Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Thought on Missle Defense: Invest Elsewhere

I was surprised today that President Bush won critical European support for the missile defense system his administration has championed.

The more I think about our list of national security concerns, the further investing in the missile defense falls on my priority list.

Here's why:

Even the greatest proponents of our missile defense systems admit that no foreseeable system could shield us from a Russian or Chinese attack. They simply have too many missiles. At best it does nothing and at worst it compels them to build more missiles.

Knowing this, advocates of this system claim that the shield is intended to protect America and Europe from the technologically more modest but seemingly more reckless Iran and/or North Korea.

In theory, these two states could at some point in the future attack a member of NATO with a long range missile. But the likelihood of that is so absurdly low that I must ask why we are investing tens or (more likely) hundreds of billions of dollars to address it??

The launch of a large missile against another country is pretty much the most blatant surprise act of war a nation can commit against another. As offensive and blustery as the Iranian and North Korean leadership typically are, they consistently demonstrate enough sanity to ensure that they do not destroy themselves. For all their arrogance, the leaders of these countries do know that attacking NATO in such a manner would - with 100% certainty - ensure their personal destruction.

One may doubt the effectiveness of such a deterrent in the case of a theocratic Iran. We do not really know how the Supreme Ayatollah thinks at the end of the day. But 30 years of theocratic rule in that country demonstrate a clear history of shadowy aggression meant to further their interests while not provoking (or politically enabling) a catastrophic retaliation by their enemies.

In my judgement, these people may regularly demonstrate a zeal that some may call "crazy" but there is a ton of evidence that they are not suicidally stupid.

Let's consider the threat of a non-government actor such as a terrorist group. We should ask how and why they would commandeer and successfully aim and launch such a weapon. There are a vast range of options to do as much damage in a far easier manner. We've seen countless examples and our best analysts have predicted many more.

In my opinion, it is those risks that we should prioritize - and this is my major argument against missile defense: its opportunity cost.

Why not instead bolster the security in our ports? Why not instead increase our resources dedicated to securing Soviet nuclear material? Why not instead take the politically popular step of securing our borders (both north AND south)? Why not instead provide the first drops of security on our nation's trains and subways - targets that have already been established as terrorist favorites (in London and Madrid).

Let me clear that my argument is NOT asking you to believe that North Korea, Iran or some other internal rogue/terrorist element does not want or will not try to attack American and/or NATO interests at some point in the future.

All I am saying is that they will almost certainly NOT do it via a huge missile.

Despite our tremendous military capabilities, we still have shocking vulnerabilities.

We should have a more sensible list of priorities and address them accordingly.

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