SDI at 30, Part IV

A curious incident in March 2012


Why aren’t we farther along? Here are three reasons. First, we operated within the restraints of the ABM Treaty for too many years. Second, missile defense is hard — a hard scientific task. An expert says, “I don’t want to take anything away from the wizards at Apple who give us iPhones and other wonderful gadgets. But that is easier than getting one missile to strike another, each hurtling at 15,000 miles per hour in the vastness of space.” At the same time, missile defense is doable. Human ingenuity can achieve it.

Which brings us to the third reason: a deficiency of political will, or national will. The country will have to want missile defense, in order to get it. More about this in due course.

The Japanese want it — and they are getting it. A Wall Street Journal article from December tells us that “Japan now has the most sophisticated missile-defense system outside the U.S.” Officially, they want the system as a check against the North Koreans: The Norks lobbed one over Japan in 1998. Unofficially (I am reliably informed), they want the system as a check against China. That is the stronger concern.

The Israelis have an interest in missile defense too — seeing that missiles are regularly lobbed at them. Their missile defense goes under the names Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome. Israel is a tiny country — which makes missiles all the harder to defend against. There’s not much time between “flash and bang,” as the saying goes: A neighboring enemy launches one, it’s in Israel right away.

Unlike many Americans, Israelis tend not to be childish when it comes to missile defense. They know missiles are serious business. They had Scuds launched at them by Saddam Hussein. They donned gas masks and protective clothing, and went into sealed rooms. The Israeli government — whoever is in power — feels keenly the need to protect Israeli citizens.

What was it Jeane Kirkpatrick said, in a comment quoted earlier? “No president has the right to ignore the common defense.” This sentiment is solid in Israel, of necessity; it is less so here. This is in part because of “our blessed location,” to use George Washington’s phrase. (Kirkpatrick quoted him.) We have the benefit of great oceans on either side of us. The Israelis barely have a stream. And missiles are becoming quite good at traversing oceans, fast.

No one outside the U.S. has done more than the Japanese and the Israelis about missile defense. But others are rapidly gaining interest. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt — they have all bought Patriot (a basic system). What do these countries have in common? They live in the vicinity of Iran, and their minds are concentrated.

How about the American mind? We will explore this in tomorrow’s installment, the last. Thanks so much, and see you soon.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.