Friday, July 28, 2006

Katyusha World: Brought to You By Hezbollah

Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal:
Melodramatic images of war are now televised all day long. The images out of Israel this week have produced something new for war-soaked living-room audiences. One might call it Katyusha World.

The all-too-visible reality for the inhabitants of Katyusha World is that there is no defense against incoming rocket barrages other than hiding and hoping. The Hezbollah militia has decided to use unguided artillery Katyusha rockets like bullets. They fired more than 1,500 of them this week at Israeli population centers. Hezbollah is believed to possess longer-range missiles made in Syria and Iran for which Israel also has no defense. They would simply land and explode. READ MORE

It was only a few weeks ago that all of us were learning how to pronounce "Taepodong," a long-range ballistic missile that North Korea periodically lobs as a "test" in the direction of the unprotected population of Japan. After this week it is getting hard to pretend that the threat of missiles is something we don't have to think about.

Up to now Israel has regarded Iran's long-range guided missiles as the primary threat of this sort, and in the 1990s developed the Arrow ballistic missile-defense system. Uri Rubin, former head of the Arrow project, told me in an interview from Israel this week that the relatively poor accuracy of the cheap Katyushas has been an argument against investing in an expensive anti-Katyusha defense system. This cost-comparison calculus was one reason Israel shelved plans to deploy Northrop Grumman's THEL system, whose lasers routinely have shot down Katyushas at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Speaking this week about the earlier decision, Mr. Rubin said, "You also have to compare the cost of no defense" -- for lives or infrastructure.

Mr. Rubin shared with me an unpublished paper he wrote with Dan Hazanovsky on "The Emerging Threat of Very Short-Range Ballistic Missiles," or VSBMs. In times past, the world worried about huge, Soviet-style missiles. Mr. Rubin says smaller, free-flying rockets are now evolving into relatively sophisticated and accurate ballistic missiles, "thanks to the steep decline in the cost of accuracy -- the falling prices of onboard inertial and satellite navigation systems, the availability of cheap, commercial grade, high-speed computing power and low-cost control systems." That is, the same dynamic that makes cheap, fast electronic products available to consumers will do the same to electronic missile weaponry.

Very short-range missiles fall outside any existing export-control regime. China is a primary seller, or proliferator, of missiles and technology. At its International Aviation and Space Exhibition two years ago, China for the first time displayed its B611 short-range missile with a range of 95 miles.

Where would one use a VSBM? Richard Speier, a former Pentagon missile specialist, says Seoul "is a sitting duck for Frog-7s," a short-range missile with a three-minute flight time that North Korea successfully test-fired in May 2005. The Straits of Taiwan comes to mind, as do various border cities in Pakistan, India or Kuwait. These small missiles can carry chemical or biological agents. Uri Rubin calls them "ideal weapons for terrorizing population centers." It generally requires state power to manage and deploy such weapons, but that power is of course a goal of radical Islam.

Israel's population, with Katyushas raining down on them by the thousands, is a metaphor for the world ahead of commoditized missile weaponry. Not thinking about how to survive in that world is foolhardy. Hezbollah's Katyusha barrage, coming so soon after North Korea's aggressive, highly publicized Taepodong test, elevates all this as a political issue.

Historically the Democratic Party has committed itself to suppressing the development of anti-missile technologies. This opposition dates to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. During the Cold War, when the enemy was the Soviet Union, opponents of missile defense opted for the policy known as mutual assured destruction, or MAD. Sens. Biden, Levin, Kerry and Kennedy all in recent times have spoken out against missile defense. The party's platform in 2000 opposed "an ill-conceived missile defense system that would plunge us into a new arms race." But closing off missile-defense technologies today means we default again to MAD, or a kind of MAD Jr.

This was made explicit last Jan. 19 when French President Jacques Chirac threatened a nuclear strike to deter terrorist attacks on France. "Against a regional power, our choice is not between inaction and destruction," he said. "All of our nuclear forces have been configured in this spirit." In a similar vein, it is generally believed that Japan could -- and probably would if necessary -- assemble several nuclear devices within 30 days. Whatever the argument in the Cold War years for protecting populations with a strategy of mutual assured destruction, it makes no sense now when negotiating partners such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il represent the antithesis of any known concept of good faith.

As Robert Kaplan pointed out in the Journal last week in his review of "Terrorists, Insurgents and Militias," the biggest strategic problem today isn't past notions of big-power miscalculation but new rogue regimes whose ideology means they "cannot be gratified through negotiations." Absent any in-place protection against the missiles described here, "defense" means either an Israel-type counteroffensive, nuclear retaliation or -- the Democratic preference -- open-ended diplomacy, cease-fires and negotiation. None of these suffice. Widely available tables showing the proliferation of missiles listed by nation boggle the mind. Put simply, in terms of post-launch, we are behind the curve.

We are heading toward two election cycles amid a world unsettled by missile threats -- in the air or on the brink. To the specter of North Korea and Iran delivering WMD by long-range missiles, now add Katyusha-like strikes from very small rockets and missiles. Come 2008, we may see a Republican candidate who understands these issues running against a militarily ambivalent Democrat who has to learn them, like an unguided rocket, on the fly.