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Cheney: 25 Years After Reagan’s ‘Star Wars,’ Missile Defense Remains Critical

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2008 – Vice President Richard B. Cheney commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Strategic Defense Initiative last night, pressing for a renewed U.S. commitment to a national missile defense system to protect against current and future threats.

Speaking here to the Heritage Foundation, Cheney recalled former President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 proposal to create a shield of ground- and space-based systems to protect the United States from incoming strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The Defense Initiative Organization stood up to oversee the program, which came to be nicknamed “Star Wars,” after the popular space movie series.

The concept turned the conventional deterrence strategy -- which basically prevented aggression only by the promise of retaliation -- on its head, Cheney told the group. The system Reagan proposed would render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.”

Much has changed during the past 25 years, with the Soviet Union, the primary nation the SDI system was conceived to protect against, gone and Russia no longer an enemy, the vice president said. Yet, he said, the need for missile defense continues, to protect the United States against new threats and new adversaries, he said.

Nine countries had ballistic missiles in 1972, Cheney said. “Today, it is at least 27 -- and that includes hostile regimes that oppress their own people, seek to intimidate and dominate their neighbors and actively support terrorist groups,” he said.

He cited examples of countries working to acquire nuclear weapons or expand their nuclear weapons programs: North Korea, Iran and Syria, among them. “It’s plain to see that the world around us gives ample reason to continue working on missile defense,” he said.

Cheney expressed hope that no future president will have to receive a middle-of-the-night phone call about an incoming ballistic missile just minutes away from the United States. “The best tool we can leave to a future commander in chief is a weapon of defense to blow that missile out of the sky,” he said.

The United States is moving its missile defense efforts forward and, in 2004, finally had an initial capability in place to defend against limited missile attacks by rogue states or an accidental launch, Cheney said.

He cited improvements in the Patriot system and solid performance by the sea-based Aegis missile defense system through its intercept test program. “From tests we’ve conducted in the Pacific, we now believe we have a credible measure of protection against long-range threats from Northeast Asia,” he said.

The next step, he said, will be to deploy long-range missile defenses in Europe, offering protection to the United States as well as its friends and allies.

Cheney credited Reagan with setting in motion the foundations of today’s missile defense efforts, and he urged the United States to continue building on them. “There is still a great deal yet to accomplish in the field of missile defense,” he said.

The vice president urged others to share in his and former President Reagan’s conviction that missile defense is an attainable goal. “We can do this,” he said. “We are well along in making good on the promise of strategic defense.”

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