by Peter Huessy
In 2012, Robert Kaplan wrote in the “The Revenge of Geography” that countries of the “Heartland” and “Rimland”, stretching from North Korea southward through South Asia and into the Middle East were locked into a “deathly geographical embrace of overlapping missile ranges” as they seek to bolster their military capability by building long range rockets capable of coercing, terrorizing or blackmailing their neighbors. [ (1) “Kaplan Elevates the Place” by Alan Cate, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on September 18, 2012.]
In the past year, we have seen Hamas, an agent of Iran, try a new kind of diplomacy, if you will, while launching over 4500 rockets at Israel. [ (2) “The hidden intelligence agendas behind Hamas’ 1,000-rocket barrage”, July 14, 2014 DEBKAfile, Exclusive Report.]
Similarly in Iraq, the terrorist Army ISIS, now controlling large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, parades a Syrian Scud missile through the streets of Al-Raqqah, in an attempt to demonstrate its power, [(3) “ISIS Parades Scud Missile ‘Heading Towards Israel” , Israel National News, July 1, 2014.
In Ukraine, rebels used Russian missiles to shoot down a Ukraine troop transport, killing thirty soldiers. They would later shoot down a commercial airliner. [ (4) “Heavy Fighting Kills at Least 23 in Eastern Ukraine” July 11, 2014, the Wall Street Journal. ]
In Syria, rockets launched by Damascus force Turkey, a NATO member, to deploy missile defenses to protect its civilian population. [(5) “In Turkey, U.S. soldiers guard against Syrian missile threat” by Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN, September 13, 2013.]
And in Iran, Tehran’s leaders have dismissed any attempts to curtail their ballistic missile capability as part of the negotiations on their nuclear program as they continue to produce more types of missiles than any other nation except China. [(6) Personal communication with Uzi Rubin, President of Rubincon, and former head of the Israeli Missile Defense program, and world noted Middle East missile expert, July 2014 and “Iran Missile Threat”, The English Review, April 2014.]
Obviously, as Robert Kaplan predicted, missiles are indeed becoming a weapon of choice of both terror groups and rogue states.
A reasonable question, of course, is whether America should care.
On March 17, 2014, in an essay in USA Today, former Congressman Ron Paul wrote that Americans have little reason to care what particular flag was planted in some piece of geography “thousands of miles” from the United States. He further argued in that light that the Russian annexation of Crimea was therefore of no consequence. [(7) “Crimea Secedes: So what?” by Ron Paul, on March 17, 2014, USA Today.]
Today’s missiles, however, make such flip assertions by Mr. Paul highly questionable. No longer would a nation have to deploy missiles in Cuba, just a few miles away from Florida, Cuba, for example, as the Soviet Union did in October 1962 to threaten the interests of the United States.
Missiles launched by Iran, Syria or Hamas, for example, could turn the Middle East oil fields into a highly dangerous environment, driving the price of a barrel of oil beyond the $148 reached in July 4, 2008 that precipitated the financial crisis that lost the US economy 16 trillion dollars. [(8) “How to Reduce Oil Prices”, by Robert Zubrin, National Review, January 16, 2012.]
And missile threats from Russia to Ukraine threaten to undo the progress made since the end of the Cold War to integrate Eastern Europe economically into the free economies of the West as well as destroy those nations search for greater liberty.
It is not only that missile threats can have consequences. It is that not only must you watch your neighbor, but you have to watch nations on the other side of the globe.
So despite former Congressman Ron Paul’s glib dismissal of “flags” deployed some thousands of miles away, it does matter whose flag flies where.
The North Korean EMP Connection
For example, according to former CIA top analyst Dr. Peter Pry, North Korea (DPRK) has become a major supplier of rocket technology to Iran. Pyongyang has also demonstrated an ability to launch what is known as a “space launch vehicle”. The Defense Intelligence Agency has also concluded that North Korea “has probably been able to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile”. The government of the Republic of Korea also believes there is some evidence that the DPRK can now make small warheads that fit on their long range missiles.
Thus, no longer are North Korea missile threats limited to the Republic of Korea or Japan. And no longer are Iranian missile threats limited to its Middle Eastern neighbors and American allies such as Jordan, Egypt and Israel.
Those threats are indeed both serious and worrisome.
But the news gets worse, however.
