It must be August. Yes, that’s got to be it. How else to explain the fact that Travis and I have once again taken the time to rebut another attack on President Obama’s missile defense policies so uncompelling it defies comprehension.
I jumped all over the missile defenses dissuade and work memes.
Missile defenses dissuade?
Berman and May argue that “a half-hearted missile defense effort” will encourage adversaries to pursue ballistic missile programs. Forget for a moment that the U.S. will continue to spend enormous amounts of money on missile defense under President Obama, as Travis notes below. Berman and May implicitly undermine this claim a mere two paragraphs after originally stating it. As they note, “During the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, the U.S. government made major investments in the types of technologies (space-based sensors, interceptors and propulsion) necessary to field a robust defense against foreign ballistic missile arsenals, irrespective of origin.”
Of course, these enormous investments have done absolutely nothing to prevent North Korea and Iran from continuing to pursue their ballistic missile programs. What’s more, most analysts agree that Russia and China’s modernization programs are motivated at least in part by concerns about U.S. missile defense programs, particularly those designed to counter long-range threats. According to the bipartisan Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, “China may be already increasing the size of its ICBM force in response to its assessment of the U.S. missile defense program.”
Thus, rather than dissuading adversaries from pursuing ballistic missile programs, missile defenses can encourage adversaries to research and develop ways to get around these defenses, such as by increasing the size of their ballistic missile forces and/or deploying decoys and countermeasures.
Though they do not explicitly say so, Berman and May imply that missile defenses add additional dissuasive effects beyond those already provided by the specter of U.S. nuclear retaliation. Such a view disregards both reason and the way rogue states actually think. The Arms Control Association’s Greg Theilmann captures it best in noting that:
Therefore, it is unlikely that the leaders of countries contemplating nuclear attacks against the United States would be dissuaded by the prospect that some of their missiles might be intercepted – as much as by the near certainty that neither they themselves nor their regimes would survive the retaliation for such an attack. As with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it is thus deterrence rather than missile defense that offers real security against missile attack.
Missile defenses work?
That advocates of missile defense continue to assert that “the capability to make Iranian, North Korean and other foreign missiles useless has already been developed and field-tested” is yet further evidence that for its most die-hard supporters, missile defense is a theology, not a technology.
Clearly the six Republicans on the Strategic Posture Commission were undermining U.S. security in pointing out that missile defenses designed to counter long-range threats have “demonstrated some capability against unsophisticated threats,” but “this…system is now incapable of defending against complex threats.”
Likewise, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense on testing of Department of Defense weapon systems, must be oblivious to how fool-proof our missile defenses have become, since he recently stated that:
[national missile defense] flight testing to date will not support a high level of confidence in its limited capabilities…additional test data under realistic test conditions is necessary to validate models and simulations and to increase confidence in the ability of these models and simulations to accurately predict system capability.
But wait, I can hear Berman and May yelling in between bites of their freedom fries. How can you argue on the one hand that national missile defenses actually encourage our adversaries to build more missiles and/or seek new ways to penetrate our missile defenses yet on the other hand state that said defenses don’t work? If our missile defenses won’t work, why should our adversaries be concerned?
While this rejoinder is not completely without merit, it is not convincing. For better or for worse, defense officials, whether they are American, Russian, or Chinese, generally think in terms of worst case scenarios. As Travis put it a little while back:
…it doesn’t matter if an ABM system realistically endangers a country’s nuclear retaliatory capability or not; the mere perception that any portion of a country’s arsenal may be rendered ineffective as a result of ABM emplacement will cause that country to freak out, and the natural policy response will be to augment offensive forces (due to the beauty of the cost-exchange ratio, etc.).