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Pearl Harbor: Lessons for Missile Defense Today

On this day 71 years ago,
the U.S. was attacked by the Empire of Japan.
At the time, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a
“date which will live in infamy.”

The attack shocked the nation and exposed just how unprepared and vulnerable the United States was. Today, we commemorate the soldiers and citizens who lost their lives in the attack and their families, who were left without their sons and daughters in the difficult time that followed.

The Pearl Harbor attack remains a stark reminder that conventional deterrence is not sufficient. U.S. adversaries are not always rational; after all, the Japanese generals knew that the attack would only “awaken a sleeping giant.” Yet they decided to attack anyway. The attack vividly demonstrates how important it is to be prepared to avoid another Pearl Harbor–like attack in the future.

U.S. vulnerability to a ballistic missile attack could provoke one such attack. It would take an intercontinental-range ballistic missile launched from anywhere in the world about 33 minutes to reach the U.S. homeland—and only a couple of minutes if a shorter-range missile is launched off a ship near the U.S. coast.