Deploy First. Develop
Later? Why Bush's Plan to Deploy Flawed Missile Defense Meets
by Devon Chaffee, December 20, 2002
On December 17, the Bush administration announced
that the President has directed the Secretary of Defense to proceed
with fielding an initial set of missile defense capabilities in
2004. According to military officials, these capabilities will
likely include ground-based interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska,
Aegis warship-based missiles and possibly ground-base interceptors
at Vandenberg Air Force base. This announcement has provoked much
criticism concerning the lack of reliability of system, the increased
amount of funds necessary for this rushed deployment to occur
and the destabilizing effect of the system on the international
community. However, even given these significant problems, international
and domestic opposition seem unlikely to be strong enough to prevent
the planned deployment from occurring.
Deploying an Unproven System
In normal U.S. military procedure all systems are
tested and demonstrated to be operationally effective before any
new weapon is deployed. Yet this practice seems to have been side
stepped, as pointed out by Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, in Bush’s haste to deploy
a missile defense system in less than two years. Levin was quoted
by the New York Times as saying that Bush's plan, “violates
common sense by determining to deploy systems before they have
been tested and shown to work.''
Representative Tom Allen and Reprehensive Edward
J. Markey joined Levin’s criticism of the system in a letter
addressed to President Bush also signed by prominent Nobel Laureates.
The letter referred to the deployment plan as being “little
more than a political gesture,” given the technological
hurdles that have yet to be overcome.
There has, in fact, been little to no assurance
that this initial missile defense will be effective. Bush’s
announcement of deployment in 2004 follows a recent unsuccessful
$80 million test on December 11, where the interceptor failed
to separate from its booster rocket, missed its target by hundreds
of miles and burned up in the atmosphere. According to defense
analysts from the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), none of eight ground-based interceptor
tests have adequately simulated reality.
Bush’s recent deployment commitment is accompanied
by a rise in cost of missile defense development, adding to existing
concerns that missile defense is taking valuable resources away
from more pressing federal programs. Joseph Cirincione of the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace predicts that the new
missile defense deployment plan, “will cause missile defense
budget to grow by over 10 percent to over $9 billion, making it
the largest single weapon program in the budget. “
Increased missile defense spending means fewer
resources for public health and education, as well for other defense
programs that actually address existing terrorist threats, particularly
nonproliferation efforts through the Nunn-Lugar Comprehensive
Threat Reduction programs.
The Tempered Response
Regardless of these many considerable flaws in
Bush’s deployment plan, opposition in Congress remains weak.
Most Democrats are offering only muted criticism of the missile
defense programs and Democrat Joseph Lieberman broke with party
leaders to give a full endorsement of Bush’s announcement
of the 2004 deployment commitment.
There was some international negative feedback
concerning Bush’s missile defense announcement. Russia’s
Foreign Minister announced that U.S. missile defense efforts have
entered a “new destabilizing phase.” In general, however,
the Minister’s comments were hardly severe.
Though there has been significant opposition in
Greenland to the proposed use of Thule Air Base for the missile
defense system, officials from Denmark, which controls Greenland’s
foreign affairs, and Great Britain appeared open to increased
involvement in the future of missile defense deployment. France
gave no response to the missile defense announcement, and the
overall international reaction to Bush’s announcement was
tempered, particularly among European allies.
Why no fuss?
The source of the political will for the Bush administration
to deploy the missile defense system is clear. Such deployment
will allow Bush to run for president in 2004 having fulfilled
his campaign commitment to deploy a missile defense. It is also
clear that large special interest contractors that benefit from
missile defense and that annually contribute hundreds of thousands
of dollars to both Republican and Democratic federal campaigns
are encouraged by the deployment. As reported in the Boston Herald
on Wednesday, December 18th, Raytheon Co., a major missile defense
contractor that has recently been suffering from a drop in stock
value, warmly welcomed the President’s announcement to deploy
It is, however, startling that the announced deployment
of an ineffectual, unreliable, exorbitantly expensive, and potentially
destabilizing missile defense system has met such little resistance
from U.S. and foreign policy makers. The lack of international
response may stem from the system’s lack of promise in being
effective in countering any potential opponent’s offensive
systems. If the system is not effective, there is little reason
for nations outside of the United States to voice strong opposition
to the initiative and risk any political costs that would result
from coming into conflict with the Bush administration.
This is, however, the very reason that domestic
leaders should be up in arms due to lack of independent oversight
of the system, and the potential insecurity that could arise due
to the inclusion of an ineffectual defense system within our defense
strategy. But there seems to be a lack of commitment among U.S.
policy makers to exert any significant control or oversight on
the expanding missile defense. Though this lack of opposition
is illogical from the stand point of sound spending and national
security, from a political cost-benefit perspective it is clearly
understandable. Opposition efforts could lead to enemies within
the Bush administration, loss of campaign funding from contractors
and possible loss in public support in exchange for little more
than a clean conscience.
This lack of political will and incentive indicates
that in order to bring elected officials back in line, U.S. citizens
and citizens around the world must step up their efforts to let
their officials know that they will not tolerate irresponsible
spending and premature weapons deployment. If a severe increased
sense of public accountability is not soon created within the
U.S. Congress regarding missile defense spending, there is little
hope that the administration will be prevented from wasting an
increased amount of federal funds on the deployment of an ineffectual
missile defense system.