This month, the tenth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s death and the 70th anniversary of D-Day remind us of those who saved the West from what Winston Churchill feared would be a new dark age. When we recall Reagan’s fight against another Evil Empire, his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) takes pride of place. Margaret Thatcher called it his most important contribution to ending the Cold War.
Effective missile defenses are critical to America’s security, and the successful test of a ground-based interceptor on June 22 reminds us of Alaska’s key role in these defenses. What may not be well known is the debt we owe for this to a couple of Alaskans — the late senator Ted Stevens and current lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell.
August 9 will mark the fourth anniversary of the sad and untimely death of Senator Stevens. The Distinguished Flying Cross was among his medals for his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he often flew transport planes behind enemy lines in support of the famed Flying Tigers. Stevens was one of President Reagan’s strongest allies, especially in his role as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee.
I first met Senator Stevens while I was leading the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union. As chairman of the (unfortunately now lapsed) Senate Arms Control Observer Group, he regularly visited our negotiations in Geneva, and he supported us on Capitol Hill.
Senator Stevens’s support was no small thing, as the Soviets stirred up political opposition to Reagan’s SDI and his Strategic Forces Modernization Program, and they attempted to block our efforts to reduce their offensive nuclear arms — while pursuing their own massive strategic-arms build-up, sometimes in violation of existing agreements. Stevens’s mediating influence included hosting a Fourth of July cookout, at which he personally grilled fresh salmon that he had had flown in from Alaska to Geneva — a memorable event for both our delegation and the Soviets. His congressional leadership ultimately helped ensure bipartisan political support for our negotiations and for SDI, which gave us our primary leverage with the Soviets. That political reality helped us negotiate the INF and START agreements, which for the first time actually reduced the number of offensive weapons, as opposed to merely limiting their increase.
A few years later, while I served as SDI director, Senator Stevens helped reverse major funding cuts imposed by opponents — and we began programs that laid the groundwork for virtually all of the ballistic-missile-defense systems that we have today. These include Patriot and THAAD mobile/transportable theater defenses; the Aegis system with Standard missiles that is now deployed at sea around the world, and that is scheduled to be deployed in a land-based version in Romania and Poland; and of course the ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, which defend our country against North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles.
Last month, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance created a new award with a well-deserved name, the Ted Stevens Memorial Award. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who often cites Stevens’s contributions to national missile defense, appropriately participated in the presentation of the first award to Captain Eric Kraus of the Alaska Army National Guard. But Treadwell is too modest about his own contributions to the missile-defense fight, especially during the 1990s.
After leaving the post of SDI director, I continued to press for effective missile defenses and was pleased to join Treadwell’s efforts to challenge a late-1990s intelligence assessment that omitted Alaska and Hawaii when considering the North Korean threat to the United States. After a briefing in Juneau at which Treadwell brought state legislators together with national-defense experts, the Alaska state legislature became the first in the country to draft a resolution demanding that the entire United States be defended. Treadwell and I then joined forces in an Independent Working Group on Missile Defense that successfully encouraged ten other state legislatures to follow Alaska’s lead.
With Ted Stevens’s active support, Congress created an independent bipartisan commission led by former and future defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which in 1998 demonstrated the flaws of this intelligence assessment. Congress then passed the Missile Defense Act of 1999, which made it U.S. policy to defend against these threats.
At Treadwell’s invitation from the Institute of the North, I visited Anchorage in 2000 and was privileged to discuss missile-defense issues with many Alaskan leaders, and to support the initial deployment plans for Fort Greely. Then and subsequently, via the Independent Working Group, we have worked together to advocate the best missile defenses possible. The U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, and interceptors were first emplaced at Fort Greely two years later, in July 2004.
The missile-defense deployments of recent decades have had many fathers. But make no mistake: It took a fight to deploy any missile defenses to protect the American people. Alaska led in this fight, and in no small part because of Ted Stevens and Mead Treadwell, who is currently running for Stevens’s old Senate seat. Treadwell has demonstrated the knack and tenacity to follow in Stevens’s footsteps and help realize Ronald Reagan’s vision for defending our country and our way of life.
— Henry F. Cooper was the chief U.S. negotiator in the Geneva Defense and Space Talks during the Reagan administration and SDI director during the George H. W. Bush administration.