Saturday, October 02, 2004

Reagan, SDI and Bunker Busting Missiles

I was wrong in 1986.

I grew up under the threat of nuclear war. Our rural grade school actually had nuclear drills, where we would hide under our desks. We took civil defense classes in public school so we would know how to handle our local area should the federal government be destroyed. I don't think people born much later than I can imagine the culture when Reagan was elected. I watched "War Games" and "The Day After" and "Testament" in 1983. I watched "Threads" in 1984. I'm sure there were more nuclear disaster films in the 1980's if I could just remember the titles. It was a scary time.

In October of 1986, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbechev met in Reykjavick, Iceland to discuss nuclear disarmament, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, Star Wars) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty:

President Reagan: What the hell use will ABM's or anything else be if we eliminate nuclear weapons?

Secretary General Gorbachev: Absolutely right. I am for that. But the point is that under the ABM Treaty the parties do not have a large-scale antimissile defense, and you want to deploy such a defense.

President Reagan: But what difference does it make if it is not nuclear weapons? What difference whether it exists or not?

On the other hand, you know that even in this situation we will not be able to guarantee that someone will not begin to make nuclear weapons again at some point.

Secretary General Gorbachev: Mr. President, you just made a historic statement: What the hell use will SDI be if we eliminate nuclear weapons? But it is exactly because we are moving toward a reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons that I favor strengthening the ABM Treaty. In these conditions it becomes even more important. As for your arguments about the madman who decides to resort to nuclear weapons, I think that we will be able to solve that problem, it is not that serious.

President Reagan: It appears that the point is that I am the oldest man here. And I understand that after the war the nations decided that they would renounce poison gases. But thank God the gas mask continued to exist. Something similar can happen with nuclear weapons. And we will have to shield against them in any case.

At the time, it appeared that Reagan had the chance to vastly reduce the nukes in the world if he would only give up SDI. I was, at the time, working in the Defense industry as a software developer and I saw little hope that SDI would ever work as advertised. Today, 20 years later, we are still struggling to make it work as advertised... that's not what I was wrong about. SDI has worked enough to intercept larger missiles and advancements are ongoing. I was wrong about Reagan's vision. In fact, Reagan's last point in the excerpt above, about the need for gas masks even though gas is illegal in warfare is really President Bush's point about needing nuclear bunker busting bombs.

In 1986, after a lifetime of fear, after a lifetime of feeling like the dustspeck in "Horton Hears a Who" being pulled over the vat of boiling water, I would have jumped at any chance to reduce the Russian nukes. Reagan saw beyond Russia to a time when other enemies (like North Korea and Iran today) might threaten us with their own nukes. Reagan took the heat from those in America like me and much more heat from the Lefties... but he was right and I was wrong.

In the debate the other night, John Kerry said that the USA shouldn't develop nuclear bunker busting missiles, missiles that would be able to strike and destroy enemy bases far underground. Saddam had these bases. Bin Laden had these bases in Afghanistan (and still might). North Korea has these bases. In 1986, I couldn't see ahead beyond my fear of the USSR pointing missiles at us to times like today, when other, possibly more dangerous, enemies exist. If Reagan had stopped SDI, the soviets today might still be a great nuclear superpower. If Gorbechev had gotten Reagan to back down, he might have been able to hold on to his power and all of Eastern Europe. Reagan saw ahead 20 years, but I couldn't even see ahead 5.

If Bill Clinton had been looking ahead when he was in power, he would have been thinking about Saddam's underground bunkers from the 1st Gulf War. He would have been thinking about North Korea hiding missiles underground. He would have been thinking about those mazes of tunnels that Bin Laden disappeared into in Tora Bora. If Bill Clinton had been looking forward, he would have been developing more powerful bunker busting bombs... even nuclear ones. Ronald Reagan, after all, was using lessons he learned from WW I and WW II to shape his thought. Why shouldn't we expect Bill Clinton to use Gulf War I and other terrorist strikes to guide his thoughts? America rules the skies, we can take any city on earth and after the war in Iraq, after Shock and Awe, everybody knows it... and all of our enemies have now moved underground.

George Bush didn't have much time after he came into office in 2001 to think about bombs, but another war with Saddam and Bin Laden, and now showdowns with North Korea and Iran have focused President Bush on the need for underground warfare. The need is far more obvious that any of the tiny threads Reagan relied on to make his decisions in Iceland. The need for underground warfare is clear and obvious.

John Kerry doesn't even today see the need for SDI and even less need for nuclear bunker busters. John Kerry doesn't lack foresight, it's far too late for that... he lacks eyes. Just as the very thought of SDI threw our enemies into disarray, the very thought of America being able to strike underground bases will flush out our enemies and bring them to the bargaining table. Like the blind leading the blind, John Kerry wants to lead the fearful left back to the days of Jimmy Carter, when America was too fearful of herself to use her strength. George Bush has a different idea for achieving peace: overwhelming victory.

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