March 25, 2014—Put the Stars Back Into Star Wars!

March 25, 2014—Put the Stars Back Into Star Wars!

High Frontier

Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman . . . Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives

E-Mail Message 140324

Put the Stars Back Into Star Wars!  

By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper

March 25, 2014

To deal more effectively with today’s threats, we should return to President Ronald Reagan’s vision made explicit in his March 23, 1983 speech that launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The “powers that be” should revive technology programs aimed at developing space-based defenses, the most cost-effective way to defend against a full gamut of ballistic missile threats, including those that pose an existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat.

Last Sunday was the 31st anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s March 23, 1983 historic speech that challenged America’s best and brightest scientists and engineers to develop truly effective ballistic missile defenses. Click here to see and hear the important sections of his address that launched his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Then click here to read President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 119 (NSDD 119) formally establishing the SDI program, 31 years ago today. The following is a very abbreviated history of subsequent key events and asserts that the powers that be need to return to Reagan’s original vision.


Reagan’s challenge to develop truly effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems was immediately taken seriously by most Americans—who actually believed they were already defended and became angry as they learned that their political leaders had actually signed up to a mutual suicide pact with the Soviet Union, called Mutual Assured Destruction, appropriately shortened to “MAD.” They overwhelmingly sided with Reagan against the majority of the arms control elite and, of course, the Soviets who had regularly violated the terms of that pact, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and other treaties and agreements they had with the U.S.

Fortunately, President Reagan had consulted with the Joint Chiefs though not most of the rest of his cabinet and appointees; and they—especially as led by the Chairman, General Jack Vesey, and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Jim Watkins—supported him 100-percent. Most of the rest of the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger’s loyal leadership, also kept in line with what became the SDI program, though the majority of the institution was averse to the idea because they had become comfortable with the MAD idea that had dominated essentially all U.S. “strategic thinking” for over a decade.

The MAD idea originated in the Pentagon during the Kennedy-Johnson era; and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara formally proposed that BMD systems be banned in President Lyndon Johnson’s meeting with Soviet Premier Alexie Kosygin in their June 1967 Glassboro, NJ summit. McNamara’s proposal was immediately rejected by Kosygin who noted that it would be immoral (as most Americans would agree—and did agree during the Reagan years, to the chagrin of the continuing advocacy of the arms control elite). 

But the MAD idea had legs and was adopted by the Nixon Administration as part of its Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) that led to the concurrent 1972 SALT I Agreement and the ABM Treaty that made keeping the American people vulnerable the “law of the land.” They eventually chose to defend a few strategic offensive missiles but not the American people–and even that single missile defense site in North Dakota was operational for only six months.

But I digress. 

The SDI Era.

Immediately after his 1983 speech, Reagan’s ideas were opposed by both the Soviets and the arms control elite

Four days later on March 27, 1983, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov blustered that space-based defenses “would open the floodgates of a runaway race of all types of strategic arms, both offensive and defensive . . . Engaging in this is not just irresponsible, it is insane . . .  Washington’s actions are putting the entire world in jeopardy.”

Notably, President Reagan’s NSDD 119 did not even mention space-based defenses—it was silent on basing modes, but made clear that he wanted an in-depth investigation of all possibilities. He did make clear his preference for non-nuclear defenses.

Former KGB Director Andropov telegraphed the Soviet concern about the fundamental importance of space technology and the possibility that U.S. advanced technologies would place the Soviet Union at a disadvantage—no doubt reflecting then Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai Ogarkov’s concern about a U.S advantage in the “revolution in military affairs” that he saw in the potential of advancing technology.

The U.S. arms control elite immediately echoed Andropov with similar comments eventually summarized in a Winter 1984/85 Foreign Affairs article by McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara, and Gerard Smith entitled “The President’s Choice: Star Wars or Arms Control.” Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) earlier ridiculed Reagan’s idea, by referring to his initiative as some kind of “Star Wars”—and that label stuck, with its imagery reflecting the fantasy of the then popular Movie of the same name.

This dynamic dominated the hiatus in arms control negotiations after the Soviets walked out of all arms control negotiations following the October 1983 U.S. initial deployment of Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF), or “Euro” missiles. Ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) were eventually deployed in four NATO nations and the Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) were deployed in West Germany—all to counter the Soviet SS-20 INF missiles then threatening Western Europe and potentially Japan.

The obvious propaganda campaign was an attempt to dislodge the NATO alliance during a period when many of the principal nations were undergoing national elections—notably all key leaders, including President Reagan, withstood the propaganda campaign and were reelected. In my opinion, this was a high point in NATO’s history.

