The Edmond Sun

Opinion

January 16, 2014

Syrian dilemma highlights importance of American missile defense

EDMOND — The Obama Administration is currently working with the international community to relieve Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of his chemical weapon stockpile.

Of course, there’s ample reason for pessimism. Even if American and Russian officials were to work in perfect harmony, fully ridding Assad of his entire arsenal in the middle of a civil war will be difficult, complicated, and likely impossible.

The Syrian crisis speaks to the broader challenge of containing anti-American regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction. While America continues to pursue all available diplomatic options for curbing these threats, we must also possess the best military capabilities needed to protect the nation in case diplomacy fails. The most effective military technology for combating the mounting WMD threat is missile defense. The United States must continue to support these systems to protect the homeland.

America has been the world leader in missile defense for more than 30 years.

The first major breakthrough came with the Patriot system, first used in the Persian Gulf War. Now, the Patriot boasts over 2,500 successful tests. It’s used by over a dozen American allies, including several in the Middle East, whose leaders watch warily as the Iranian nuclear program moves forward.

This is just one component of America’s missile defense infrastructure.

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System enables warships to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles. The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense enables the United States to intercept missiles in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Our systems are varied and proven. And they play an integral role in containing global hot spots and keeping our allies safe.

But we can’t afford to let investment in these vital technologies lag. The missile capabilities of hostile regimes are growing more advanced — our defense systems must have sustained support to keep ahead of the curve.

Exhibit A is Iran’s 10,000 centrifuges which continue to enrich uranium. The country intends to install thousands of more efficient centrifuges in the near future, in addition to other capabilities they may be doing in secret.

The alarming rate of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb underscores how wrong the Obama administration was to abandon our allies and scrape the planned missile defense shield program for Eastern Europe in 2009. That system’s chief purpose was deterring the Iranian nuclear threat. Without it, the hardliners in the Iranian regime can still make plausible threats against America and its allies.

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal presents an even more serious problem. Satellite images released in September reveal that the country might be close to bringing its Yongbyon plutonium production reactor back on line. The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that the country could already have a nuclear weapon small enough to fit atop a missile.

Meanwhile, the threat of terrorists exploiting the resources of a weak or chaotic government, like Egypt’s, is very real. These radical non-state actors need just a single bomb attached to a single missile to present a serious threat to the United States.

Assad can’t be taken as an honest broker. In the event that he does agree to hand over his chemical weapons, it is unlikely we can confirm all will be in custody. Witness the near-endless discovery of additional WMD facilities in Libya after their WMD disarmament 2003 — and that wasn’t in the middle of a civil war. The key lesson from the last decade is that preventing hostile actors from obtaining and using the world’s most destructive weapons isn’t always possible.

In a world where more and more of our enemies can access WMDs, keeping the United States and its allies safe from a cataclysmic attack demands greater ingenuity and vigilance. Missile-defense systems can play a crucial role in efforts to combat these threats.

MICHAEL JAMES BARTON served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon from 2006 through 2009 and is currently a director at ARTIS Research.

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Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

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