Courtesy Reuters

The Missile Defense Debate


Well before the 2000 election, George W. Bush and his inner circle were clear on a few things, one of which was missile defense. If they won, it would become the centerpiece of national security policy, even if all or most of the world's other major capitals see national missile defense (NMD), especially the U.S. approach to it, as irrelevant or unresponsive to plausible threats and a potential danger to global security.

There are various ways of looking at missile defense. Dispassionate advocates argue that it might actually have some deterrent value at some future moment against some violence-prone regime or possibly offer some protection against an accidental launch. And in any case, just deploying a missile defense could raise society's comfort level -- its confidence that the government was doing all that it could to prevent the irrational actors of the world from doing what has been called "the unthinkable."

Less candid proponents favor a system with the declared purpose of managing a threat from the rogues of the world but envisage it as the first step toward a system really designed to neutralize China's modest strategic arsenal or the expanded Chinese arsenal they expect to see. Other, even more strenuous advocates favor a "thick" multi-layered system -- combining land-, sea-, and space-based components -- that would neutralize Russia's forces, along with China's.

Many, probably most, opponents regard missile defense as capable of contributing nothing but trouble. They see it as threatening deterrence and the arms control structure, starting with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; as inevitably creating major difficulties with America's allies and greatly agitating its former adversaries, Russia and China. Also, they say, the assumption that it might even work and actually serve as a shield is badly flawed -- how flawed would be discovered only after an attack. Hitting ten or so bullets with ten other bullets under controlled testing conditions can prove nothing, they argue. And anyway, the argument runs,

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