‘Fuzzy’ Logic on Missile Defense

President Bush’s latest speech on missile defense on May 1 did little more than repeat the same disingenuous arguments made during his campaign. While missile defense should be evaluated on the basis of the four common-sense criteria of cost, technological readiness, effect on arms control, and the presence of a threat, Bush made no mention of the first three criteria and talked only in vague terms about the threat. Instead, he skirted the issue by attacking the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and talking about how the world has changed over the past 30 years.

BUSH: "More nations have nuclear weapons and still more have nuclear aspirations."

REALITY: Thirty years ago the world had five nuclear powers: the U.S., U.S.S.R., Britain, France, and China. Several other countries, including India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, were already engaging in nuclear research. In recent years, the number of states possessing or seeking nuclear weapons has actually decreased. Although Iran and Iraq can be considered to have nuclear aspirations, several other countries – South Africa, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Argentina, and Brazil – have abandoned their nuclear programs and joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. Thus, the world is hardly the nuclear free-for-all that the President’s language implies.

BUSH: "Some [countries] already have developed a ballistic missile technology that would allow them to deliver weapons of mass destruction at long distances and incredible speeds, and a number of these countries are spreading these technologies around the world."

REALITY: Most countries developing ballistic missile technology possess systems capable of traveling only modest distances. The only countries that currently possess intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting U.S. territory as well as nuclear warheads that can be mounted on ICBMs are Russia, Britain, France, and China. The U.S. insists that missile defense is not directed against Russia and China, and Britain and France are U.S. allies. Although North Korea may be developing a longer-range ICBM, there are less expensive and more effective alternatives to missile defenses for dealing with this threat. For instance, the U.S. can negotiate an agreement with North Korea that would eliminate its development and export of ballistic missile technology.

BUSH: "Defenses can strengthen deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation."

REALITY: This statement contradicts one of the main arguments of missile defense proponents: that deterrence does not work against "irrational" rogue states’ leaders determined to attack the U.S. If such states are not deterred by certain and devastating U.S. retaliation, then they would not be deterred by an anti-ballistic missile system that even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admits would be less than perfect.

Furthermore, missile defenses do nothing to discourage proliferation, and may make the problem worse by stimulating buildups in offensive nuclear forces around the world. Some countries may simply build more missiles in order to overwhelm the anti-missile system. According to an August 2000 National Intelligence Estimate, China’s nuclear arsenal may increase to ten times its present size as a response to U.S. missile defenses. A Chinese buildup could in turn spark nuclear buildups in India and Pakistan.

Another option for overwhelming missile defenses would be to place multiple warheads on individual missiles. Russia could equip each of its new Topol SS-27 ICBMs with as many as three independently targetable warheads, a step that would entail Russia’s withdrawal from the START II agreement, which prohibits multiple-warhead ICBMs.

Countries such as North Korea could employ simple and inexpensive countermeasures to confuse the missile defense system. According to a September 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, China and Russia already possess the technology for such countermeasures, and may be willing to sell the technology to interested states.

Finally, countries such as China and North Korea that have been major suppliers of missile technology may react to U.S. missile defenses by refusing to cooperate on nonproliferation efforts and increasing their missile exports.

BUSH: "When ready, and working with Congress, we will deploy missile defenses to strengthen global security and stability." .... "We’re not presenting our friends and allies with unilateral decisions already made."

REALITY: Although President Bush has repeatedly vowed to consult with U.S. allies on the subject of missile defense, other administration statements indicate that the decision has already been made. For instance, in a September 2000 campaign speech at the Citadel, Bush stated, "If Russia refuses the changes which we propose in the ABM Treaty, we will give prompt notice, under the provisions of the treaty, that we can no longer be a party to it." Promises of consultations appear to be nothing more than a euphemism for telling our allies to "deal with it." According to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), "President Bush’s speech on missile defenses was a unilateral decision wrapped in conciliatory rhetoric."

a John Isaacs, Council for a Livable World, 110 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; (202) 543-4100; www.clw.org.
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