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April 7, 2008
Is Missile Defense Worth the Cost?
year is 2020. The world, strained by a growing population and shrinking
access to both oil and clean water, is a volatile place. Iran, having
made hay out of tangled American policy in the neighboring country of
Iraq and in control of most of the world’s remaining oil, finds itself
faced by an increasingly hostile NATO alliance.
Sensing that war with the West is coming, a war it is technologically
incapable of waging, Iran hatches a late night deal with ally North
Korea to strike key communication centers in the United States and
Europe with nuclear-tipped missiles. In the chaos that follows, Iran
prepares to stand athwart the world, a new superpower flush with the oil
necessary to fuel the roaring economies of China and India.
there is one slight hitch. The United States has deployed a missile
defense shield, with interceptor components in both Japan and Poland.
The problem has Iran’s military planning staff scratching their heads –
how to defeat America’s 10 interceptor missiles in Poland?
of the generals smiles and says, “The answer is simple . . . we build 11
history of weapons development has been a competition between offense
and defense, and it’s always been the offense that has had the
advantage. Much of that rests on the principle of simplicity – it is
simply easier to attack something than it is to defend it.
last week saw two developments on missile defense – that the Bush
Administration claimed a big victory in securing NATO approval for
missile defense, and that the question will be left to the next
president. That puts off the question of whether the thing is worth the
investment in American national security resources, or whether it’s just
a national security earmark of epic proportions. (For the record, John
McCain is in favor of missile defense, while the two Democrats have
questioned its need).
Missile defense is itself predicated on the fact that future rival
nations to the United States will want to threaten us with Cold War-era
intercontinental ballistic missiles. A nuclear rival could seek out
alternatives to ICBMs through air or sub-launched cruise missiles, or
simply crating up a bomb and sailing it into a harbor.
These simple, readily available alternatives are on top of the oldest
military trick in the book – swarming a defense. Once you’ve cracked the
secrets of long-range missile technology, it’s not a very expensive
proposition to simply keep building missiles, and certainly a lot
simpler and cheaper than developing new and complex defense networks to
bring them down.
Ultimately, the question isn’t whether we should protect ourselves from
ICBMs, but whether the protection is worth the price. The current
network is a scaled-down version of the old Star Wars system, and is
essentially meant to defend against an attack launched by North Korea.
The price of that protection, after decades of research, is more than
$100 billion. And although it is still considered unproven, its rate of
failure has been tremendous.
problem is that the end of the Cold War made Soviet military technology
and systems available on the open market. Sub-launched missile
technology is no longer cutting edge. The Chinese have had it for at
least two decades and the Indians are said to be close to deploying it.
And we can presume powers that both hate us and have nuclear ambitions –
North Korea and Iran – are building nuclear programs around an eventual
deployment in subs.
means we could spend more than $100 billion on a missile defense shield
that is obsolete before it goes fully operational, and Europe could
again sit under an umbrella of imperfect protection paid for chiefly by
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