April 28, 2004
North Korea and Missile Defense
Lest we forget about North Korea...
There are some a big tests of our new missile defense system coming up sometime later this spring or during the summer . If they work we've got a valid system for protecting us from North Korean missiles. If not it's back to the drawing board.
The system is being criticized for the usual reasons; it's too expensive, it won't work, and it won't protect against the "greater threat" of a traditional terrorist attack.
The first is arguable, the second is plausible, but the third is completely unfathomable. One might argue that our money is best spent elsewhere. I disagree, but it is not a dismissable argument. The criticism that "it won't work" might be a good argument except that we've been hearing it for oh about twenty years and one suspects we'll continue to hear it for another hundred years. If there's one thing that this country is good at it's technology. No it won't be easy. Yes there are countermeasures to all defenses. But I believe that the record of the last twenty years (since Reagan made his famous speech setting us on this course) is that missile defense has made greater advances than have the countermeasures. We're not facing the resources of the old Soviet Union, only North Korea. It's all they can do to get a missile up.
The third reason, that it won't protect against what is termed the greater threat of traditional terrorist attack, makes almost no sense at all. The chance of your house catching on fire (in any serious way) is almost negligible, so does this mean that you go without fire insurance? We face many threats, some more likely than others, does this mean that we only defend against the most probable? Gee, if we did that do you think that maybe our enemies would catch on and revise their stratgey?
More to the point, if we can build a robust missile defense system, and I believe that we can, we will deter countries from building missiles. We're not up against a Soviet Union that can overwhelm us with a saturation attack. The countries that threaten us will only be able to build a handful of long-range missiles. This we can defend against.
Indeed noone is arguing that we ignore defense against the suitcase bomb smuggled into the country. Further, noone is saying that we shouldn't continue antiproliferation efforts. Yes, lets spend money on both. But the record of the last twenty or thirty years is that antiproliferation efforts have largely failed. More and more countries are acquiring such technology, despite our best efforts. It's time to realize that diplomacy and economic sanctions will never be more than partially effective.
Also, while the chance of missile attack might be small, the consequences of it occuring would be devastating. I for one don't want to give our president the only option of a nuclear retaliatory strike.