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Springer Journal: You are the President of the United States

Posted March 26, 2001 6:00 a.m. EST

— Imagine you are the President of the United States. You receive lots of briefings on lots of subjects covering domestic and foreign policy. You have to make lots of decisions-hopefully, well-informed decisions.

Imagine that during one of those briefings you are told there are more than 20 nations possessing ballistic missiles of theater (or limited) range. Others, such as Russia, have international range missiles capable of striking anywhere in the world. There are a couple dozen countries that can produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD). These weapons of mass destruction generally refer to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Some are explosive?some are silent and invidious?all are deadly serious threats.

While many of the missile-capable nations have long standing friendships and relations with the United States, many, such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya, do not. These smaller, but troubling nations, are often referred to as "rogue states." They are presently a threat to their neighboring states, and those within the range of their missiles. For example, Iraq is a serious missile threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. All of these nations are aligned with the United States against Saddam Hussein's regime. Or you may consider North Korea's potential threat to our allies, Japan and South Korea.

Imagine that within the first decade of this new century some of these rogue states will, along with Russia and China for example, have the capability to launch missiles with WMD warheads on an intercontinental scale. You are the President. You are the Commander-in Chief responsible for the defense of our nation, our people, our cities, our industry, all of our national resources. What do you do?

And guess what Mr./Mrs. President? Your defense advisors tell you there is no presently viable defense against these missile threats!

Beyond your administration, there are those who tell you that such a defense is not technologically feasible. They tell you that we really won't need it because of all of our other military might. They also tell you that it would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which we signed with the then Soviet Union. And, oh by the way, it certainly would cost too much. But you are the President. You decide it is important to review each of these concerns put before you.

Is it technologically feasible? Can it be done? Over the past decade America has spent billions of dollars studying, researching and testing the technology necessary to build and deploy a missile defense system. And still there is no wide-scale system today that can defend America or its allies from an emerging missile threat. However, there have been some significant successes along with failures in the development and test programs.

Essentially, we are asking for the technology necessary to hit a bullet with a bullet. That is tough to do. But it has been done, and as the program matures it will be refined to the point where it will virtually assure a "kill" in nearly every instance. For those who say that we can never develop such a capability, I would cite similar difficult-- but not impossible-tasks, such as landing a man on the moon over thirty years ago, when our computing knowledge and power was significantly less developed.

Critics will scoff at the test program failures as examples of why something can't be done. Yet anticipated failures are exactly why we have tests in the first place. You test to determine what works and what does not. You refine what does work, and fix what does not. Interestingly, the first test designed to hit a missile with a missile worked as expected. The second test did not. Ergo, the critics claimed it couldn't be done, even though it had been successfully tested in prior months.

If America has the brain power and the computer power to place a man on the moon, or to rendevous with other space vehicles in orbit, or to build a space station and inhabit it for months before returning to earth, America can develop, build and deploy a missile defense.

As President, you have also been told that a missile defense is simply not necessary. The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is gone. The old paradigm of "fire on us and we will fire on you" has been displaced by the asymmetrical threats noted several paragraphs earlier. There are those rogue nations that wish us harm. They can threaten their neighbors today, and within 5 to15 years they will be able to threaten our homeland with missile delivered weapons of mass destruction. This is a serious threat that must be countered. Recall that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran, and against his own people in Iraq. We cannot tolerate any posturing or coercion from these threatening states either to ourselves or to our allies.

As President, I believe you can dismiss the concern about the 1972 ABM Treaty that has been touted by missile defense critics as a show stopper. We all need to realize that the world was a different place in 1972 when the Soviet Union was a very serious threat to our nation and our allies. The Soviet Union with which we signed the treaty no longer exists. Can we be held to a treaty with another nation that no longer exists? Today, the threat is different. It emanates in large part from nations with which we have no treaty.

Finally, there is the real concern of affordability. Any national or theater missile defense will be costly. The estimates are wide-ranging depending on the source. The Department of Defense figures show that nearly 10 billion dollars have already been spent, and that another 20 billion or so is necessary to deploy a national missile defense over the next quarter century, with billions more to operate it. I suspect the final costs cannot be accurately determined. There are too many variables in such a technologically challenging project.

There is also on-going debate as to the final nature of the missile defense and this will influence the costs involved. It may be that rather than a simple missile-to-missile kill, the defense system that emerges will be what some refer to as a "layered system" which provides flexibility and redundancy. Essentially, this means a system that would permit an opportunity to "kill" the enemy missile at various stages or points in flight and thereby increase your probability of kill. It may well likely include ground based and sea based assets to counter the various threats anticipated within the next decade.

Whatever price tag evolves over the development and deployment phases, it will not be cheap. And, so as President, you must determine if a national missile defense is worth the cost. I would suggest you look to the future for that answer. What would you say if there should be a missile attack against our homeland, and you had done nothing to prevent it? There is no good answer to that question Mr./Mrs. President. So let's get on with it. Now. This is the eighth in a series of monthly columns written by retired U.S. Air ForceLt. Gen. Robert D. Springer. Springer is the president of NovaLogic Systems Inc., of Calabasas, Calif., which provides integrated PC software solutions to the defense community and others in the areas of simulation, mission editing, distributive mission training and planning, terrain database modeling and visualization. Gen. Springer is also a public speaker, lecturer and media consultant, including for WRAL-TV5.

In addition to his motivational speeches, he talks on ethics, leadership, national defense and foreign policy issues. He is the military consultant for the CBS affiliate, WRAL-TV5, in Raleigh, N.C. He has also appeared on the PBS McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, C-SPAN, Fox News, National Public Radio, ABC Radio and other