Exclusive: What Does the ‘New York Times’ Have Against Missile Defense?

by PETER HUESSY April 28, 2009
The New York Times loves to trash missile threats and missile defenses. In its April 26th edition, it once again mocks both the missile threats from North Korea and the American and allied attempts to defend against such threats. The author of the article was William J. Broad, the paper’s resident science expert on rocket matters. In the space of a few hundred words, he manages to make 12 key points, 11 of which were pure invention.
The story arose because of a North Korean rocket launch, ostensibly to put a satellite into orbit. The launch itself violated previously passed UN Security Council resolutions, and became the focus of those concerned with the future possibility of a nuclear armed North Korea being able to mate such weapons to ballistic missiles and thus threaten the U.S. and its allies.
Before we examine the merits of the Times story, it is important to step back and examine why the Times and its intellectual brethren do not like missile defense. At the end of the Clinton administration, missile defense was an issue of serious concern. In 2000, Clinton decided not to go forward with a ground-based system to be based in Alaska and California. A year later, the Bush administration decided to go forward with such a system, while simultaneously shedding the ABM Treaty and calling for dramatic new reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia. Critics said both could not possibly be achieved. One top Times writer said the deployment of such defenses was a manifestation of the U.S. seeking an “unfettered self-interest” in security affairs.
A book published in 2001caught the flavor of these arguments against missile defense. Entitled The Phantom Defense, the authors claimed North Korea was “acting constructively” and thus any missile defense was unnecessary. In their view, Pyongyang was deterred by the presence of U.S. forces in the region. As for Iran, with whom North Korea actively collaborated on rocket technology, the book asserted both that “as U.S.-Iranian relations continue to warm,” Tehran’s support for missile programs could be cut and the “Shahab-3 is the last military missile Iran will produce.”
But more important than the downgrading of any potential threat from these two terror-sponsoring states was the assumption behind opposition to missile defense even against acknowledged threats. Again the authors of Phantom Defense give away the game: “China does not want to envisage the United States coming to the defense of Taiwan or deploying a … missile defense in Taiwan against China’s military forces.” And why was a U.S. missile defense a bad thing? It would allow the U.S. to “thwart [China’s] interest in ultimately integrating Taiwan.” [Note “integrating” apparently is now synonymous with using military might to forcibly take over another country.]
While we now know the assertions of Phantom Defense were universally wrong, the media folks at the Times, no less than their allied politicians, apparently still remain prisoners of their own misperceptions of history. For example, critics then were certain that reductions in nuclear weapons could not possibly go hand in hand with increases in missile defense deployments. But we are seven years into the 2002 Moscow Treaty which cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons by nearly 70%, while in the case of the United States since that treaty we will have deployed by the end of the decade some 1000+ ballistic missile interceptors of all ranges should previous plans hold.  
And thus it is that Broad, unable to shed his long standing anti-missile defense skin, gets nearly everything wrong. He ridicules the idea that North Korea could harm the U.S. but apparently is oblivious to the EMP, (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), threat from one nuclear warhead detonated high above the atmosphere above the United States. According the unanimous report of the Congressional mandated Commission on the subject, such an attack is one of the most serious threats we face. It would consign the U.S. to life much the way it was at the beginning of the 19th century, while also reducing the U.S. population by 80% or more. Once more, Russia, China and Iran have either tested ballistic missiles in such a mode or written extensively about developing such a capability in their military publications.
Broad dismisses such concerns as “threat inflation,” designed to push favored military technology over “arms control.” This is fatuous baloney, no matter how it is sliced. Most of us in the missile defense business have been highly supportive of and have worked to implement “arms control.” Critics cited such as Joe Cirincione have even admitted that when it comes to nuclear weapons, conservative Presidents have cut nuclear weapons, not liberals.
Mr. Broad then characterizes the American missile defense “program” as costing some $10 billion annually when in fact there are some 23 separate program elements of radars, sensors, satellites, command and control technologies, and short-range, medium-range and long range interceptors, upwards of eighty percent of which is spent not on the national missile defense he so ridicules but other missile defense technologies designed to combat medium-range ballistic missiles of the type that proliferate in the thousands around the world most notably by Iran and North Korea. Including the previously planned additional missile interceptor deployments in Alaska and California, the long-range missile defense program would cost roughly $1.7 billion this year. That is a sound investment.  
Advocates of missile defense, and I am certainly one of them, have no need to “scare people” or “hype the threat.” All we have to do is pay attention to the facts. And the facts are rather clear: (1) North Korea’s rocket launch was a new missile which represented advanced technology; (2) It was a large, three-stage rocket; (3) The first and second stages worked as the second stage ignited and separated from the first which had also successfully ignited; (4) The range of the launch reached 4000 kilometers, a distance never previously achieved; (5) The rocket burn was some 18 minutes compared to a previous launch of 42 seconds; and (6) The third stage may have separated and fired while it did in fact go off course and splash down in the Pacific.
If one examines the Iranian Safir rocket, one notices the two – the Iranian and the just launched North Korean rocket – are identical. We know Iranian and North Korean technicians have visited each others launch facilities. A four thousand kilometer missile launched by Iran could reach all of Central Europe. Obviously, their joint collaborative work is extensive and precisely what was predicted by the 1998 Congressional Commission on Ballistic Missile Threats to the United States. And this work involves configuring the missiles to carry nuclear weapons.
And while a previous North Korean long range rocket launch was far less successful then the most recent test, Pyongyang did simultaneously launch an additional six rockets, of all which were successful. As Sen. Collins told the press just recently upon her return from Europe, Moscow has admitted that Bush administration estimates on Iranian missile threats have turned out to be accurate. This being the case, what can be launched by Tehran can be launched by Pyongyang, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, Broad not only gets the capability of the North Korean rocket technology wrong, he gets our missile defense capability all wrong as well. We have had 13 long range intercept tests. In two such tests the interceptor did not launch and in two tests the interceptor kill vehicle and third stage booster rocket didn’t separate. In only one of the tests was there a “miss” in the end game. It was due to a clogged cooling tube that was easily redesigned. In short, in the end game, 8 of 9 long-range missile intercept tests were successful, an 88% success rate. As for other missile defense tests, since 2001, we have had 38 of 48 missile defense test successes, an 80% success rate. Since September 2005, the test success rate is closer to 95%.  
With its allies deploying missile defenses, such as Japan, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and Israel, it is obvious NATO and America’s security partners take the threats from ballistic missiles seriously. The recent NATO summit reiterated the previous year’s assessment that missile threats are growing and are serious, and that a long-range ballistic missile defense protecting Europe and the United States remains critical to the security of the free world. That is also true of the Pacific and East Asia. Creative diplomacy and defense strategy is to know when old assumptions can be discarded and new realities embraced. Missile defense is one such new strategy that will enhance our freedom, secure our liberty and help “provide for the common defense.”
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting company in Potomac, Maryland.

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