Dr. Pry explains the nuclear tests by North Korea have been apparently of a low yield weapon: “Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) effects over wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century.” [(9)This material on the North Korean EMP threat and related material is taken from a presentation by my colleague and friend Dr. Peter Pry, to the Atlantic and Conservation Institute, in New York City, on April 10, 2014.]
Dr. Peter Pry further explains in a joint op-ed essay with former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, the trajectory of North Korea’s KSM-3 satellite launch (2013) had the characteristics for delivery of a nuclear EMP attack against the United States. The satellite was launched to the south, away from the U.S., transited the South Pole, and approached the U.S. from its southern blindside–at the optimum altitude for placing an EMP field over all 48 contiguous United States. [(10) “How North Korea Could Cripple the US” by R. James Woolsey and Dr. Peter Pry, May 21, 2013, The Wall Street Journal.]
On April 16, 2013, the KSM-3 satellite was over the Washington, D.C.-New York City corridor–the optimum location and altitude for placing a peak EMP field over the area most likely to blackout the Eastern Grid. The Eastern Grid generates 75 percent of U.S. electricity and is indispensable to national survival.
Pry and Woolsey further explain the peak EMP field would also have maximized damage to Washington and New York, the nation’s political and economic centers. Such an EMP attack could plunge our electricity-powered civilization into a blackout lasting months or years. What is to stop North Korea from providing Iran the means to “economically take down” the Great Satan?
Real estate does matter, obviously, and missiles are shortening the distance and time between our nation and those “thousands of miles away” as well as providing less powerful rogue nations the power with which to seriously harm our country.
There are, unfortunately, also a number of worrisome connections running through these missile threats.
First is the role of Russia.
Moscow supports Iran and Syria, being the largest supplier of weapons to both these rogue terror sponsoring states. And Iran and Syria both have exported thousands of rockets to both Hamas and Hezbollah over the past few years. [(11) “Russia has replaced Iran as top arms supplier to Syrian regime”, Special to the World Tribune, November 1, 2013.]
Keeping the regimes in power in Tehran and Damascus keeps Hamas and Hezbollah in business. And their business is to attack Israel and American allies in the region.
And “planting a Russian flag” in eastern Ukraine or the Crimea gives Moscow a foothold in newly free Eastern Europe from which to wreck much mischief, the least of which is to fracture NATO and render US and NATO security guarantees for such countries as the Balkans and Poland suspect. [(12) This point was made by Russian expert and American Foreign Policy Council Fellow, Dr. Steve Blank in remarks at the AFA-NDIA-ROA Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series, Washington, D.C. on May 23, 2014.]
To use Congressman Paul’s terms, “planting the Muslim Brotherhood flag” in Cairo—which was done two years ago—allowed Iran and Syria to funnel rockets by the many hundreds through the Red Sea, through the Sinai, and then to Gaza from which they can be fired into Israel. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood did not just look the other way; they facilitated the transfer of such weapons. [(13) “What Hamas Wants, What Israel Needs”, Foreign Policy, July 11, 2014.]
Conversely, the new Egyptian government may have facilitated the Israeli capture on the high seas of a major shipment of long range rockets as well as mortars and cluster bombs from Iran destined for Gaza in March 2014. These smuggled rockets if they had reached Gaza, would have been the longest range of any rockets held by Hamas at the time.[(14) “Netanyahu, showing seized rockets, says Iran fooling the world”, Reuters, from EILAT, Israel, March 10, 2014.]
Thus it is important whose flag is planted in Cairo and thus Egypt, the largest and most populous country in the Arab world. And it matters in Ukraine, one of the largest of the newly, (1991), independent former Soviet republics.
Second, these conflicts, while indeed “thousands of miles away”, can be used as leverage to push America to make concessions that would strengthen Iran while weakening American security in a subsequent nuclear agreement with Iran.
For example, if we took forceful action against Moscow to stop its aggression in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin could make like difficult for us in the current and future Iran negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programs. And similarly if we make life difficult for Iran for its smuggling of missiles to Hamas, Tehran would be more difficult to cajole into a nuclear agreement as well, assuming such an agreement is in the cards at all.
We know from reports from the US intelligence community that Iran is continuing work on a long-range ballistic missile that could be flight-tested soon despite a January 2014 Pentagon report to Congress on Tehran’s military that omitted earlier references to this looming ICBM threat. As Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee warned last year, “The 2014 Iran Military Power report confirms that Iran could have an ICBM capability by 2015.”[(15) “Iran Still on Track for 2015 ICBM Flight Test; Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, July 11, 2014.]
