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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

Key Problems

* Ambitious missile defense proposal fails to take into account the reality of missile defense programs under development.

* The costs, both monetary and political, of deploying NMD outweigh the benefits.

* Bush's missile defense system is coupled with radical changes in the size and composition of U.S. nuclear forces and does not entail a proposal for abandoning the grim reality of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Despite the Bush administration's determination to have a rudimentary missile defense system in place by 2004, the fact remains that none of the Pentagon's missile defense programs are up to the task, and it is not because the ABM Treaty is standing in the way. The annual report of the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) outlines the daunting challenges facing U.S. missile defense programs. Assessing the ground-based NMD system, the DOT&E report warns that the system is far from ready to intercept the kinds of missiles "currently deployed by the established nuclear powers" and recommends broadening the test program to attempt to intercept real world threats that include decoys. To date, the system has failed two out of three intercept tests. A new DOT&E report claims that the one successful test used a Global Positioning System inside the mock warhead that helped guide the intercept missile to the target.

Meanwhile, the sea-based, boost-phase system, promoted by many missile defense advocates as a near-term and easy solution to the nuclear threat, is based on a missile that has yet to be designed, much less tested. The DOT&E report asserts that it is not a viable option and goes on to note that "a major upgrade to the AEGIS radar" would be required, while both the missile and kill vehicle would have to be radically redesigned. Optimistic estimates put initial deployment at 2008, with full deployment not possible before 2020.

The Space-Based Laser, intended to destroy a ballistic missile in its boost phase, is little more than a concept at this stage. Only a handful of components of the system have been tested, the actual testing facility hasn't even been built, and integrated flight experiments aren't expected to take place until 2010. According to a General Accounting Office report, the Air Force's new satellite surveillance package, called Space-Based Infrared System-Low, is "at a high risk of not delivering the system on time or at cost or with expected performance." The satellite network, which is to track incoming warheads and decoys, is a vital component of any expansive missile defense system. The Air Force plans to launch the network's 24 satellites in 2006, with the full system deployed by 2010. But this time frame means that the Air Force would begin deploying the satellites before adequate testing has been completed.

The multitiered approach favored by the Bush administration will be enormously expensive, dwarfing the Congressional Budget Office estimate of $60 billion for the Clinton administration's more modest system. Estimates for the more ambitious Bush approach range from the Council for a Livable World's projection of at least $120 billion to the Center on Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) prediction of $240 billion. In the short term, the Bush administration is planning to increase missile defense funding from the $5.3 billion allocated for FY2001 to $7.5 billion for FY2002. Under Bush, total missile defense spending could jump to $10 billion or more annually. The major contractors--Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and TRW--have already racked up long-term contracts for missile defense worth in excess of $20 billion, and that's before they reap the benefits of the new spending that will flow under President Bush's more expansive approach.

The missile threat has been greatly exaggerated, while the consequences of deploying a NMD system have been downplayed. The government's top ballistic missile analyst, Robert Walpole, has repeatedly pointed out that an attack on U.S. territory with a weapon of mass destruction has a "return address" on it, meaning the U.S. would know exactly where it came from and would launch a devastating retaliatory strike. North Korea, the supposed impetus behind U.S. missile defense efforts, is years away from developing a reliable ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States. Furthermore, Pyongyang has put its missile program on hold to pursue negotiations with Washington.

Just how big a threat missile defense could pose to U.S. security can be found in a report issued last summer by the National Intelligence Council. That report suggested that deployment of such a system would likely provoke "an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects ... that would include a sharp buildup of strategic and medium-range nuclear missiles by China, India and Pakistan and the further spread of military technology in the Middle East."

Bush has suggested reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal to "the lowest possible number consistent with our national security" and taking these weapons off of hair-trigger alert. Bush rightly noted that, "keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch." But Bush also stated that "nuclear weapons still have a vital role to play in our security and that of our allies." In their more honest moments, President Bush and his advisers speak of "refashioning the balance between defense and deterrence," not replacing the cold war era "balance of terror" with a defensive shield. The seeming contradiction in the Bush view--reducing the size of the U.S. arsenal and taking forces off of high alert while provoking other nuclear powers with a massive Star Wars program--disappears if you look at the common thread uniting these proposals: nuclear unilateralism.

Spurred on by the ideological ranting of conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, a powerful bloc within the Republican Party has increasingly come to treat negotiated arms control arrangements as obstacles to U.S. supremacy rather than as guarantors of a fragile but critical level of stability in the nuclear age. The right-wing rallying cry is "peace through strength, not peace through paper." If that means shredding two decades of international arms control agreements (most of which were negotiated by Republican presidents), then so be it.
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Article Details
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Author:Hartung, William D.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jun 25, 2001
Previous Article:Star Wars Revisited.
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