’33 Minutes’ Under Attack

James Carafano /

Yesterday at The Huffington Post, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard Jr. attacked The Heritage Foundation’s (unreleased) documentary “33 Minutes,” due out in February 2009.

After viewing the seven minute trailer, Gard fired off a series of criticisms, each addressed below. Surely, it would have been prudent to wait until viewing the entire documentary, but nonetheless:

Criticism No. 1: Missile defense will not protect against a terrorist with a nuclear weapon.

The author highlights a quote from the trailer by Ambassador Robert Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Joseph states, “my number one concern today is a terrorist with a nuclear weapon.” Gard argues that missile defense “won’t stop nuclear terrorism.”

Of course, missile defense cannot protect against a terrorism smuggling a suitcase bomb across the border. This we know, although it was nice for Gard to remind us that there is an enemy that seeks to destroy the United States.

But let’s discuss what missile defense is designed to do. With North Korea testing long-range missile engines and Iran continually improving on the range and design of their Shahab variants (for increased range), producing highly enriched uranium and likely to produce a nuclear weapon within the next few years, there are ample threats to be addressed, hardly fear mongering, as Gard claims.

The real fear is these rogue states transferring these weapons to non-state terrorists that would be more than happy to use them — and without fear of reprisal. Not only will these countries have missiles capable of reaching the U.S. in the near-term, they might not even need them. Many experts have warned about a missile attack on a major U.S. port or city, launched from a sea-faring vessel anchored just off-shore. Clearly, in this case, there is no need for a long-range missile, just one that works, which North Korea and Iran currently have.

Criticism No. 2: Heritage is guilty of fear-mongering without supplying the appropriate facts and context.

The author’s second criticism attacks “33 Minutes” for asserting that more than 20 countries have ballistic missile capabilities. While this is the absolute truth, Gard contends that there should be a discretionary note: Most of these countries are our friends. Sure, many are, and we are all warm and fuzzy about that, but missile defense is not solely for the protection of the homeland. It is also for the protection of our friends and allies. Furthermore, there is always a concern about rogue proliferators (such as the notorious A.Q. Qhan) selling their deadly knowledge to the highest bidder (A.Q. Qhan was from Pakistan, not exactly an arch enemy of the United States).

In the trailer, recently retired Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Gen. Henry Obering asserts that “we have already seen the transfer of very short-range rockets and missiles from a state to a terrorist organization.” Whether those missiles are mated with complex nuclear warheads, chemical, biological or a comparatively simplistic EMP device (electro-magnetic pulse), the consequences would be absolutely devastating.

Criticism No. 3: Heritage praises missile defense for things it cannot do.

Simply untrue. In fact, The Heritage Foundation is quite aware of what missile defense can and cannot do, which is why we have been advocating for continued research and development, funding and testing to ensure that a comprehensive, layered missile defense is capable of defending the U.S. and her allies from a multitude of threats.

Many critics like to lambaste missile defense as untested or unfeasible. The fact is that the MDA’s interceptors have tested successfully in 37 of 47 exercises. Where they have failed, much has been learned to improve the systems effectiveness. With more than a 75% success rate, it is simply false to say that interceptor technology is untested.

Gard closes out his critique with a little quip that sums up his outdated assumptions. “Diplomacy, deterrence, and containment have been and will continue to be far more effective than missile defense as protection against a ballistic missile threat to the United States.”


Diplomacy? Referring to Iran and North Korea’s continued nose-thumbing at international monitoring and diplomatic organizations?

Deterrence? The general should know that it is impossible to deter non-state terrorists, particularly because they have nothing they are trying to protect, unlike deterring the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Containment? A policy of containment isn’t feasible in a multipolar world with a myriad of competing interests. In addition to struggling to reach a consensus against hostile states, some world powers even help those states if that state poses a threat to a powerful competitor, (i.e. Russia’s assistance with Iran’s nuclear activities).

Not only have these policies been entirely ineffective, they are utterly useless once a ballistic missile has been launched, leaving only 33 minutes to await the devastation.