The Warrior Scholar

This is a blog about current events - a way to provide a constructive outlet for some of the thoughts I have on the issues of the day. It's also a way to generate some discussion and to get my ideas out into the world. Enjoy!

Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

I'm a doctoral candidate in Virginia, with a love of history and politics. My dog is a great companion, and my family always keeps me in good spirits.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Beginnings of Defense

The Democrats, led by Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Edwards, have charged that the Bush Administration has made the country "less secure" to potential nuclear threats. They claim that the war in Iraq is making us lose focus on both North Korea's and Iran's nuclear ambitions because we are not taking the lead. To quote:

Sen Edwards (Sep 29): "This president has basically ceded the responsibility for dealing with Iran to the Europeans and with the North Koreans to the Chinese – which is a huge mistake because they create such a threat to America that it creates a much more serious nuclear threat to America." Weren't the Democrats complaining that the United States was being too much of a bully and we should work multilaterally with other nations to resolve regional issues...even to the point of letting regional powers take the lead in addressing those problems? (Sorry - I couldn't pass up on that quote!)

Onward to what I really wanted to write about tonight - ballistic missile defense. The United States, for the first time since the end of World War, will have the beginnings of a national missile defense system becoming operational this fall. The first missiles designed to destroy incoming nuclear missiles from North Korea or other rogue nations were placed in silos in Alaska this summer. This fall, the radar system to track incoming missiles and destroy them will achieve initial operating capability. The President pledged in 2000 to field a basic defense for the United States, and he is doing it. The Washington Post wrote today that "doubts remain" about this system on many levels, and I think they should be addressed.

The basic issue is there are two positions on missile defense - either the concept that ballistic missile defense is fundimentally dangerous to the world because it upsets nuclear deterrence relationships, or that the lack of a nuclear missile defense is fundimentally morally indefensible because nuclear peace is based on holding each other's nation hostage to annihilation. Nuclear deterrence in the Cold War basically was built on the premise that the United States and Soviet Union would not go to war because both sides possessed nuclear arsenals that could destroy each other. Both would be deterred from high-risk adventures because both would have too much to lose. The implication of this relationship was that both superpowers had an equal interest in protecting their respective countries, and so would operate under the same risk-taking strategies.

The two arguements against missile defense are bipolar - either the system would work so well that nuclear deterrence will no longer work, or that it is a waste of money because it will never work. The arguement based on a highly effective ABM system follows: Ballistic missile defenses would remove some of the certainty of nuclear deterrence by potentially making one of the superpowers protected from "assured destruction". This uncertainty was why the United States and the Soviets signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. If deterrence no longer works, then the world is far more dangerous. The opposing view is that it is a waste of money to develop ABM because it will never work, or that nuclear weapons can be smuggled in other ways. This arguement is usually associated with people that want money spent on other "more pressing" domestic programs. The technical problem of hitting a missile with another missile has been solved, and the clandestine smuggling in of a nuclear weapon (other than being irrelevant to this discussion), is also being addressed by Homeland Security.

However, in 2002, the United States elected not to extend the ABM treaty because the world had changed. The United States and the Russians no longer target ballistic missiles at each other. Peace reigns between all the major powers in the world. However, there are some nations that seek to use nuclear weapons to "punch above their weight" such as North Korea and Iran. North Korea may have as many as ten nuclear weapons and is striving to develop long range missiles. While some critics may claim that the ABM system will "never work" or that fielding it will encourage the North Koreans to "build more"...both arguements are unfounded. The basic national ballistic missile defense system that is coming on line this fall will provide an element of protection against missiles being built by both the Iranians and the North Koreans, as well as possible accidental launches from China or Russia. There are problems with the system, and it is not fully fielded yet - but the idea that the United States for the very first time will have some way to protect itself against a tyrant like Kim Chong Il is comforting.

When North Korea develops missiles that can range the United States, that places us in an asymmetrical relationship. North Korea is working very hard to develop long range missiles to threaten the United States. The United States has much more to lose than North Korea does - that was not the case in the US-Soviet relationship. If North Korea tries to blackmail the United States and its allies with its nuclear capability, then something must be done about it. The fielding of our first national-level ballistic missile defense is a good first step toward actual protection for our cities against nuclear missile strikes.


Blogger FloridaMOM said...

This article is very enlightening. Publish it!

9:39 AM  
Blogger Liberally Conservative said...

How did I miss all of this and why has it not been brought out during election rhetoric? Thanks for you insight in this excellent blog.


9:11 AM  
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