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   Missile Defense Deployment: Still Dangerous, Costly, and Irrelevant to Present Threats

Critique of “Star Wars”:

Missile Defense Deployment: Still Dangerous, Costly, and Irrelevant to Present Threats

by Frida Berrigan

Given the fact that the U.S. government's own top intelligence analysts on the ballistic missile threat have repeatedly noted that a ballistic missile is the least likely method a hostile nation would use to deliver a weapon of mass destruction, President Bush's decision is further evidence of special interests directing U.S. national security policy.
Last month, the Bush administration ordered the Pentagon to field a limited missile defense shield by 2004. This decision to accelerate the pace and the costs of missile defense development came less than two weeks after the most recent failed test of the system. As the New York Times reported in December 2002, in a $100 million test of the land-based element of the system conducted on December 11, the interceptor "missed its intended target by hundreds of miles and burned up in the atmosphere, while the mock enemy warhead it was meant to destroy zoomed along unscathed."

"Many things have changed since the September 11th attacks, but the Bush administration's stubborn determination to deploy some kind of missile defense system—whether or not it works, and whether or not it addresses the most pressing threats to our security—has remained the same," asserts William D. Hartung, a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute. "The billions being lavished on missile defense would be far better spent on accelerating the pace of programs designed to dismantle, neutralize, and secure Russia's vast, poorly guarded stockpiles of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. The best defense against nuclear weapons is a campaign of concerted diplomatic effort to get rid of as many of them as possible, not a costly, untested, and provocative missile defense program."

Given the fact that the U.S. government's own top intelligence analysts on the ballistic missile threat have repeatedly noted that a ballistic missile is the least likely method a hostile nation would use to deliver a weapon of mass destruction, President Bush's decision is further evidence of special interests directing U.S. national security policy. More than any administration in history, the Bush team has relied on the expertise of former weapons contractors and corporate backed conservative think tanks to outline U.S. defense needs. In light of this, the question remains, even if such a system can be deployed, should it be?

How Much Will it Cost? Even before the new spending proposed by the Bush administration is taken into account missile defense is already one of the most expensive military programs in history. The Pentagon has spent $91 billion on missile defense projects since President Reagan's 1983 "Star Wars" speech, and more than $143 billion since the early 1960s.

President Bush's FY 2002 missile defense budget came in at $7.8 billion, about $500 million less than the administration requested, but still a hefty 43% increase over the levels obtained in the last Clinton administration budget ($5.4 billion). The FY 2003 budget allocates an additional $8 billion for missile defense, making it by far the largest single project in the Pentagon budget. Before yesterday's deployment decision, spending on missile defense during the four years of President George W. Bush's term was already projected at $35.3 billion, nearly twice as much as the $18.7 billion that was spent in the second term of the Clinton administration.

The Congressional Budget Office's January 2002 report on the estimated costs of various missile defense systems underscores the long-term budgetary pressures posed by a large-scale missile defense deployment. The CBO estimates that costs of the three major missile defense programs (ground, sea and space based) could add up to as much as $238 billion over the next two decades.

Will it Work? Despite the huge investment in missile defense over the past four decades, the Pentagon has been unable to field a workable system, and major hurdles remain. As former Pentagon testing official Philip Coyle has repeatedly pointed out, "There is nothing that the DOD has done that is as difficult" as ballistic missile defense.

With this in mind, President Bush's enthusiasm for fielding any and all missile defense systems upon taking office was tempered by the fact that none of the proposed systems were anywhere close to being ready for deployment. So his administration opted instead for a sharp expansion of funding for missile defense R&D with an eye towards the earliest possible deployment of various elements of a multi-tiered system, even if they offered only rudimentary capabilities at first.

Is it Relevant? Despite ongoing questions about whether defending against ballistic missiles should be the nation's top security priority in the wake of the low-tech, high casualty terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in September of 2001, President George W. Bush has accelerated development of this expensive and unworkable missile defense system. The Bush administration's exaggerated assessment of the ballistic missile threat and its unjustified optimism about the capabilities of its proposed missile defense system are rooted in its undue reliance on former corporate officials and conservative missile defense boosters in the formation of its strategic policy. Now that its former chairman is running the Pentagon, the findings of the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on the emerging ballistic missile threat to the United States have become the baseline for U.S. assessments of the ballistic missile threat, despite the fact that a key finding of that commission—involving how quickly a hostile nation could develop a long-range ballistic missile—was based in significant part upon briefings supplied by engineers from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and other major defense contractors. This is hardly objective counsel given that these companies stand to gain billions of dollars worth of new contracts from the deployment of a missile defense shield designed to protect against the alleged threat of Third World ballistic missiles.

The Rumsfeld Commission's approach of weaving unlikely worst-case scenarios into a more menacing vision of the ballistic missile threat, rather than taking a practical look at what is likely given existing political, economic, and strategic constraints, is now the rule rather than the exception at the Pentagon. Like their conservative cohorts at the Center for Security Policy and the Heritage Foundation, key Bush administration officials view the technical difficulties involved in building a viable missile defense system through rose-colored glasses.

Deploying this unproven, multi-billion dollar system without fully assessing its costs, capabilities, and likely impacts on patterns of global nuclear proliferation could result in serious long-term damage to United States security.

Arms Trade Resource Center Resources on Missile Defense:

Axis of Influence: Behind the Bush Administration's Missile Defense Revival, by Michelle Ciarrocca and William D. Hartung, July 2002;

About Face: The Role of the Arms Lobby in the Bush Administration's Radical Reversal of Two Decades of U.S. Nuclear Policy, by William D. Hartung, with Jonathan Reingold, May 2002;

Nuclear Missile Deception: Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the National Missile Defense Test Program, Special Issue Brief, by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, July 7, 2000;

Tangled Web: The Marketing of Missile Defense 1994-2000, Special Report, by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, May 2000;

Frida Berrigan, a Baltimore native and daughter of the late anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons activist Philip Berrigan, is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute in New York.

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on January 8, 2003.
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