Missile Defense Policy Implications
This is important because the assumption is the only warhead worth placing on a long range intercontinental ballistic missile would be a nuclear device. And absent an ICBM threat, Iran’s nuclear program looks less threatening, and vice versa.
The growing Iranian missile capability–abetted by North Korean help–is why the US has pushed for the current European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defenses. It was initially announced in May 2011 as a new policy on missile defenses in NATO, aimed at defending against Iranian short and medium range missiles. [(16) The purposes of EPAA and US policy discussion here is based in part on both a presentation by missile defense expert Rebeccah Heinrichs, who works with the Marshall Institute, on these issues to my Congressional Breakfast Seminar series on July 8, 2014 and personal communications with Bruce Bechtol, Associate professor of political science at Angelo State University, and author of the new book on the subject, ‘The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il”, April 2013.]
The Bush administration, on the other hand, had sought to build in addition to such missile defenses needed to stop Iranian short and medium range missiles, a companion long range intercept capability in Poland and the Czech Republic. That capability was eliminated by the US administration in 2009.
Russia has long objected to all US missile defenses in Europe, under the false claim that such defenses would be able to intercept Russian long range rockets aimed at the United States, (a technical impossibility given the speed of the US interceptors planned for deployment and their geographic location). The Bush administration proposal to build interceptors in Poland to defeat Iranian and other Middle East long range rocket capability was jettisoned in part under the belief that such threats were well over the horizon and as part of a new “reset” foreign policy approach between Washington, Moscow and Tehran.
Under such a philosophy, phase two and three of the EPAA, however, while designed to deploy missile defenses against CURRENT Iranian ballistic missile threats—the short and medium range missiles Iran now has deployed that can reach eastern Europe—might be subsequently delayed under pressure to make concessions to both Russia and Iran to secure a deal over the next few months on Iran’s nuclear program. [Although it remains clear that Iran’s offensive ballistic missile capabilities will not be subject of any agreement restricting their number or geographic deployment.]
Phase four of EPAA—designed to deal with anticipated long range Iranian missile capabilities– was cancelled in March 2013. In part in a response to this, Congress has added funding to begin exploration of a third missile defense site in the eastern United States that adds to our existing two missile defense sites in Alaska and California and thus would enable the US to better deal with what still appears to be an emerging Iranian threat and an extent North Korean one.
Wait for the Threat?
Critics of such plans say we should wait for such missile threats to materialize before acting. One former Pentagon official complained that if the US accelerated the EPAA in Europe and NATO this would be seen as a sign of bad faith by the United States and a threat to Iran. [(17) Remarks of Phil Coyle, Brookings Institution, Missile Defense Panel Seminar, June 16, 2014.]
But once deployed, long range rockets could be used for coercion, terror or blackmail, while any missile defense deployments in response would take many years to put into place and have no coercive or blackmail role.
Prudence would, I believe, require anticipating such threats prior to their becoming a reality.
Not Connecting the Dots
At the request of Congressman Chris Shays, in June 2000 Richard Clarke of the National Security Council briefed a House Subcommittee on the terrorist threats then facing the United States.
Mr. Clarke said such threats were so numerous as to make setting counter terrorist priorities difficult but that the then Clinton administration would “look into it”. [This was nearly 8 years after the first World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.]
Shays was not at all pleased. In a brusquely worded letter to Clarke that same summer, he described the presentation as “less than useful.”
When asked if his office had prepared an “integrated threat assessment,” Clarke responded that this would have been “difficult to accomplish because of all the different threats faced by the United States.”
When committee staff members asked if the administration had prepared a “comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism,” Clarke said it would be “silly” to believe such a strategy could be developed. “If there are no clear requirements or plan,” Shays wrote, “how does the administration prioritize the $12.9 billion it intends to spend” on counter-terrorism and related activities? [(18) “Why Bush Really Demoted Richard Clarke”, by Jack Cashill, January 17, 2008.]
Clarke never did send a follow-up to the Congress. And yet Kirsten Powers, a Fox analyst and USA Today columnist who is quite liberal but usually well informed, in comments recently on Fox News, assured listeners that the Clinton administration had a well thought out strategy to deal with terrorism between 1993-2000 and could not be blamed for the subsequent Middle East chaos including the attacks of 9-11..
Fifteen months later, on September 11, 2001, subsequent to Clarke’s testimony, we know how the Clinton administration’s “well thought out counter terrorist strategy” turned out.
