Shooting Down Missile Defense

missile launchLong, long ago, shrouded in the mists of ancient history (i.e., December 2006), I wrote a post I titled "The Only Purpose of Missile Defense is to Waste Money." At that point in time, we had blown $95 billion on missile defense systems since Ronald Reagan jotted his "Star Wars" notion on the back of a matchbook. What we got out of all this spending and research was nothing. We still have no working missile defense system. Worse, after the fall of the Soviet Union, missile defense became a solution in search of a problem -- its reason for being is to counter a threat that no longer exists.

In that post, I wrote:

So why is the Bush administration pushing this? Did I mention that we've spent $95 billion on it? Throwing pots of cash at defense contractors is what Bush does. It doesn't make any difference whether or not it works -- a failed test is exactly as expensive as a successful one -- the only thing that matters is that it allows people who are already unbelievably rich to reach into your wallet and grab your tax dollars. Who cares if it works?

Oddly, with all the Republican complaining about wasteful spending, missile defense hasn't really made an appearance. Obama has signaled that he might be open to placing a missile defense system in Poland, so it's not like the subject hasn't come up. For the GOP, wasteful spending means monitoring volcanoes so we're prepared for eruptions, not throwing money at stupid-expensive missile systems that may not actually work and have never been adequately tested. Bailing you out because you got suckered into a crap mortgage is "pork," while throwing billions at defense contractors for what amounts to a lucky charm is sound fiscal policy.

Starting to see how we got into this economic mess in the first place?

Since Obama's election, Bush loyalists have been quietly freaking out that he may not really be willing to waste money hand over fist on missile defense anymore. The military has never been very excited about missile defense (Pentagon officials refer to civilian MD advocates as "missile defense moonies"), so it's not like they see any worth to the systems. But those Bush loyalists sure do. And they've made repeated attempts to get you to panic at the thought of abandoning it.

[Wall Street Journal, "Obama and Missile Defense," former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, Nov. 2008:]

Freeing America from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty's antiquated constraints is rightly regarded as one of President Bush's most significant achievements. In 2001, we believed that the Russian strategic threat had eased. But the emerging threats from rogue states possessing a few nuclear-capable ballistic missiles required that we develop adequate defenses -- especially because many emerging nuclear-weapons states do not accept the same calculus of deterrence that maintained the Cold War's uneasy nuclear standoff. The demise of the ABM Treaty allows America to defend itself from these threats.

For a new Obama administration to retreat from this achievement, as many in the arms-control "community" have advocated, would be a significant step backward. His campaign position about deployment after the technology is "proved" is an excuse never to deploy missile defenses -- because nothing in the military field is ever conclusively proven for all time. Rebuffing [Polish President] Kaczynski is also precisely the wrong response to [Russian President] Medvedev's provocation. It will surely be read as weakness, and not only in Moscow. In fact, Moscow announced yesterday there would be no more missile-defense negotiations before Jan. 20.

Missile defense is only unproven because it can't be proven. It seems that firing a missile and knocking it down isn't proof -- mostly because our missile defense system can't do it. If it won't work in controlled situations, why assume it'll work in the field? The word for that is "faith." I'm not convinced we should be spending billions on faith-based weapons systems. And many in the know think Obama isn't either.

"I think it's on the back burner," James F. Collins, director of Russia studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former ambassador to Moscow, told FOX News earlier this month. "I read the Obama and other statements more or less as tentative about this system in the sense that they aren't going to put huge investment in it unless they can figure out it's going to work."

More recently, Obama himself gave missile defense moonies reason to worry. "In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them," the president said in his address to a joint session of congress this week. "We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use." That budget comes out today. Whether or not MD takes a hit remains to be seen.

But you'd hope that sanity will finally prevail. Missile defense is an idea that should be allowed to die. It's never worked, no one can explain how it's ever going to work, and it answers a threat that doesn't actually exist. What I said in 2006 is just as true today -- the only purpose of missile defense is to waste money.


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