Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!
E-Mail Message 140501
May Day—Return from the Future?
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
May 1, 2014
Reflecting on past May Day celebrations in Red Square prompts recollections of better times, to which I believe we should aspire to return. In my opinion, the high point, especially for our ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs was at the end of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) decade at the end of 1992, while Ronald Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” vision was still alive and well. It’s been a bit down-hill since then, at least from my perspective, though Vladimir Putin probably has a different perspective—especially as he views Russia’s current prospects in dealing with a U.S. administration that our enemies don’t fear and our friends don’t respect.
Seems like yesterday that we watched film and reports of the May Day parade in Red Square for hints about who was up and who was down in the Soviet hierarchy. See below for a representative picture from the Leonid Brezhnev era (1964-82) which spanned most of the first 20-years of my career in worrying about such matters. And what a subsequent transition I observed from close-up in senior positions of the Reagan administration—under Yuri Andropov (1982–1984), Konstantin Chernenko (1984–1985), and Mikhail Gorbachev, who succeeded Konstantin Chernenko and led until the 1989 revolution that led to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and election of Boris Yeltsin as the first President of the Russian Federation.
It should not be forgotten that this breakup of the Soviet Union didn’t just happen. U.S. Détente policies failed to obtain the desired objective of limiting nuclear arms—only legalizing a build-up. As President Jimmy Carter’s Defense Secretary Harold Brown said, “We build, they build; we stop, they build.” And they cheated on every arms control agreement they signed.
Then came President Ronald Reagan and his policy of seeking victory through a policy of “Peace through Strength”—backed up by rebuilding our then atrophying strategic forces and initiating his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which many believe “broke the camel’s (or bear’s) back by persuading the Soviets they could not compete with American technology..
As President Reagan’s Chief Negotiator on SDI issues, I believe this was the case—and led to the first ever arms control agreements that actually reduced strategic arms—and in an effectively verifiable way. That first treaty, the INF Treaty—now being violated by Russia, was followed by the July 31, 1991 START Treaty signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Shortly thereafter, Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the new Russian Federation—and his administration signaled a change in Russia’s approach to the SDI, which I was then leading in the Pentagon. Notably, he proposed, publically to press overseas and then in his United Nations speech on December 31, 1992, that the U.S. should take advantage of Russian technology and work together with Russia to build a Joint Global Defense—as I had advocated in Geneva for last five years of the Reagan administration and as SDI Director during the Bush-41 administration.
Regrettably, no closure was reached during the remainder of the Bush administration, though we brought a number of Russian scientists and engineers to the United States to work with us on common areas of interest and the negotiations were then progressing toward serious agreements.
Then, the Clinton administration immediately in early 1993 declared its allegiance to the 1972 ABM Treaty as the “cornerstone of strategic stability,” and ended the ongoing negotiations with Russia before an agreement going beyond the terms of that 1972 Treaty could be reached.
Instead, then Defense Secretary Les Aspin said he was “taking the stars out of Star Wars,” severely cut funding for all ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs—and totally scuttled the space-based defense research and development, permitted by the Treaty. This ended our efforts on the least expensive, most effective global defense possible. (By itself it could defend the entire globe from significant missile attack scenarios, including from the fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) discussed, particularly during the past month.)
That’s how things remained until the beginning of the George W. Bush administration in 2001, which advocated building at least some BMD systems—and most important, President Bush early signaled his intention to withdraw from the AMB Treaty, ending the constraints from the Détente era that had blocked for 30 years even testing of the most effective defenses. After the allotted six-month waiting period he did exactly that.
Regrettably, his administration did not revive key programs being pursued at the end of his father’s administration—in my opinion the high point of the SDI era (1983-93).
I recently discovered a March 2001 talk I gave in London, which hopefully anticipated that the Bush administration would return to the Reagan vision of a global defense—but alas that was not to be. Even worse, that era—which also corresponded to the beginning of the Putin era—abandoned even the ongoing technology programs that had kept alive the prospects for exploiting the best technology from the afore mentioned 10-year SDI era.
VADM J.D. Williams and I even had lead a fight the acquisition authorities of the George W. Bush administration to keep alive a viable Aegis BMD program—an inherently global defense because two thirds of the earth surface is water. Happily, our Japanese allies came to the rescue with money and played a critical joint role in keeping that important program advancing, even though it was falling short of our 1993 aspirations. And as indicated in my recent email reports, today’s Aegis BMD system offers an impressive capability to defeat a very stressful threat—a FOBS attack, especially from North Korea. Click here to see my recent publication based on my April 11 email message.
We need to “return from the future” we experienced following 1992—and make Aegis BMD all it can be. And we should revive a serious program to build space based defenses, easily the most cost-effective system concept developed during the SDI era.
