Ballistic missile defense is a fraud on the American people. Those who promote missile defense promise something they cannot deliver — security from a nuclear attack. The truth is that deployment of missile defenses will make the United States and the rest of the world even less secure than they are today.
Will a national missile defense work if deployed? It is very doubtful. We know that most tests of the system have failed, and that these failures have occurred when the testers knew in advance when a missile would be launched, from where it would be launched, and where it would be aimed. Given all this information, one would think it would be relatively easy to have successful tests. In a real world situation, none of this information would be available in advance.
Additionally, in the real world an attacker would plan for the defensive system and release decoys along with the real warheads in order to confuse and confound the defensive system. This would make it even more difficult for a national missile defense system to be successful.
The biggest problem with a national missile defense, however, is that potential “rogue” state attackers those the system is designed to protect against probably wouldn’t consider attacking the United States with ballistic missiles. It would be foolish for them to do so since a missile attack comes with a return address and the US would be able to respond with overwhelming force.
If a “rogue” state wanted to attack the United States with a weapon of mass destruction, it would be far easier and safer for that country to deliver the weapon by means of ship, van or backpack. By attacking in this way, there would be no return address for the US to retaliate against. This would also be the most likely means by which terrorists could attack American cities.
In addition to being ineffective to protect the US against potential “rogue” state attackers, missile defenses are threatening to Russia and China. These countries believe that deployment of missile defenses, even if ineffective, will put the US in the position to initiate a first-strike attack against them and then use the defensive system to knock down any of their missiles that survived the US attack.
US deployment of missile defenses will further increase tensions with Russia and China and make an accidental nuclear war more likely. At one point, US officials even suggested to the Russians that they could assure themselves against a US attack by keeping Russian missiles on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched on warning. This is very dangerous. US defense officials should be working with Russians to take all nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. Failure to do so is irresponsible at best.
US deployment of a National Missile Defense will throw more than 35 years of arms control efforts into disarray. It will violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and undermine the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties. It will be destabilizing to global security, and make the world a more dangerous place. That is why most countries, including US allies, are not enthusiastic about US plans for ballistic missile defenses.
In sum, US ballistic missile defenses would be ineffective, destabilizing and dangerous. And yet, the US government appears willing to spend another $100 billion or perhaps even much more to deploy such systems. One can only wonder at this “spend now, think later” approach to national security.
The alternative solution to increasing national and global security is US leadership toward a nuclear weapons free world. As recently as May 2000, the US, along with other nuclear weapons states, promised an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” We call for the US to take this promise seriously and to convene at the earliest possible time a meeting of all nuclear weapons states to move forward together in fulfilling their promises by developing an agreed-upon plan for the phased and verified elimination of all nuclear weapons from the planet.
*David Krieger, an attorney and political scientist, is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.