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.

Increased Cost

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 in 2004.

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.