Missile Defense Makes No Sense
August 14, 2001
Jeff W. Hayes
Ronald Reagan began the debate on missile defense in a time
far different from the one we live in today. Mutually Assured
Destruction (MAD), the theory credited with preventing nuclear
holocaust, also assured nuclear annihilation for the United
States in the event of a hot war between the superpowers.
Strategically "star wars" appeared to make sense. It provided
a real dividend at the negotiating table and it held the promise
of providing a solution to nuclear annihilation.
Yet, realistically it was not so promising. The cost was
such that it was guaranteed to either bankrupt us or force
us to abandon our social infrastructure and conventional military
force. Such a move would have forced us to rely solely on
our nuclear deterrent. Choosing that course would have limited
the options available for pursuing our national security policies
and would have allowed Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait
to go unchecked. The image of Ronald Reagan as a king with
no clothes would have been further reinforced. The dissolution
of the Soviet Union prevented us from needing to make that
Now, along comes George W. Bush. Bush's system which carries
with it two major problems. First, it remains prohibitively
expensive. Second, it makes no sense.
We should begin by setting the record straight. Many of the
problems our Cold War Presidents experienced are no more.
Yet, the problems Bush now faces are more varied and in many
ways more challenging. No "magic bullet" system exists that
can solve these problems.
The national missile defense system supported by the Bush
Administration will not protect America from Russian missiles.
To begin with, the size of the Russian arsenal is too great
to defend against without a serious leap in technology. That
is politically unacceptable for several reasons.
First, such a system is financially out of reach.
(The limited system proposed by Bush would cost $300 Billion
to fully field.)
Next, there is little political support, either domestic
or foreign, for such a system.
Finally, by touching off an arms race it would quickly
While China's arsenal is much smaller than Russia's, the
currently proposed system would still fail to protect from
us from it, and would only trigger an arms race. There is
less of a margin between the proposed system and China's arsenal
when compared to Russia, meaning the Chinese opposition to
the system is likely to be more serious. Beijing would like
to prevent the implementation of a missile defense system
because to be comfortable, they would have to increase the
number of missiles in their arsenal, a cost they do not wish
to incur. MAD continues to serve that function.
The system proposed by Bush is designed to stop a "rogue
state", such as North Korea or Iran, from bombing a few US
cities with the limited arsenals likely to be available to
them in the future. That said, it still makes no sense to
build a national missile defense system. The cost for even
such a limited system is great, equaling the amount we spend
on our entire defense budget each year. It also provides no
protection against the typical terrorist tactic if employed
as a method for nuclear, biological, or chemical attack. That
threat, most would agree, far outstrips the danger from a
rogue state launching a nuclear missile at the US. An assured
destruction theory involving the US and any rogue state is
indeed valid. If such a country bombed us, they would be assured
of a response that would prove significantly largely than
their initial attack.
Governing our country is all about setting priorities. Bush
supports NMD because he places its importance above that of
almost all other issues. He is even planning to scale back
our conventional military capability to support NMD. That
weakens our national security, He will attempt to do so, and
in the process break yet another key commitment that got him
where he is today.