In 1983, Ronald Reagan proposed a "Strategic Defense Initiative"
a "space shield" against incoming nuclear missiles. George W. Bush
promises to renew the "initiative," despite the strenuous objections of the NATO allies . Missile
defense was a bad idea during the Reagan era, and it is a bad idea now.
First of all, it probably would not work, and much more to the point, even if
(however improbably) it did work, it would be useless.
In a recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, MIT
scientist, Theodore Postol, validates what we have heard and read about the
feasibility of the scheme. A determined effort by an aggressive power to defeat
missile defense, through the use of decoys, would probably succeed.
"Tests" of anti-ballistic devices are directed more toward the task of
persuading the public and the Congress, and at authentic research and
development. Critics have characterized such "tests" as
"strapped chicken demonstrations."
Back in the Reagan/SDI days, we pointed out the ease with which missile
defense might be defeated, and so we will not repeat that argument here. (See
Wars: The National Sanity Test," this
But never mind all that. Just suppose that we might devise a system that
could stop an errant ICBM, launched by some "rogue state." What would
that accomplish? Virtually nothing, I suggest.
The trajectory of an ICBM launched at an American city can be plotted with
near certainty back to the launch site. If such a missile successfully took out
its target, we can be sure that North Korea or Iraq or some such "rogue
state" responsible for the launch would soon be reduced to rubble. In
short, an ICBM launch is a plain act of personal and national suicide.
So clearly, any national or sub-national entity (e.g., the mafia or al Qaeda, etc.) would choose a delivery system that would hide the place or
group of origin. These might include "suitcase devices" in autos,
aircraft or ships, or possibly an off-shore "lob". In addition, none
of these require the advanced technology, inflated budgets and readily
detectable trail of evidence entailed by the deployment of ICBMs.
And none of these far more likely scenarios would be the least bit affected
by an anti-missile defense system.
There are other consequences as well. In order to advance the missile defense
system, George Bush has announced that the United States will abandon the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia.
Facing an opposing missile defense system, the Russian government will be under
irresistible pressure to reactivate and expand its offensive missile forces.
This is a safe assumption since it precisely what the West would do if faced
with the prospect of a Russian missile defense system.
It takes little historical memory to realize that this is precisely the
mind-set that dominated, and arguably prolonged, the Cold War. Despite the
advice of wiser and cooler heads among Western European leaders, it is a
mind-set that has apparently recaptured the adherence of the Bush
Moreover, this confrontational mind-set is totally inappropriate to the
greater nuclear dangers that we face today. As we have learned to our great
sorrow, the greatest danger, by far, is a
terrorist act, with the nuclear "device" delivered by briefcase or
truck, as with World Trade Center in 1993 or the Oklahoma City Federal Building,
or by a commercial airliner, as with the World Trade Center again, September 11,
Prevention of such a disaster calls for close cooperation and coordination among
international and state security agencies, such as Interpol, the CIA and FBI in
the United States, and the FSB in Russia. "Human intelligence" must be
cultivated within terrorist groups and "rogue nations," security files
and surveillance data of many nations must be integrated, international
inspection agencies must be reactivated, and acutely sensitive radiation
detection devices must be developed and deployed.
If, somehow, "missile defense" is a technological imperative that
cannot be stopped, then it should be made an international project not
merely "shared" with Russia, China, and NATO, but still more openly developed
with and deployed by these powers. Only then might we avoid a renewed
Alas, "integration" and "cooperation" seems furthest from
the minds of our national leaders, including it seems the ex-KGB officer who is
now the President of Russia. "Strategic theory" that was hard-wired in
the heads of our leaders during the cold war and which remains active in
numerous careers and investments, still seems to control our policies.
How else are we to explain the return of the "missile defense"
PostScript: SECRET CIA SURVEILLANCE TAPES
Saddam Hussein is meeting with his cabinet in Baghdad.
SH: I would like very much to nuke New York City. When can we do it, and
what are our options?
Minister 1: Well, we could put a bomb in a freighter, or we could put it
in a diplomatic pouch, or we could put it in the trunk of a car and drive it
across the Canadian border.
SH: And when could we do this?
Minister 2: As early as next month, and the delivery system would cost a
few hundred dollars. Best of all, the Americans would never be able to prove
that we set it off.
SH: Any other options?
Minister 3: Well, we could spend several billion dollars on an ICBM,
which wouldn't be ready in less than five years -- provided of course the
Americans didn't find out about it first and destroy our facilities.
Minister 4: Worst of all, the missile would carry a return address. The
Americans would know for certain who launched it, and within 24 hours 90% of the
Iraqis, included all of present company, would be reduced to radioactive atoms.
SH: Then that settles it. Let's build an ICBM.
If you believe that this transcript is authentic, then you are
certifiably bonkers. As crazy as Saddam Hussein is depicted here. And as crazy
as anyone in the Bush administration who really believes that the proposed
National Missile Defense system has anything at all to do with a supposed threat
from Iraq or North Korea, or wherever.