(CCU Student) How safe do you think you are? If there was an attack on the United States, do you think you would survive? What if it was a nuclear ballistic missile? How long do you think you would have to get to safety? A few days? A few hours?
What if you had only 33 minutes from launch time to get to safety?
What if the United States didn’t have the technology to protect you?
These are serious questions, with serious implications. The film 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age explores the answers to these questions. I went to a screening in Washington the other day.
A ballistic missile is simply the vehicle used to get transport materials to another location, usually far on the other side of the world. Only when a warhead is attached does the missile become a weapon. But a nuclear warhead is not the only thing that can be used with a ballistic missile; biological, chemical, viral, and even electromagnetic weapons can be deployed using a ballistic missile. Each of these could cause a wide range of absolute devastation; for example, if an electromagnetic weapon detonated high enough in the atmosphere, it could wipe out the electrical systems throughout the entire United States, essentially throwing our society back into the pre-electricity 1800s.
The major threat with these missiles today is the quickening pace of availability. Materials to make the missiles—and the weapons to go with them—are becoming increasingly popular and cheaper. These materials are falling into the hands of rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea. Once these nations have the capability to create these weapons, they also have the capability to pass them off into the even more dangerous hands of terrorist organizations.
During the Cold War, President Reagan suggested developing a system called Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI. This system was to allow the United States to be alerted of a missile’s launch, track it, target it, and intercept it, effectively rendering any attack the Soviet Union might launch useless. Reagan believed SDI to be a better deterrent than detente. His efforts to attempt such a program, although the program during his time ended up being mostly talk, contributed to the end of the Cold War, obviously doing more than detente ever could. That vision is on its way to becoming a reality in the United States as a part of our defense system, but we do not currently have the capabilities to protect ourselves through a system like SDI. Therefore, if a ballistic missile was launched, we would have very little recourse to stop it.
“If America is held hostage, then the world is held hostage… American leadership is crucial. You know what you must do—so do the right thing.” Lady Margaret Thatcher’s words have never rung more true than today. As we consider massive budgetary cuts to defense spending, we must consider the true cost of those cuts—is it really worth a few billion in unnecessary cuts when there is the very real threat of the needless widespread loss of American life?
Sophomore political science major Erin Shumaker is doing a CCU Washington semester and filing frequently for ‘76 Blog.