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What Americans Need to Know About Missile Defense: We’re Not There Yet

In 33 minutes or less, life as we know it in America could end. That’s how long it would take for an enemy ballistic missile launched from the other side of the world to hit the United States. If it carried and detonated a nuclear weapon high over the center of the country, the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would literally fry the nation’s electrical grid and all of the circuitry that powers our homes, businesses, hospitals, phones, cars, planes, traffic lights, ATMs, water supplies, and anything else not “hardened” against such attacks. The EMP Commission chairman has testified that, within just one year of such an attack, 70 to 90 percent of Americans would be dead from starvation and disease.

This is not science fiction. We know the devastating impact of a direct nuclear attack. We know the dire results from an EMP, thanks to U.S. and Soviet nuclear tests in the 1960s. Yet Washington policymakers still bicker over the need for defenses that make such weapons pointless. The Obama Administration has put on hold agreements that the U.S. signed with the Czech Republic and Poland to deploy missile defenses for Europe. The President is cutting missile defense spending by over $1 billion even as he plans to spend a similar amount just to get “clunkers” off the road. He has decided not to deploy all of the ground-based interceptors already funded and to cancel programs that could enable us to destroy missiles very shortly after launch.

All of this makes no sense at the same time that North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and short- and long-range ballistic missiles to deliver them in fact, Pyongyang just launched seven Scud missiles on July 4! Plus, Iran may be just one year away from producing its first nuclear weapon. Should these regimes succeed in gaining the capabilities they seek before we have deployed adequate missile defenses, they could hold America and the free world hostage merely by threatening an attack.

Washington’s reluctance also makes little sense because Americans overwhelmingly support missile defense. The problem is that too many of us think we already have all we need. We don’t. Yes, we have made tremendous progress technologically in the past eight years, but there are portions of the United States that cannot be defended today against all threats.

Americans need to understand what defenses we have and what we still need. For additional information on missile defense, please visit www.33minutes.org or our missile defense reader.

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