Tuesday, March 23, 2010 – Hank Cooper, Gordon Chang, Andy McCarthy
On the 27th anniversary of President Reagan’s speech introducing the Strategic Defense Initiative, Frank reminisces about that momentous event and discusses its relevance today with special guest Ambassador Henry F. “Hank” Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier, a nonprofit associated devoted to studying the issues of missile defense and space-based weapons. Regular guests Gordon Chang and Andy McCarthy return to chat with Frank about Google vs Red China; and Eric Holder’s mismanagement of the Department of Justice, respectively.
MONOLOGUE – March 23, 2010
First I thought I might share with you a personal experience that I had this day, 27 years ago. I was a very young man, a whippersnapper for sure, working on the Senate Arms Services Committee Staff; it was my responsibility at the time working for the chairmen of the committee, Senator John Tower, to try to advance the comprehensive program that President Reagan had determined was needed to modernize America’s nuclear forces, our land based missiles with the MX, a powerful ten-warheaded missile, our sea-based leg of the triad as it’s called with our trident submarines and their trident II missiles, sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles of various kinds, and of course bombers, B1 and B2 Bombers, were all part of this comprehensive program, as was a serious effort to modernize the command and control systems.
March 23rd, 1983 was a day when President Ronald Reagan, who despite what you’re hearing today folks about his antipathy toward nuclear weapons, which was real, and despite what you’re hearing from some quarters that he really wanted to get rid of them all, which he did, nonetheless recognized that the United States needed to make this enormous investment in upgrading and enhancing the deterrent power, the lethality, the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, and he was going to say so in this major address to the nation twenty-seven years ago today.
Well I sat there, as did my colleagues and the chairmen of the committee and others, breathlessly watching as the president, with the inimitable communicative skill of his, laid out why it was important to build the MX missile, to deploy it, to have the funds approved by the Congress to do that and all of the other steps that I’ve mentioned. And at the very end of the speech, seemingly as almost an afterthought, certainly, completely, disconnected really from the rest of the speech that had preceded it, which was all about offensive nuclear weapons, President Reagan said this, “Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? I know this is a formidable technical task, one that might not be accomplished before the end of the century, but isn’t worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is.”
He went on to say; wouldn’t it better to defend the American people than to avenge them? And I have to tell you, at the time I was horrified. This was so contrary to the orthodoxy of our country; we had since 1972 embraced, although most Americans were unaware of it, a strategy that Henry Kissinger had helped birth that basically said we will be most secure if we are perfectly vulnerable to missile attack. And on that basis, the United States embarked upon a treaty with the then Soviet Union called the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, that effectively precluded us from having competent, capable missile defenses and from that point forward we basically stopped even trying to do so.
And it was right up to the moment in 1983 when President Reagan said, you know, maybe there was a better way that I, like most people who had spent time thinking about nuclear forces, thinking about deterrent strategy, thinking about the cold war, were confronted with the idea that maybe it would be better, certainly at least as a compliment to a deterrent posture, to be able to defend our countrymen and women against then quite-real and unfortunately today still quite-real threat of ballistic missile attack.
I’ve come around over the intervening period to believe very strongly that President Reagan was right that having defenses is essential. And we have made real progress; he said it wouldn’t probably be until after the end of century that we could do this, it proved to be about right, but the main thing that had to happen that we’ll be talking about with our next guest, Ambassador Henry Cooper who played a very important role in this cold war drama, that brought us to the point that we had both the technology and the latitude by getting out from under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to begin to protect ourselves against the missiles that our adversaries, first instance the soviets but over time others, including the Chinese, more recently the Iranians, the North Koreans, who knows who else next, the Venezuelans perhaps, have sought for the purpose of threatening us or our interests.
Ronald Reagan was right, Henry Kissinger was wrong, just as by the way Henry Kissinger is wrong now when he says that we ought to get rid of our nuclear weapons through the whole world, which is rubbish. But the main point is here: twenty-seven years on, we need to redouble the effort to realize President Reagan’s vision. We’ll be talking with Henry Cooper momentarily about how best to that in a way that will actually ensure that our people do not need to fear that they will be murdered en masse and perhaps then avenged but that they will be protected against the real, present, and growing threats of ballistic missile attacks.