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National Missile Defense Makes No Sense
August 14, 2001
by 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 choice.

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 become obsolete.

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.

 
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