Recently West Virginia US Senate candidate John Raese proposed building a space based missile defense system using lasers to deter missile attacks from enemy countries such as Iran or North Korea.
The proposal was made at an event sponsored by the League of American Voters along with the Tea Party group Blue Ridge Patriots. While the proposal has become an issue in the West Virginia Senate race, it has not been extensively reported in the mainstream media.
Space based missile defense is not a new proposal. Various ideas to use beam weapons were researched as part of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s. Concerns about cost, technical problems, and ultimately the fall of the Soviet Union prevented the full development and deployment of such weapons.
The ABM Treaty, signed by President Nixon in the 1970s, was seen by many as forbidding the deployment of such weapons. However President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2001.
In the post Cold War World, a revival of the idea of space based missile defense is not a frivolous one. North Korea has already developed its own nuclear arsenal and is busily attempted to develop a launch system to deliver it against an enemy, likely South Korea or Japan. Iran has both a nuclear weapons and a missile program. Obama administration diplomatic efforts to dissuade Iran from building a nuclear arsenal have so far proven ineffective. Absent a military strike, which the Obama administration seems ill prepared to launch, many analysts suggest that Iran becoming a nuclear power would become inevitable.
China and Russia, America’s old Cold War era enemies, have their own nuclear arsenals which could prove dangerous should enmity return.
Building a space based missile defense system using lasers would be costly and controversial. While technology has greatly advanced since the 1980s, a period of research and development would be required before a system could be deployed. In the meantime, the political opposition from the Left, knee jerk in the 1980s, would likely return with a vengeance.
Raese’s proposal does not seem to have hurt him with West Virginia voters, despite his Democratic opponent’s attempt to make an issue of it. If and when North Korea manages to create a nuclear warhead capable of being delivered by a missile and/or Iran acquires its own nuclear arsenal, the debate over missile defense will heart up. Is Raese’s idea of a space based laser system the best response? There are other idea, including ABMs launched from Aegis equipped Navy ships and air borne lasers. But John Raese seems to have started a debate in an unlikely race, in a state that cares more about coal and rural issues that broad issues of national defense, that will only continue to rage in the coming years.
Source: Raese, missile defense, and ‘lasers in the sky’, Shawna Thomas and Carrie Dann, NBC News, October 13th, 2010