled with the unambiguous rants of Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Iran’s aggressive efforts to develop nuclear weapons to ride on those rockets there is a crystal clear threat to regional if not world peace. North Korea is no less bellicose and has already developed a potentially nuclear armed ballistic missile to threaten the US and our allies in an entirely different theater. These types of threats are precisely the kind that can set off world instability and the hot-large-messy war none of us want.
Military scholar Rebeccah Heinrichs with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies rightly notes in her August 28 column that U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Gen. Patrick O’Reilly has called attention to the growing number of countries seeking and developing ballistic missile capabilities. The proliferation of such capabilities only adds to global instability and while it would be nice if Iran never developed a nuclear weapon, the trend toward the world community’s inaction to their efforts is not looking good. Add-in the energetics of political extremism or a failing tyrant like Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi who has nothing to lose and deterrence fails.
Were the world realities or ambitions of rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea less visible, one might be forgiven for not recognizing the emerging threat they represent. But we know what they are trying to do and are in a position to render such ambitions tactically moot. We can ill-afford falling into institutional or bureaucratic complacency and neglect our real and achievable missile defense solution.
Today we’re on the cusp of realizing a unique world dynamic where there is a proven stabilizing answer to ballistic weapons wielded wildly by rogue nations and despots. We can intercept and destroy them before they reach their target. Our capability to do this didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of decades of scientific invention, focus and investment. Now, only with the next step of producing and fielding systems like the SM-3, can we realize the means of rendering these threats impotent and obsolete.
Robert Newton is a retired Air Force colonel, combat Fighter Pilot and Test Pilot .