On Missile Defense

August 24, 2008

I feel this summary, at the solidly Liberal / Democratic media-oriented (Fair Use???) politics blog, Crooks and Liars, supports an argument I’ve been trying to make for a long time.

A friend of mine who is a Lieutenant in the Canadian Forces, and almost as longwinded as I am, has discussed this with me in the past.  We regularly have friendly-but-fierce debates about issues such as missile defense.  As much as I am willing to concede professional military matters to his better judgment when my argument runs out of momentum, I was unwilling to give an inch on missile defense.

To summarize his final sticking point: “Considering the cost as a percentage of entire military expenditure on an annual basis, who WOULDN’T want a placebo — or, at best, currently barely functional but potentially effective in the future — missile defence system?  The goal doesn’t have to be to thwart a Russian missile armada; even if the missile defense system deters a rogue nation like North Korea from attacking, it has paid for itself a thousand times over.  Even if North Korea DOES attack and manages to send three Taepodong-2 ICBMs somewhere into our allies’ territory, if our missile shield stops even one of those ICBMs, we could be looking at several hundred thousands to millions of lives saved.  How can you say it’s a poor investment??”

My argument, which may not have stuck with him as his did with me, but I was unwilling to concede, was much simpler: “We’re building a defense against a non-existent threat.  If North Korea wants to detonate a nuclear device on America or on of her allies, it will be done via dirty bomb or a nuclear device hidden in a shipping container.  Even those routes would likely result in a quick trace of source and absolutely destruction of the originating nation.  We are spending billions to defend against a possibility of a suicidal national leader with a nuclear capability.  As nuts as Kim Jong Il seems, I’m sure he likes his life the way it is.

And when others in the world view it through a similar lens as I do, what outcome will they draw?  If it’s not a legitimate defense against rogue nuclear nations, is it an instigation against the nuclear powers (like Russia)?  A reminder that we’re still thinking of a nuclear salvo exchange with Russia, and we intend to have just a few more square meters of unexploded land than them?  Worse yet, what if it’s viewed as a technological prelude to first-strike capability and US nuclear primacy?  Are we so willing to unbalance a détente in a war we have already won (see following Foreign Affairs article)?

“What both of these camps overlook is that the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one — as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield.”

- Lieber & Press, ‘The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy’, Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006)

Perhaps I am being too idealistic, not wanting to settle for reduced casualties but aiming for a firmer détente instead.

The Crooks and Liars post, if you didn’t open it, not only mentions the lack of perceived technical efficacy of the missile defence system, but also touches on the fact that the Polish and Czech public are AGAINST the instalment of the missile shield.  Although I can only surmise the reasons for a complicated public’s reaction, but can it be that wide swaths of the not-American population see the missile defense shield as an act of provation and aggression, more likely to start a war then to help survive one?

And to my army buddy (I use that term to make people think I was also in the army, rather than too cowardly to enlist):  If I’ve mischaracterized you, if you’ve made Colonel and feel that being called an L-T is an insult, please correct me.  Or if that wasn’t your argument at all, please excuse me as it has been almost two years and countless burritos ago.  I still respectfully disagree.  We’ll try to settle this again next time.  My turn to pick up the bill, I think.

… and the cow goes moo

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4 Responses to “On Missile Defense”

  1. Cernig said

    Hey eshum,

    Nice post. I’ll expand a bit on mine. The Polish deal still has to pass its parliament, signed or not – and the opposition say it will never pass. The Czech deal has to pass a referendum, and the polls show something like 70% opposed.

    The really key thing to remember are that the Russkis tried to set up a multi-national cooperative and Bush told them to take a hike. The neocons want the US to be the only keyholder. (Incidentally, Israel in setting its own ABM defesne up told the US the same thing and for the same reason).

    Regards, C

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