The Corner

The Power of Possession

Our series “SDI at 30” continues on our homepage today. In this installment, I quote an interview I did with Donald Rumsfeld in 2006. He is an SDI-er from way back. In fact, he was in the White House on the night Reagan gave his historic speech: March 23, 1983. In 1998, he chaired the missile-defense commission formed by Congress.

Before writing this series, I was leafing through his memoirs. Something jumped out at me, and I’ll let you know why in a minute. Rumsfeld writes,

Some senators argued that missile defense would be destabilizing, and lead to a new arms race or alienate the Russians. In answering their concerns on this score, I recalled lessons that had been reinforced when I chaired the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission. “The problem with ballistic missiles, with weapons of mass destruction . . .,” I suggested, “is they work without being fired.” To the extent that hostile regimes or terrorists could threaten America, our interests, our friends, and our allies with ballistic missiles or chemical or biological weapons, they could alter our behavior and perhaps cause us to acquiesce to actions that we would otherwise resist.

Exactly. I thought of something that Ephraim Sneh once told me, in an interview. He is an Israeli politician and diplomat — a former Communist, now a social democrat, and hawkish. He said that Iran wouldn’t have to use a nuke to devastate Israel. The mere possession would be devastating. People would leave Israel; people would stop immigrating to Israel; the country would be demoralized; etc.

As I was saying when we were all commenting on the Iraq anniversary: No one likes a preemptor. Preemption is a thankless task. There are always those who say, “It wasn’t necessary to do.” But listen: To keep Iran from nukes, for as long as possible — at least until a less evil and reckless regime is in power: That is a good idea.

Too bad nobody preempted North Korea. 


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