Greg Thielmann has produced an excellent Threat Assessment Brief on strategic (i.e. long-range) missile defense.
Thielmann recently joined the Arms Control Association as a Senior Fellow and heads its new “Realistic Threat Assessments and Responses Project”. Prior to joining ACA, Thielmann most recently served as a senior professional staffer of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
Thielmann’s Brief makes five key points:
1. Advances in both offensive and defensive technologies have not significantly altered the cost-exchange advantages held by strategic offensive forces.
2. Just as the U.S. Safeguard anti-ballistic missile system fell victim to cost-effectiveness criteria and competing priorities in the mid-1970s, the new U.S. administration is shifting
resources away from strategic missile defense programs. As traditional acquisition rules and operational test requirements are restored to strategic defense program management, this trend is likely to continue.
3. The target of U.S. strategic ballistic missile defense efforts has shifted radically from Russia and China in the 1970s to North Korea and Iran today. But contrary to the claims of some, strategic missile defense efforts offer no disincentives to missile development by Pyongyang and Tehran.
4. Moreover, U.S. strategic missile defenses cannot mitigate the new threats from terrorist groups and are likely to continue spurring quantitative and/or qualitative improvements in the offensive ballistic missile forces of Russia and China.
5. The rationales for, and capabilities of, current strategic missile defenses are not as advertised.
I particularly enjoyed Thielmann’s take on the oft-heard claim that missile defense buttresses deterrence. As he notes, “If states are deterred from contemplating use of their missiles, it is, as before, because of the near certainty of U.S. military retaliation, not the possibility of missile interception.”
Thielmann’s Brief serves as a useful rejoinder to the many myths peddled by missile defense advocates (see, for example, this recent Op-Trash by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen; Thielmann’s letter to the editor in response can be found here).