Will Europe Allow Missile Defense?

Two top national security leaders, Senator Jeff Sessions and LTG Kevin Campbell, revealed this week disquieting trends in international security affairs that urgently require the remedial attention of the nation. They warned a Capitol Hill audience this week of the critical necessity to build a European interceptor site to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles and maintain a strong nuclear deterrent to provide for America’s defense.

General Campbell, the Commander of the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama said there is “a sprint to longer range missiles” by US adversaries, particularly Iran, Syria and North Korea, that made it imperative that an  interceptor site in Europe — currently being negotiated with Poland — be quickly constructed. Campbell explained that while a “one size fits all” defensive system might sound attractive, no such system was on the horizon given the complexity of the missile threats we face. In addition, the 35-year Army veteran explained the triad of “nuclear weapons, space vehicle and ICBM pursuits” of Iran, for example, “are in combination a deadly threat to US and European interests”.

Ballistic missiles in the hands of Tehran provide leverage for blackmail, Campbell continued, as well as threatens US policy objectives.  They could be used to deny US and coalition entry into the Middle East Theater, disrupt the flow of necessary forces into an area and can hit fixed as well as mobile targets. A global integrated and layered missile defense is thus critical to improve US security. The recent deployments of hundreds of interceptors in land and sea-based systems are an extraordinary achievement, said the general, including glue-ware (global consolidated operations) putting together the complex of radars, sensors and interceptors now deployed in Alaska, California, Greenland, and England that protect the US mainland from long range ballistic missile threats.

These and future missile defense deployments would provide the umbrella under which US leaders have the additional time in which to exercise retaliatory capabilities without having to resort to the option of using the currently available rapid strike force of nuclear armed missiles. The presence of missile defenses not only devalues the missiles of our adversaries, it also helps close the door on their associated coercion and blackmail.

Missile defense, however, is only one part of the evolving US strategic holster in which American power must rest. Senator Jeff Sessions, the former chairman and now the ranking member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned the same audience “We are coming to a critical point in our national debate about the future of US strategic nuclear forces”. The Alabama Senator cautioned that talk of eliminating nuclear weapons was incompatible with the job of maintaining nuclear deterrence, an effort that has to remain as job number one. “An unwise goal can have bad consequences” said the senator.

Sessions reminded his Capitol Hill audience that the Bush administration has drawn down the US nuclear arsenal under the Moscow Treaty by nearly 85% to the lowest levels since the Eisenhower administration. But he also noted contrary to many predictions “during this period North Korea, Iran and China…responded by building up their capabilities.” Furthermore, said Sessions, “It seems clear to me that drawing down our nuclear arsenals too far may very well promote proliferation…smaller nuclear powers like China, North Korea and eventually Iran…could seek to be a peer competitor. I see no reason to provide that temptation.”

In addressing the argument that “moral” US action will be followed by similar concessions by  rogue countries, the senator explained “at the most fundamental level it would be unwise to assume that nations like Iran and North Korea would see…nuclear disarmament by the US as a ‘nice example’ that they should follow.” More likely, he argued, they would see such action as an example of a society “unwilling to defend its liberty and prosperity.” And thus he argued that “it makes no sense to oppose modernizing the force we currently have…simply letting our weapons degrade is indefensible.”

History teaches us, argued Sessions, that we are most secure when we are strong. “So long as nuclear weapons are critical to our security, and they most certainly are today, it is our obligation to ensure that they work as intended. That means modernizing them.” In this way, we can protect our allies with our extended nuclear umbrella, which inhibits proliferation. If the US extended deterrent loses its credibility, many nuclear powers may emerge.

He warned that he saw no evidence Iran or North Korea “will be convinced to abandon their nuclear arsenals by a US commitment to disarm. If anything, it may encourage them and other states ‘to sprint to parity’ with the US." In conclusion, the Armed Services Committee member said we would be wise to remember the words of President Reagan: “There were two world-wars in my lifetime…We were ill-prepared for both. Had we been better prepared, peace might have been preserved.”