In a New York Times editorial on December 19, 2000, “Prelude to a Missile Defense,” they rightly point out that “no workable shield now exists” and that the diplomatic and financial costs are too high to begin construction of even a limited system “until the technology is perfected.”
It is a great leap of faith to believe that this technology will ever be perfected. Experts repeatedly have warned us that even a moderately effective offense that includes decoys will always be able to overcome the type of defensive system we are capable of deploying.
However, even if we were able to create a foolproof missile defense against Iraq, Iran and North Korea, we would still be at risk from nuclear weapons delivered by terrorist groups or nations by other means than missiles, such as by weapons carried into US harbors on boats. The geo-political damage that deployment of a National Missile Defense would do in our relations with Russia and China would also undermine any advantages such a system might provide.
The editorial suggests that “Mr. Bush’s new foreign policy team should try to persuade skeptical countries that a limited defensive system can be built without wrecking existing arms control treaties or setting off a destructive new arms race.” To succeed in this persuasion, Mr. Bush’s new team will need either superhuman powers or excessive and dangerous arm twisting skills.
They would be far wiser to listen carefully to the reasons why many of our closest allies, as well as Russia and China, are skeptical about our missile defense plans. By trying to understand rather than convert the skeptics, the Bush foreign policy team might learn that deploying a costly and unreliable Ballistic Missile Defense would create greater problems than it would solve.
The new administration might more fruitfully concentrate its efforts on providing leadership in fulfilling the promises made by the nuclear weapons states at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference for an “unequivocal undertaking” to eliminate all nuclear weapons globally. Such leadership would be a true gift to humanity. It would also do far more to assure American and global security in the 21st century.