Review of NR piece on Missile Defense

The Weekly Standard did a piece urging President-Elect Obama not to cancel the Missile Defense project, a project that has cost the US, since the Bush Administration took office, about $60 billion.

Question: How well does the program work at shooting down missiles? "...missile defense assets have scored successes on 35 of 43 hit-to-kill intercepts, or 81.39 percent of the time." Sounds impressive, no? Well, no actually. Back during 2002, the Center for Defense Information recommended a series of steps to ensure that Missile Defense was being constructed to specifications so that it would operate in an effective manner.

In 2004, the Missile Defense Agency clamped down on any ability by scientists to ensure that the MDA designs worked as they were supposed to work. Keep in mind that the Bush Administration is working on an approach that's considerably more complicated than what it inherited from the Clinton Administration.

Is it possible that the MDA pursued its work effectively despite the lack of outside scientific oversight? Not if the Iraq War is anything to go by. It was reported in 2006 that in Iraq, not just millions, but billions of dollars were "burned" through "waste, fraud and war profiteering."

Unfortunately, the extremely high likelihood is that the MDA's impressively high hit-to-kill ratio given above is a complete fraud.

The Weekly Standard piece devotes a considerable number of paragraphs to how much consensus there is over Missile Defense, over how many nations agree to deploy it. The "elephant in the room" in this case is the enormous amount of money that's available to the defense contractors of any nation that gets cut in on the action. If these private businesses are able to get in on a scheme that awards them an enormous amount of money without any effective oversight from the US, that's a pretty good motivation for them to push their government to cooperate. It was pointed out in December 2002 that: "There has, in fact, been little to no assurance that this initial missile defense will be effective," but that "...opposition in Congress remains weak." The reason given is that "large special interest contractors" were driving the process.

Also, the NR piece brings up very scary specters of rogue third-world nations developing nuclear weapons. Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry says:

Given that we are concerned about the missile threat, we must also examine other ways of dealing with it. Throughout the Cold War we faced a much greater nuclear missile threat without a national missile defense. During that period our national security depended upon the effectiveness of our deterrence forces, which are still overwhelmingly powerful. We need to examine the extent to which we are willing to continue to make our national security dependent on deterrence. Is deterrence somehow ineffective against the Third World nations looming as future threats? If so, why, and what can be done to make it more effective?

Proponents of Missile Defense declared back in 1983 that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the foundational building block for the doctrine of deterrence, was dead. I wasn't convinced of that back in 1983 and I'm not convinced now. Deterrence was built upon the fact, not that the Russians Communists were either Russians or Communists, but that they were human. With the exception of modern-day suicide bombers operating in Iraq and Japanese Kamikaze pilots back in the Pacific during World War II and a few others, people (aw heck, let's just say organisms) generally seek to survive. A nation fires a missile, that missile tends to be pretty easy to track back to where it came from. A single person or small group such as the 9-11 hijackers may be willing to commit suicide, but that tells us very little about how whole nations behave.

Is diplomacy dead? Have the past eight years proven that one cannot make bearable deals with "evildoers"? I actually think the past eight years have proven that President George W. Bush is incompetent at diplomacy, not that diplomacy itself is somehow lacking in effectiveness. Case in point is peace between Palestine and Israel. Bush said back in January 2008 that "...both sides are getting down to the business of negotiating." In early November 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was assuring the world that "Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Has Not Failed," even though "The talks have made little tangible progress."

I was convinced back in the 1980s that Missile Defense was a classic boondoggle, designed far more to take money away from taxpayers and to award it to private contractors, than it was to anything else. The NR piece gives me no reason to change that opinion.

No comments: