Friday, July 07, 2006

Missile Defense System a Go!

President Bush said today that our nascent "missile defense" system stationed in Alaska would have had a "reasonable chance" of shooting down any North Korean missile that came our way:

Mr. Bush said the launching of a prototype long-range missile that tumbled into the Sea of Japan showed why missile defenses are needed, but he acknowledged that the capabilities of the unproven missiles based in Alaska and California are "modest," and he said it was "hard for me to give you a probability of success."

"I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting it down, at least that's what the military commander has told me," he said at a news conference in Chicago.

I think that unnamed military commander should be fired, unless perhaps his definition of reasonable includes "no chance in hell." Our missile defense "shield" does not work, has never worked, and seemingly the more money we spend on it, the less chance it has that it ever will work.

I'm really not against the idea of a missile defense. Actually, if everyone around the world could build a missile defense shield that had maybe a 90-100% chance of shooting down any missile fired at you, then we very quickly would be downsizing the collections of ICBM with nuclear-tipped warheads that exist. This missile system is not that future system, at least not yet. And it does not appear to be able to become that system in the next 25, maybe 50 years. So let's stop talking about it as if North Korea's podunk ballistic missile program is an excuse to blow another $20 billion on a missile system that won't work when we need it, and let's stop talking as if missile defense in anyway is a part of our geo-political planning. The day we let go of the fallacy that we can build a missile shield that will protect us faster than our enemies can build missiles that will get through them, is the day we start to get serious about nuclear non-proliferation (beyond Iraq and Iran that is) and downsizing the stockpiles of nuclear weapons that exist in the world.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

Well, there's no need to be so pessimistic about our chances of developing such a system. If we poured hundreds of billions of dollars into it, I'm sure we'd get the results we're looking for, just like with the atomic bomb. It is possible. But the problem is that it would take hundreds of billions of dollars! Despite the successes that have been touted, this system is nowhere near functioning. What's funny is that you may note this article is from 2004. I know programs develop slowly, but I saw a program on this same system on the Discovery Channel just last month. It described its state of advancement in almost the same terms. So obviously, in the last 2 years despite the money pouring into the program, we're not substantially closer to putting a functioning version where it can do any good.

By the way, there will not be a ground-based anti-ICBM system. It wouldn't be capable of shooting the missiles until they would fall on the US or near it anyway, and while having a broken nuclear missile fall on you is better than having a functioning one, that's not really the security people want. I mean, is being blown up worse than being fatally irradiated?

Of course the strategy is flawed that relies on us having this system. As you say, if everyone had a system that made ICBMs irrelevant, people would quit feeling the need to use them. This would be, to me, a justifiable reason to share the cost and the benefits of this research with the world. Again, however, the benefit of such a system would be extremely limited. We're thinking as if the US-Soviet MAD paradigm is still the way of the world, when in fact India and Pakistan would probably never develop ICBMs on their own. If they develop small enough warheads, they'd use cruise missiles and conventional bombs dropped from airplanes, just like the Israelis! And for most nations, that's going to be typical. Most of them don't want a nuclear standoff with the US, they want a nuclear standoff with their neighbors, which point is not served at all by our system.

Therefore, given the limited utility of our system even if it did work (basically it would shield us from N. Korea), we should really concentrate on other defense strategies that protect us both more immediately and in the long run.