This would be none too soon, as we also need to go back from the future we have experienced in dealing with Russia following the SDI era. The end of that high point occurred when Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin met in Vancouver in April 1993. Yeltsin wanted to continue the negotiations that had already agreed to go substantially beyond the 1972 ABM Treaty restrictions to build a joint global defense, as he had proposed in 1992—I was told sometime later by senior Russian officials that it appeared that no one on the U.S. side of the table even knew what Yeltsin was talking about and how far the Bush-41 administration had gone toward agreement. Things went downhill from there—compounded by the scuttling of the SDI program.
It wasn’t long before Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin—and things continued to go down-hill with the Clinton administration that reinforced the arguments the Soviets had used during the Reagan years and up to the time when Yeltsin changed direction to join us on an agenda to build global BMD systems together. As noted above, other than withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, the second Bush administration did little to restore the status quo ante. It did, of course, build ground based defenses in Alaska and California.
So, we are now in the second set of Putin administration after a largely non eventful Dmitri Medveded term. (He did promise to take to Putin President Obama’s message that he would have flexibility on missile defenses after he was reelected.) Now, Putin is back to his ways of restoring Russia’s ties to its historic past. Putin’s current policies and actions seem more consistent with his KGB upbringing than those of a reformer. He is outflanking us on important matters, and we have regressed from a position of seeking “Peace through Strength” to at best ambivalence in confronting the troubles he is causing.
Indeed, our policies of appeasement and weakness have exacerbated if not invited the troubles we have. I think our enemies no longer fear us and our friends no longer respect us.
As I reflect on my tours in government service in Washington, I think we have regressed to a condition worse than during the years of the Carter administration, which also permitted our strategic programs to atrophy. President Carter got a rude wake-up call when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and his administration redirected its programs and began modernizing our strategic forces. It is debatable whether those efforts would have continued with full funding if President Carter had been re-elected in 1980.
But President Reagan was fully committed to his “Peace through Strength” agenda and to reversing the strategic balance trends before undertaking arms control negotiations. The rest is history—quite positive, at least until the high point in early 1993. Since then our national security interests have deteriorated, and now the strategic systems from Reagan’s modernization program are atrophying.
We need to return from that future to at least some of the conditions at the end of 1992. In particular, we must again modernize out strategic nuclear forces and their supporting command control and communications systems. And we should return to Reagan’s SDI vision.
To close with an illustration of what goes around is coming around, consider that the Bolsheviks adopted “The Internationale” music from the French socialist revolution the national anthem of the USSR. Click here to hear the well-known strains and read the words during the Cold War. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia’s first elected President, Boris Yeltsin, replaced the music with that of an older Russian anthem—click here for the music. But this anthem had no words—and was thought by some to be a mistake. To Yeltsin’s chagrin, his successor—Vladimir Putin—readopted The Internationale music in December 2000 with new words—click here for the music and words. Click here to read about the controversy surrounding that change.
Click here for last year’s hour long May Day ceremony with Putin presiding … the parade looked like something out of the Cold War, now in vivid color. There was lots of impressive crack drill—particularly from the honor guard than began the festivities about 12 minutes into the video. To hear the familiar strains of The Internationale, go to about 29-minutes in, following Putin’s salute to the troops and their response.
Why am I dwelling on these matters? To emphasize Vladimir Putin’s interest in re-establishing continuity between his current reign and Russia’s historic past, including many attributes the Soviet era. After all, he has been quoted to have said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest “tragedy” or “catastrophe” of the last century. In my judgment, this is the lens through which we should view his initiatives and policies.
I think we have seriously misjudged the man and his objectives, at least since President George W. Bush thought he “saw his soul” in the early days of his administration.
Now we have seeded leadership to Putin in the Middle East, particularly with Russia’s long-time allies in Syria and Iran—not to mention new alliances such as with Egypt. Saudi Arabia is responding to the growing Middle East instability (particularly a nuclear armed Iran) by publicly displaying, for the first time ever, its nuclear capable CSS-2 system. And our Secretary of State insults our only real ally and the only democracy in the region, Israel.
Our threats of sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seem at least to some unlikely to have much effect on Putin’s calculus for matters in Russia’s near abroad. Then there’s the Far East and, notably, Russia’s links with China and North Korea. So how does all that play into President Obama’s vaunted “pivot to Asia?” And NATO’s problems given the European dependency on Russian oil and U.S. trade deficits?
Bottom line: We now find ourselves in a very troublesome situation—in my opinion the most dangerous of my half century engagement in strategic matters.
We definitely need to “Return from this future” and restore our commitment to “Peace through Strength” policies that still existed in 1992, including to build truly effective defenses.
The question for the house, given the predilections of the current administration, is, “How?”
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
We will do all we can to encourage “the powers that be” to “make the Navy’s Aegis BMD system all it can be” and to adopt the anti-FOBS strategy laid out in our recent email messages. We will also seek to revive a viable program to deploy space-based defenses.
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 electric power 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, who 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 single negative vote in Virginia can be used as a ready pattern.
We will continue working with South Carolinians 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—and 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 Virginia and the National Capital region.
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.
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.
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