Courtesy Reuters

Are Missile Defenses MAD? Combining Defenses with Arms Control

Early in the Cold War, renowned strategist Bernard Brodie gave a chilling prognosis for the dawning nuclear age: "No adequate defense against the bomb exists, and the possibilities of its existence in the future are exceedingly remote." That strategic judgment -- that the vulnerability of superpowers would be pervasive and enduring -- has divided hawks and doves ever since. Hawks have sought to refute what came to be known as the principle of mutual assured destruction, both on philosophical grounds and through technological advances in offensive weapons and ballistic missile defenses. Doves have sought to cement the principle of joint annihilation as a cornerstone of arms control.

Each side has viewed the other's approach as fundamentally incompatible with its own. The purest expression of the hawks' camp was the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars," which was introduced in 1983 by President Reagan. The embodiment of the doves' camp has been the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which maintains nuclear threats indefinitely and rests on the paradoxical idea that more offensive weaponry does not contribute to greater security. The fruition of one approach has been regarded as the demise of the other.

Despite the end of the Cold War, this rhetorical battle continues within the confines of Washington's Beltway and Moscow's ring road because the debate over strategic vulnerability in the nuclear age remains unresolved. During the 1980s, the Star Wars battle was waged over astrodome defenses of orbiting weapons that would protect entire countries against Soviet attacks. The battle line now forms over the issue of missile defenses for circumscribed areas -- troop concentrations, airfields, and ports -- against ballistic missiles held by worrisome Third World states. The Clinton and Yeltsin administrations are currently negotiating new ABM treaty guidelines to permit deployment of missile defenses such as the U.S. Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense system. THAAD has become the focal point of a high-stakes battle involving strategic doctrine, bilateral relations, global proliferation, arms reduction, defense budgets, and billions of dollars in

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