I was on a conference call yesterday with Newt Gingrich and Bill Fortschen sponsored by FDD on the topic of missile defense. The danger posed by a number of our enemies due to the missiles they already have, and the obvious problems with North Korea and Iran attempting to gain significant capabilities were discussed. There were calls to contact members of Congress ahead of upcoming votes to stop the reductions to funding for many programs that really comprise our only likely defense to these threats. If you accept that these rogue nations present the possibility that we could lose 100k people to a successful nuke-tipped missile attack, the need for a robust missile defense is fairly straightforward.
What really caught my attention though were discussions of the threat posed by an Electro-Magnetic Pulse strike using an aerial detonated nuclear weapon. This problem has been around since the Cold War and is exacerbated by our heavy dependence on electronic circuitry to run almost every important aspect of our society. Some believe a large enough blast at the right altitude could cripple infrastructure and most everything else across the entire country. Even if they just wiped out NYC it could be catastrophic as power, sewer, communications and every piece of electronics turned to mush.
One of the problems with any missile defense system is that it assumes a launch from an identifiable and trackable location that we can intercept at that site, during boost phase, in space or as last resort during re-entry. Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems can't account for other creative delivery methods our enemies can use. Newt discussed the fact that the Iranians have launched Scud missiles from the decks of ships in the Caspian Sea and there are documents showing they are working on vertical launch capabilities from container ships. That would allow them to float right into a harbor and throw a missile up in the air. If it was set for an EMP air blast, there wouldn't be a thing we could do to stop it. Or they could just get close to the shore and shoot ship to shore and the very small window for us to detect and track would make it near impossible for us to take one out. Go a step further and put a nuke device on a charter aircraft coming to the US from anywhere else and we would never know it was en route until it goes off on approach to JFK.
This actually argues that real defense against a missile attack could not rely only on expecting to shoot down what they send our way, but would need strong intelligence gathering and active interdiction of enemy programs. Again we would not be able to rely on electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering methods which are our only serious tool now. We desperately need to rebuild our human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities that were gutted during the Carter administration. Spy games are dirty business and their inherent distastefulness as well as some serious over steps led to our basically leaving that business. That decision in large part is why we simply don't know what is going on pretty much anywhere. If we want to ensure that those building hellish weapons can't use them against us, then we need a combination of in depth missile defense and forward reaching intel and interdiction efforts to destroy those systems.
The problem is we do not have the stomach or will to do that.