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Our missile defense system is seen as an expensive bluff

COMMENTARY | July 12, 2006

Which is Bush’s position: A)Our missile defense system can now defend the U.S., or B)It’s too new to predict success, or C)It has a reasonable chance of knocking out anything North Korea shoots at us? If you chose all three you would be correct; those are the answers Bush gave on July 6 and 7. And if you said the system flat out doesn’t work, you’d also be correct.

By Philip E. Coyle

The stand-off between North Korea and the United States is like a game of celebrity poker where both sides are bluffing. North Korea doesn't have a missile that can reach the U.S., and the U.S. doesn't have a missile defense system that we could rely on to shoot it down, if it did.

In an interview taped at the White House on July 6, President and Mrs. Bush appeared on "Larry King Live" on CNN.

At one point Larry King asked the President what would we do if North Korea launched a missile at the US.

Suggesting we had a missile defense system that could shoot it down, the President replied, "If it headed to the United States we've got a missile defense system that will defend our country."

Later someone must have told the President that our ground-based system in Alaska has no demonstrated capability to defend the U.S. against an enemy attack under realistic operational conditions. The very next day at his news conference in Chicago, the President was asked the question again. Here's the exchange that took place:

Q: Yesterday, you said you did not know the trajectory of the long-range missile. Can you now tell us where was it headed? And if it were headed – if it had been headed at the United States – how would our national ballistic missile system have taken it down?

BUSH:  "You know, our missile systems are modest. Our anti-ballistic systems are modest. They're new. They're – it’s new research. We've got – testing them. And so it's hard for me to give you a probability of success. But, nevertheless, the fact that a non-transparent society would be willing to tee up a rocket and fire it without identifying where it was going or what was on it means we need a ballistic missile system.

So that's about all I can tell you on that. Obviously, it wasn't a satisfactory answer."

But in a follow up answer the President added, "Yes, I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting it down. At least that's what the military commanders told me."

Oops. Looks like someone needs to advise the President again – or at least his military commanders – to be more circumspect. The ground-based system hasn't had a successful flight intercept test in four years. In the two most recent attempts, the interceptor never got off the ground and failed to leave its silo. And in the only other recent attempt, the kill vehicle - the pointy-end of the interceptor - failed to separate from its booster and missed its target.

A question the press might ask President Bush is, "So long as you resist face-to-face meetings with North Korea, aren't you just giving them more time to develop a missile that can reach the U.S.?"

Or to put it differently, "Mr. President, which do you think will take longer: North Korea to develop a missile that can reach the U.S.? Or the U.S. to develop a missile defense we can rely on?"

The answer, whether the President might give it or not, lies in the fact that the U.S. has been trying to develop a reliable missile defense system for over 45 years. For over 45 years the question has been, "Is missile defense a strategic option on which we can depend?" And after 45 years of trying the answer is still, "No."

It's natural for Americans to want to rely on high technology as a silver bullet so we can avoid dealing with our problems in other ways. But sometimes the technology just isn't there. Playing poker with North Korea while they keep moving ahead with their missile development is a bluff we can't afford much longer.

[Click here for an earlier report by Philip E. Coyle. In it he noted that the U.S. has been spending $10 billion a year on missile defense and urged a more vigorous national debate on what he called a “problematic, expensive and potentially destabilizing system.”]

Posted by Jacob Sweat -
07/13/2006, 09:43 AM

I find that you like to show the bad side of all the weapons systems. To call the missile defense system a black hole in the defense budget, while it does cost a lot of money, it is the best option we have right now. The only thing that can shoot down an ICBM after it is launched is another missile that is sbout as big. While it isn't the most cost effective option, it has about a 50% success rate. Besides, the original missle defense system was designed to make the Soviets think we could shoot their missles down. There was no way we could have shot them down even if the system worked at 100% because there were just to many missiles for the system to handle. We would have run out of missles to shoot at their missiles before they ran out of missiles to shoot at us. Besides, we still have nuclear weapons that can be launched against an enemy in a matter of minutes. No one is that stupid. Plus, If someone did shoot at us, the world would know it before the missile hit. Not even N. Korea is stupid enough to want to get wiped off the map.

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