By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.) and Kingston Reif
Former Senator John Kyl, currently a senior advisor to a prestigious law firm in Washington, DC, is back on his hobby horse of missile defense and nuclear weapons in an op-ed in the March 22 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, the leopard has not changed his spots; but his comments are even more bizarre than before.
Kyl starts, nostalgically, with President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, conceived to provide reliable protection against up to a full scale attack by Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. But Kyl fails to note that Mr. Reagan refused to deploy the system before it proved to work, which it didn’t; and if and when it did prove effective, he offered to provide the technology to the Soviet Union to maintain strategic stability.
Kyl ignores Reagan’s sensible condition on deploying the system and his offer of missile defense cooperation with Russia.
Kyl then criticizes the Obama administration for failing to incorporate technical improvements in the interceptors of the Ground-based Mid-course missile defense system previously supported by the Bush administration, though it’s not clear exactly to what proposed improvements Kyl is referring. The Missile Defense Agency has in fact proceeded with a newer kill vehicle, called Capability Enhancement II, begun during the Bush administration; but after two initial interceptor failures in 2010, the Pentagon suspended tests until this year while undertaking a search for the cause of the failures. The last successful interceptor test, in 2008, was conducted with the earlier version of the kill vehicle.
In 2009, the Obama administration rightly proposed the cancellation of several high-priced and unproven national missile defense programs, such as the Multiple Kill Vehicle program and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor. In explaining the decisions, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “The security of the American people and the efficacy of missile defense are not enhanced by continuing to put money into programs that…in terms of their operational concept are fatally flawed, or research programs that are essentially sinkholes for taxpayer dollars.”
Even more surprising, Kyl bemoans the fact that the technology currently employed in the national missile defense system would not be effective in countering an attack from countries like Russia and China. Apparently he has forgotten that that the system currently deployed was never intended, even by President George W. Bush, to do more than block an attack by one or a very few missiles launched by a rogue state such as North Korea or Iran. He also seems to have missed the recommendation of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which stated in its 2009 final report that “Defenses sufficient to sow doubts in Moscow or Beijing about the viability of their deterrents could lead them to take actions that increase the threat to the United States and its allies and friends.”
In addressing the Phased Adaptive Approach in Europe, Kyl states that the cancellation of Phase IV will reduce the capability to protect Europe and offer less protection from a missile attack by Iran against the United States. He apparently is unaware of the extensive study by the independent National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences which pointed out that the prospective Phase IV, designed to counter inter-continental ballistic missiles launched by Iran, would be incapable of accomplishing either of the two missions that Kyl specifies for it.
Kyl’s analysis of the status of U.S. nuclear programs is equally flawed. In alleging that the President is not spending enough money on these programs, Kyl fails to note that the changes in nuclear weapons and infrastructure budgets have been made since the Budget Control Act, and that these cuts were initially proposed by House Republicans. Sequestration, which went into effect on March 1, could lead to an additional $500 billion in defense reductions over the next decade, thereby requiring further adjustments to nuclear spending plans.
Given that nuclear spending competes with other defense priorities, nuclear weapons shouldn’t be exempt from the budget microscope. In fact, the current US arsenal of approximately 5,000 nuclear warheads is far in excess of US security requirements. Instead of leaving us and our allies vulnerable to nuclear attack, blackmail and proliferation, as Kyl alleges, further reductions in the arsenal could both strengthen our security and save scarce defense dollars. Kyl conspicuously does not explain how a reshaped US arsenal would leave the United States and its allies vulnerable to an Iran with zero nuclear weapons and a North Korea with perhaps a handful that cannot be targeted on the United States.
Finally, the former Senator can’t resist irresponsibly charging President Obama with “antipathy to both missile defense and our nuclear deterrent,” despite more than ample evidence to the contrary. By that standard, Ronald Reagan, who almost bargained away the entire American nuclear force in Reykjavík, was the most hostile President ever to nuclear weapons.