The Time for National Missile Defense Is Coming

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The Time for National Missile Defense Is Coming

When Ronald Reagan unveiled his vision for the Strategic Defense Initiative, often referred to in the press as the “Star Wars Program,” the primary threat to national security came from the Soviet Union, and the technology for creating an effective anti-missile shield was decades away.

While the technology has continued to develop, America is no longer threatened by a rival military superpower with thousands of land- and sea-based warheads. Instead, the system is intended to counter the threat from rogue nations and their terrorist allies possessing dozens of warheads, at most.1
For the past two decades or more, the idea of a national missile defense system has remained quite popular. For instance, a national poll published in 2005 showed that 79 percent of registered voters were in favor of it. And significantly, these findings cut across party lines, with 70 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and 91 percent of Republicans supporting the concept.2, 3 Those findings are particularly impressive in that they fly in the face of decades of strident opposition and criticism, often from highly credentialed experts in the relevant technologies.

Are these experts right, or is the public right? Is the United States making a brilliant and necessary strategic move, or is it throwing away billions of dollars on a fantasy? To answer that question, let’s first take a look a how we got to where we are.

Most people can only track the origins of the national missile defense system back to Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. However, the U.S. Army actually began planning for a missile defense system as far back as 1945. However, the technology of the 1940s wasn’t up to the task.

Then in the late 1950s, with the Cold War heating up and nuclear attack a real threat, the U.S. began work on its first missile defense system, called Nike-Zeus. Its on-board radar and computer were the most advanced at the time, allowing it to track a target and intercept it.

The Nike-Zeus system, however, had severe drawbacks. Chief among them was that it could deal with only one target at a time. In addition, it could easily be confused by decoys. The project was eventually cancelled, and the Nike X project, which employed small nuclear bombs, began.

By the mid-‘60s, the Soviet Union had deployed its own missile defense system, known as Galosh. In 1969, the Senate voted to deploy a version of the missile defense system known as Safeguard. But, before Safeguard was ready, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the ABM Treaty in 1972...

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