However the revisionists may now seek to rewrite history, I assert (as one who witnessed much of this period close up) that the SDI, or “Star Wars,” and its perceived focus on space-based defenses was fundamentally important in bringing the Soviets back to the negotiating table in March 1985 and in eventually getting them to negotiate seriously toward deep reductions in offensive nuclear arms—leading to the first treaties actually to reduce those weapons; and even, as claimed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and others—including former senior Soviets, to hastening the end of the Cold War.

Preceding Treaties had only legitimized limits to which offensive nuclear arms could legally increase, consistent with the label Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or “SALT.” SALT I accompanied the ABM Treaty and SALT II was rejected and never went into force because of this attribute and its provisions that the Reagan administration and the U.S. Senate thought were not in the U.S. national security interests.

Reagan wanted “reductions” and he got them—and SDI was fundamental to the dynamic that produced the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, eliminating an entire class on nuclear arms, and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START) Treaty that produced major reductions in strategic arms beginning early in the George H.W. Bush administration. 

The SDI program continued on track through the first Bush era, including a congressionally approved robust program to prove out the potential of space-based defenses. Indeed, in January 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin actually proposed that the SDI program take advantage of Russian Technology and that we together build a joint global defense—a label that obviously parroted the program I was then pursing as Director of the SDI program, which included a significant role for space-based defenses. 

March 25, 2014 I

We called that system concept Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS). GPALS was designed to deal with ballistic missiles launched from anywhere to attack targets anywhere else beyond a few hundred miles.  It was designed to counter accidental or unauthorized long range intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) launched from Russia as illustrated in the figure above . . . or by a rogue captain of a Russian submarine on patrol.  It also included ICBM threats from China, North Korea, Iran and other states—as well as short-, medium, and intermediate range threats to our overseas troops, friends and allies.

Click here to view the January 1991 annotated briefing that Steve Hadley and I gave to announce the GPALS initiative and its rationale, which I would argue is still quite appropriate today.  Among other things, we introduced a new priority on Theater Missile Defense (TMD) systems and mentioned a potential new role for sea-based defenses

GPALS had been discussed extensively with the Russians over the year prior to Yeltsin’s 1992 initiative—and afterward during the Bush administration. I took Yeltsin’s initiative as a very positive response and consistent with positions I had advocated for five years in Geneva.

Regrettably, we did not take advantage of that opportunity before the beginning of the Clinton era. I am told that when Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin met in Vancouver in April 1993, Yeltsin wanted to continue talks toward that end, but our side was no longer on the same page with the Russians

Instead, then Defense Secretary Les Aspin notably stated he was “taking the stars out of Star Wars” as he gutted the maturing efforts to prove the viability of space-based defenses and congressionally approved plans to deploy Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) to begin defending as soon as technologically possible the U.S. homeland; refocused the renamed Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program on a reduced effort to develop theater missile defenses rather than U.S. homeland defenses; and dramatically reduced funding for the residual research and development.

Thus ended Reagan’s SDI vision, which has not been seen since. We need to rethink this mistake and rectify it to deal effectively with today’s threats.

A Critical Need for Effective BMD Systems.

We still need a global defense against threats from any number of states and even terrorists—from far away or from near our shores. Massive attacks still are not our main concern—so the idea of an effective but limited defense is still as pertinent today as 20-years ago.  And we still want protection for our troops, friends and allies abroad and also for Americans at home.

As I have highlighted in previous messages, we need, in particular, effective BMD systems to counter an existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat that can be delivered by nuclear explosions a hundred miles or so above the United States. Current BMD systems can be adapted to deal with most aspects of this threat.  While also considering other alternatives, I have recommended making the Navy’s Aegis BMD system and its already proven capability “all it can be” as soon as possible, in particular to deal with major gaps in defending against:

  • North Korean or Iranian nuclear armed  ICBMs that  approach the U.S. from the “north” as in the above figure—especially to target the U.S. eastern seaboard from over the North Polar region;
  • State sponsored terrorists that might launch nuclear armed missiles from vessels off our coasts—particularly from the Gulf of Mexico or from Latin America—we are completely vulnerable to these threats;
  • North Korean or Iranian nuclear armed satellites that approach the U.S. from the south—a thus far ignored threat from over the South Polar region. Notably both North Korea and Iran have launched several satellites capable of carrying nuclear weapons to their south as illustrated below. 

