Warning: preg_match(): Unknown modifier '-' in /home7/algoraco/public_html/includes/news/details.php on line 20
Algora Publishing - Missile Defense Is Not About Defense - It's About Offense
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
Missile Defense Is Not About Defense - It's About Offense
Bill Keller The New York Times

NEW YORK In the nearly 40-year fight over building weapons to shoot down incoming missiles, the proponents have generally fallen into two camps, the dreamers and the schemers.
.
When the idea of missile defense had its most celebrated moment under President Ronald Reagan, the dreamers, including the president and the nuclear scientist Edward Teller, seemed convinced that America could be made invulnerable against nuclear weapons.
.
The more cynical camp - including the national security adviser, Robert McFarlane, and the military assistant to the secretary of defense, Colin Powell - saw an impregnable defense as a pipe dream, but also as a useful bargaining chip. It would not stop a nuclear strike, but it would worry the Soviet military planners and make it easier to drive a favorable deal in arms control talks.
.
That time around the schemers had it right. The impermeable superdome was a technological fantasy, but the prospect of an American missile defense system helped goad the Soviets into mutual cuts in nuclear arsenals.
.
Now, too, there are dreamers and schemers. The dreamers, possibly including the president, embrace missile defense at face value, as something that will make Americans safer in their beds. Such a system, they assert, will protect against a terrorist with a ballistic missile, an accidental launch from the aging Russian arsenal or a rogue state bent on demolishing an American city.
.
The public debate so far has been almost entirely about this dream of missile defense, which, because it aims to stop a small flock of missiles rather than Russia's thousands, is technologically more plausible than what Mr. Reagan had in mind.
.
The schemer agenda, on the other hand, is about nuclear strategy, a forbidding subject framed in arcane that tends to scare off laymen. But let's see if we amateurs can get our heads around it.
.
The concept at the heart of nuclear strategy is deterrence, which means that the ability to obliterate the enemy prevents him from doing something rash. It is generally accepted that U.S. nuclear strength deterred the Soviet Union from raining nuclear warheads on America.
.
But preventing Armageddon was not the main purpose of U.S. nuclear forces. The foremost purpose was to stop the Soviet Union from sending its superior non-nuclear armies into Western Europe. By deliberately leaving open the possibility that it would go nuclear if Soviet tanks crossed the Fulda Gap into West Germany, the United States deterred the Soviets from starting a conventional war in Europe.
.
The schemers in the current debate fear that any nation with a few nuclear weapons can do to America what America did to the Soviets - deter it from projecting superior conventional forces into the world. This could mean Iraq or North Korea or Iran, but it most importantly means China.
.
The real logic of missile defense, to these advocates, is not to defend but to protect American freedom to attack.
.
You won't hear President George W. Bush saying so, but the scenario that preoccupies many of those in and around the Pentagon is this one:
.
Taiwan decides to risk a climactic break with mainland China. The mainland responds with a military tantrum. America would like to defend the island democracy against the Communist giant - but it is deterred by hints that Beijing cares enough about this issue to launch nuclear missiles. American voters may or may not support a conventional war for Taiwanese independence, but they are much less likely to support one that risks the obliteration of their cities.
.
Ah, but if they have an insurance policy, a battery of anti-missile weapons sufficient (in theory) to neutralize China's two dozen nuclear missiles, Americans would feel freer to go to war over Taiwan.
.
"The logic of missile defense is to make the stakes of power projection compatible with the risks of power projection," says Keith B. Payne, a deterrence theory expert and an ardent supporter of missile defense. Missile defense, in other words, is not about defense. It's about offense.
.
This debate about missile defense is one that Americans are not having. The schemer rationale exists mostly between the lines. It is implicit in documents that no mere citizen reads, like the Quadrennial Defense Review, and encoded in speeches.