These days, Covid-19 gets all the press coverage. But it’s important to remember that, even during a pandemic, the United States has military enemies. Policymakers need to take steps to protect us from those enemies. Some of them, including North Korea, China, Iran and Russia, have been around for decades, and are likely to be around long after the current pandemic is past.
The United States is the only country that has developed effective missile defenses. Now we need to keep refining and expanding our defenses to protect us in a still dangerous world.
Lawmakers are taking some of the right steps. As part of a covid-19 response bill, Senators wanted to spend $200 million for improving our Ground-Based Midcourse System. That bill may have to wait until after the presidential election, which is drawing all the political oxygen these days. But it would be a good start toward improving our already successful GMD systems.
GMD hits enemy missiles while they are in space, destroying them before they can reenter the atmosphere and endanger American cities. There are some 44 interceptors in place, ready to protect the entire country in case of attack. And make no mistake, any such strike would, without GMD, be deadly.
“A single North Korean nuclear warhead, delivered against a major American city, could kill more people than all the deaths in the nation’s wars since 1776,” defense analyst Loren Thompson wrote this year for Forbes. GMD, which has already proven successful in testing, discourages enemies from attacking the U.S.
On the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Japan, the Washington Post featured a long opinion article about the future of such weapons. “[T]he Bomb is proliferating. North Korea, an impoverished thugocracy, has the Bomb. Irreconcilable enemies India and Pakistan have the Bomb. Iran, a failing theocracy, has the infrastructure to build a Bomb,” the article noted.
“The uneven ascent of China, the slow-motion meltdown of Russia, the mad belligerence of North Korea,” the newspaper added. These “destabilizing forces” are making our nuclear umbrella “tenuous.” All that points straight at the need for effective GMD, which is protecting us to make certain we don’t reach the point where “the unthinkable become unavoidable.”
The Post report concluded that “the nuclear age was always a terrible – yet inevitable -- result of the industrialization of war. We must learn to live with it.”
However, that is exactly the what effective GMD allows us to do: live. We have at least some measure of protection from nuclear war. Our enemies have had to think twice, then a third time, before daring to attack, because they realize GMD could thwart their attack and leave them vulnerable to counter strikes.
Of course, the system is always a work in progress. Last year, the Pentagon had to shut down Raytheon’s Redesigned Kill Vehicle, the weapon on the end of a warhead that actually destroys incoming missiles. Defense News noted that the RKV “would have replaced the current Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, or EKV, on the Ground-Based Interceptor.” Still, another contractor will develop an effective RKV, and the EKV is in place for the time being.
Lawmakers must make sure that GMD is fully funded and is able to expand as new threats arise. The next 75 years may not be as safe as the last have been, and we need to be ready to deal with any threats as they arise.
We need more, and better, GMD. Lawmakers can deliver it, at a fraction of what they are spending to defeat covid-19. And when the pandemic is over, our homeland will still be protected from foreign threats.