Today, nearly fifteen years after 9-11, a strong majority of Americans including majorities in both political parties, do not believe the current administration has a clear strategy to deal with the use of terrorism to achieve political and ideological goals, particularly the establishment of Sharia law throughout the Islamic world, and then beyond.
It is not, I believe, a coincidence, that Abu Sayef, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, ISS/ISIL, the Taliban, Al Qaeba and its variants, Islamic Jihad, all wish to install Sharia law which is a combination of Islamic supremacy and totalitarianism, which uses murder, rape, conquest and plunder to spread its barbarism. Sharia law comes from one source—Islam.
These groups all claim to represent Islam. Having a theological discussion with such thugs might be of interest, but we should take them at their word. They may have the wrong copy of the Koran but I doubt it. Those 30+ verses calling for killing unbelievers are hard to erase especially given that they are the exact words of God dictated to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel.
Instead, we should pay some attention to terrorisms patrons and allies such as Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea—all of whom supply them some forms of weapons, intelligence and political support with Iran and Syria leading the list.
We indeed are facing the “poisonous coalition” of which Ahmad Shah Massoud spoke in “Ghost Wars” by Steve Coll. Massoud was insistent that when the United States walked away from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, we set in motion the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the 1990’s during the Afghan civil war. Massoud was an Afghan political and military leader, who was a powerful military commander during the resistance against the Soviets and believed in bringing Afghanistan into the 20th century.
Contrary to the claims of Richard Clarke that the presence of American soldiers inflamed the Middle East and created the jihadi threat we now face, Massoud underscored it was precisely the opposite—American disengagement in Afghanistan left a country in civil war where the Taliban were created by the jihadists in Pakistan and supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in turn giving sanctuary to Al Qaeda. And in Iraq during the surge, it was precisely the presence of American forces and their Iraqi and coalition forces that having freed areas from the terrorists, stayed in such areas with a continuous presence that cemented with the local population that there were not going to be abandoned to the tender mercies of the terrorists who would return when American and coalition forces left.
Tragically, the Clarke “fortune cookie” analysis has been adopted by many analysts, politicians and commentators too quick to “blame America first” for the rise of terrorist threats, jihad and the imposition of totalitarian sharia across great swaths of the Islamic world, as well in growing “no go” zones in Western Europe and now beginning in the United States.
But the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and elsewhere has not resulted in “peace” and diminished terror, as many assured us would be the case. The result has been the opposite– greater terrorism and growing strength of various terrorist groups and especially, in many cases, of their state sponsors. Iran and its role in taking over Yemen is the most recent and troubling example. Ron Paul and his friends might want to look at a map of the area and juxtapose the oil trade routes and force projection capabilities from Yemen.
The newest fortune cookie analysis is now that violent jihad poses little threat to Americans because your chances of being captured and beheaded by ISIS/ISIL is far less than your chances of being hit by a bus walking across Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, or being diagnosed with cancer or Ebola.
This is again a fairy tale embraced by those simply unwilling to face the serious dimensions of what we are threatened with and remain attached to a narrative that sees a significant withdrawal of America from the world as key to ending the threats to our security.
But retired General Wesley Clark, on January 28, 2015, put it well on Fox News recently when he explained the threats we face go beyond the capability of just the particular terror group of interest that day whether ISL/ISIS or Al Qaeda or Hezbollah: “You’re not going to deal effectively with this threat unless you understand what the source of it is. It’s not just the zealousness of radical Islam. It’s fed and fueled by the geo-strategic ambitions of [state] powers in the region,” Clark said.
And it is these sponsors and co-conspirators that should give us greater pause—they have the missile arsenals with which to threaten America and her allies, missiles of greater and greater range atop of which, in the case of DPRK, China and Russia, (and eventually Iran?) now sit nuclear warheads. These groups and state sponsors , fueled in many cases by billions in oil revenue in service of an ideology that seeks to destroy the United States is a threat of great seriousness. [For the skeptics, read Michael Pillsbury’s new book on China’s goal to do just that “The 100 year Marathon”].
In light of these facts, should we really be telling the American people, “What me, worry?” and urging “strategic patience”? Taking care of business often means taking care of business “now”.
Whatever timeline the evil doers are on, they do not usually share it with us.
Consequently, a lack of preparedness can be deadly– for thousands of Americans and our allies on 9-11 and perhaps many hundreds of thousands more next time.
An earlier version of this essay first appeared on the Gatestone Institute July 18, 2014.