March 25, 2014 II

Specific recommended initiatives include additional funding for the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program to:

  • Deploy a TYP-2 radar in northern New England to enable the 4-6 Aegis BMD ships normally along the East Coast or in port to shoot down Iranian ICBMs coming over the North Polar region. This relatively inexpensive initiative could significantly enhance defense of the East Coast substantially earlier than a possible future deployment of an East Coast site of improved GBIs (beyond the current capabilities of those deployed in Alaska and California).
  • Look for specific Aegis Ashore sites around the Gulf of Mexico to counter ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf or Latin America. Also consider Aegis Ashore sites along the eastern seaboard to fill in any gaps in the coverage provided by the 4-6 Aegis ships normally along the eastern seaboard, at least until deployment of a dedicated East Coast GBI site.
  • Develop a light weight kill vehicle for the Standard Missile (both the Block IB and IIA) to enable the highest burnout velocity possible so that it can reach higher altitudes to shoot down satellites that might threaten an EMP attack from over the South Pole and in any case to defend a larger area. (The possible defended area increases as the square of the velocity.) This improvement would also be important in improving the ability of our Aegis ships operating neat North Korea (and Iran) to shoot down their ballistic missiles in their ascent phases.

In addition to these initiatives to improve Aegis BMD, consideration should be given to deploying Aegis Ashore or dedicated GBI sites in Australia and New Zealand—capable of shooting down satellites launched from North Korea and Iran as they head southward to attack the U.S. from over the South Polar region. We would need to agree on a joint program with these host countries of course—and the consequent deployment could defend them as well.

Finally, the powers that be should initiate studies to build space- based interceptors to provide a high confidence defense against all ballistic missile attacks, including EMP attacks from high altitude satellites. As we learned during the above SDI era, such defenses are the most cost effective defenses that we can build—by a large margin.  My colleague and friend Angelo Codevilla had it right in his recent Washington Times article.

Last year in our article celebrating the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s speech launching the SDI program, the first SDI Director, Retired Air Force General James A. Abrahamson, and I noted that the space-based interceptor program canceled in 1993 was the best product from the SDI era (1983-1993). The powers that be should reverse this cancellation and use today’s even more advanced technology to build an effective space-based defense. Pertinent facts were later discussed in some detail in our July 5, 2013 message.

These improvements would be timely to help counter over-the-South-Polar-region attacks from Iran and/or North Korea (who collaborate on developing ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and no doubt satellite designs), but also to deal with China’s growing strength and aggressive behavior. Our August 28, 2013 message elaborated that China is actively developing key technology that can be exploited in building anti-satellite systems—and exploiting SDI technology obtained through legal, but dubious means, while the U.S. has continued to ignore it.

In short, we need to “go back to the future” and put the stars back into “Star Wars.”


The Obama administration should adopt a strategy of leading from strength backed up with major funded initiatives that back up that policy. Stop the arms control by executive agreements, especially with Russia and instead seriously consider withdrawing from the New START Treaty.

Congress should add significant funding to strengthen our national defenses—including against ballistic missiles that could be used in a devastating EMP attack.

In addition to other initiatives, we should revive the programs pursued during the SDI era to build space- based interceptors to provide a high confidence defense against all ballistic missile attacks, including EMP attacks from high altitude satellites.

Near Term High Frontier Plans.

We will continue our efforts to inform state and local authorities about the EMP threat and expand our work with the National Guard to help them gain knowledge and workable plans to help harden the grid and counter the EMP threat.  This work should go hand in hand with the efforts to gain support from State legislators to expand on the excellent work in Maine and Virginia, which have passed legislation requiring serious studies of the EMP threat and the needed countermeasures to protect the electric power grid. 

The most recent bill passed in record time without a negative vote in Virginia can be used as a ready pattern

We will continue working with South Carolina folks to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to this serious threat. We will expand this effort to neighboring and other states.

We are informing SC state legislators and senators about the threat and what can be done to deal with it—and hopefully they will follow Maine and Virginia in seeking to harden the electric power grid.  We also expect support from Cong. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) whose district includes my SC farm—who is a member of the Congressional EMP Caucus seeking passage of the Shield Act and the Infrastructure Protection Act, as well as other SC representatives.

We will be working with members of the EMP Coalition and others who are seeking to take our message across the country—especially with Bob Newman, a former Adjutant General of Virginia to help us link our SC plans more broadly and especially into the National Capital Region.  We have been together in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia the past few weeks, spreading the word and seeking support.

What can you do?

Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.

Get involved— in particular, let your electric power company know of your concern and urge them to harden the electric power grid.

Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.

Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!

And support us with your tax deductible gifts to help enable our continuing efforts.


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