In This Review

Fatal Choice: Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Missile Defense
Fatal Choice: Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Missile Defense
By Richard Butler
Westview, 2002, 178 pp
The Phantom Defense: America's Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion
The Phantom Defense: America's Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion
By Craig Eisendrath, Gerald E. Marsh, and Melvin A. Goodman
Praeger, 2001, 190 pp
Hit to Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America From Missile Attack
Hit to Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America From Missile Attack
By Bradley Graham
PublicAffairs, 2001, 464 pp

Butler made his name attempting to disarm Saddam Hussein. He turns here to attacking missile defense -- with, alas, the same level of success. "It is self-evident that a linkage between ... nuclear weapons reductions and missile defense ... would bring about a failure with potentially devastating consequences -- the unilateral erection of an unreliable defense shield and a resumed nuclear arms race." That linkage, in fact, is what the United States government is doing today. Such a policy may or may not be wise, but it does not portend calamitous consequences (although the reliability of missile defense is very far from proven). Butler's is a slender book, based not on research but on appeals to personal authority. Hence it offers an unfortunate demonstration of how the urge to pontificate can overcome the requirement to analyze.

The Phantom Defense is similarly slim, but it goes into considerably more technical detail. It makes the case why national missile defense will not and cannot work, would be terribly dangerous if it did, and will cause vast and unnecessary international political turbulence merely by being in train. The contradiction between the first contention and the last two is common in the anti-missile defense literature, just as quasi-religious faith in technology characterizes its counterpart on the other side.

Far better than either book is Graham's thorough account of the resurrection of the ballistic missile defense debate in the 1990s. In his exhaustively detailed look at both policymaking and technology, two large facts become clear. First, the impulse to defend one's country against attack from long-range missiles is durable and, in the final analysis, compelling. Second, the technological capability to do so remains unproven. From these points one may conclude that Democrats and Republicans alike find themselves impaled on the horns of a dilemma. People tend to be obsessed with either the logic of missile defense or its technology, but they never take both into account. That dilemma is why Bill Clinton, not George H.W. Bush, began nudging the United States in the direction of national missile defense, and why a dialogue of the deaf on this subject will persist.