Five Myths About Missile Defense
I have found myself recently debating missile defense issues, and I have had the same arguments against it come up time and again. It's time to put these arguments to bed, so bear with me while I attack some of the sacred cows of the missile defense naysayers. My apologies to those of you who showed up today looking for something wacky - try as I might I couldn't dredge the humor out of nuclear holocaust. Tomorrow I'll promise to write something nutty, or at least post a picture of Al Gore's beard for comic relief.
On to the Five Myths of Missile Defense:
1. Missile defense will lead to nuclear proliferation.
This argument was weak back when it was first floated during the cold war, and it makes no sense at all today. Rogue nations cannot hope to develop enough missiles to overwhelm a defensive system. And we can always outspend them if they try. Indeed, the reason these countries are frantically trying to develop missiles now is because they see them as an easy strategic end-run around conventional forces they cannot hope to compete with. The best way to ensure that countries do not build nuclear or chemical missiles is to show them that their investment would be wasted.
2. Missile defense is useless because the enemy will just sneak a bomb into the country if they want to blow up a city.
This is not an argument against missile defense any more than the existence of nuclear bombers was an argument against the development of anti-submarine technology. Different threats require different defenses. And smuggling is ultimately something within the government's ability to control during wartime, especially for something as large and bulky as a homebrew nuke, which would certainly weigh hundreds of pounds and would probably have to be smuggled by ship. But you can build as big a wall as you want around your country and it will do no good if your enemies can lob nukes over the top.
Moreover, this objection misses one of the primary functions of missile defense, which is to act as a credible deterrant to nuclear blackmail. The prime threat is not that Iran WILL launch a missile at the United States, but that they will use the threat of such a launch to force us to allow them free rein in dealing with their neighbors. That's why these nations want them, and that's why we must deter them.
Yes, they could also blackmail us by claiming that they have planted bombs in our cities. But this type of blackmail would mean their instant removal from the community of nations, and would be an admission that they have grossly violated international law. The ramifications for trade and arms imports make it unlikely that a nation would take such a step. Missiles do not have that disadvantage. Their use as bargaining chips can be much more subtle, and their existence in rogue countries would be wildly destabilizing. A credible defense against missiles seriously undercuts their ability to blackmail us.
3. None of these nations would dare launch at us, because they know they would be destroyed.
This sounds logical, but we are not necessarily dealing with logical people. Saddam Hussein has nearly bankrupted his country rather than give up his weapons of mass destruction. This is a man who will not mind using them. And consider what would happen if someone like Saddam had his back against the wall. If we invaded a nuclear Iraq, and Saddam was surrounded and knew his time on this earth was measured in hours or days, would he not launch a nuclear weapon at Israel or the United States?
Also, we must consider the instability of these nations. Rival factions vie for control and conquer and hold various territories as they jockey for power. If a rival group managed to gain control of a state's nuclear weapons, it might launch them in hope of a retaliation that brings the regime down. Or they could fall into the hands of an extra-national group like Al-Qaida which wouldn't care in the least if its current host nation came under attack as long as they could strike a blow against the Great Satan. There are other scenarios under which nuclear weapons might be used. Do we really want to gamble the lives of millions of citizens that none of these will come to pass?
Then there is the blackmail issue. If Saddam had nuclear ICBM's in 1990, Kuwait would a memory, because we would not have dared to oppose him. And today most of the middle east could well be in the control of a madman. And 'ground zero' would refer to the former state of Israel.
4. Missile defense will never work, and even if it does the other side will just build more countermeasures.
The first part of this argument has been proven wrong for at least ten years when it became clear that that only thing stopping deployment of missile defenses were incremental engineering issues, and not fundamental breakthroughs. The latest successful test should help put that argument to bed forever.
The countermeasures argument is more problematic. Back when missile defense was being designed to thwart a rival superpower, it was an open question as to whether development of missile defenses would be able to stay ahead of countermeasures. But world events have made this issue much simpler. States like Iran and North Korea simply don't have the resources to build complex countermeasures. Iran is not about to launch orbital hunter-killer satellites or multi-stage chaff-firing decoy rockets. They can barely afford a single missile program. As a result, we know what kind of threat we will be facing. In Iran's case, it's the Shihab-4 and Shihab-5 rockets, which have ranges of 2,000 and 12,000 km, respectively. We can tune our defenses to that specific threat, and make our job much easier. And if Iran does attempt rudimentary countermeasures, we will deal with them.
This whole argument is somewhat of a red herring in the first place. Weapons systems evolve. The same logic could have been used with tanks, for example. Why put heavier armor on a tank, when it will just cause the enemy to build more powerful guns? The answer is because until they do you gain a temporary advantage. But they WILL come up with something better, so you adapt. They penetrate your armor, you come up with active armor. They penetrate that, and you build a tank that can shoot while moving. They build targeting systems for that, so you build low, stealthy tanks. And so it goes. Missile defense will be no different. The evolving dynamic of battle is never an excuse to simply throw up your hands and capitulate.
5. Missile Defense will take needed resources away from other necessary weapons, like more helicopters and ships.
This is the argument the Democrats have been floating, and it's the most palatable argument today when no one wants to be seen as soft on the war. This way, you can oppose missile defense in the name of military strength.
But this argument is also a red-herring. It turns strategic planning on its head. If missile defense is necessary, and if more helicopters are necessary, then the correct solution is to increase the budget of the military and fund both. After all, if we lost a carrier group to a nuclear blast today, and had to replace it at the cost of a hundred billion dollars, would we say, "Oh well. I guess we won't buy fuel for the bombers this year?" No. We'd come up with the money to meet all the commitments that military planners have convinced us we need.
Missile Defense has a budget of 7.8 billion dollars for FY2003, compared to 37 billion for homeland defense. It's clearly something we can afford without touching the rest of the military's budget needs, if the will is there. Farm subsidies alone cost 20 billion dollars a year, and will double within five years if Congress gets its way. So instead of framing the question as a tradeoff between helicopters and missile defense, how about framing it as a tradeoff between missile defense or throwing a pile of money at Archer Daniels Midland?
Missile defense should be an urgent priority. North Korea has a missile today that can hit the west coast of the United States. They are selling missile technology to Iran and Iraq. Within 2-5 years Iran will have a missile that can hit Europe, and as early as 2010 they will have one that can hit anywhere in the continental United States. Iran is also on record as saying it sees nothing wrong with using nuclear weapons against its enemies and has recently advocated their use against Israel. This is a threat that MUST be addressed.