More Collateral Damage from Missile Defense

U.S.-Russian negotiations on strategic arms reductions have demonstrated time and again that U.S. missile defense plans are an obstacle to negotiating lower levels of offensive nuclear forces.  Security experts have been providing more reminders lately that in attempting to treat the effects of ballistic missile proliferation, missile defense programs are also having a counterproductive effect on the causes of ballistic missile proliferation.

One of the shibboleths characteristic of most missile defense advocates is their faith-based assertion that missile defenses discourage proliferators from building ballistic missiles.  Neither the complete lack of evidence in support of this theory nor the extensive contradictory evidence available seems to have had a very significant effect on the public discourse.

It is nonetheless important to register expert opinion on the subject when it is rendered.  At a Monterrey Institute of International Studies event in Washington September 13, we heard from Joshua Pollack, SAIC Senior Policy Analysis, on his study of North Korea’s ballistic missile sales.  Both he and panel participant Dennis Gormley from the University of Pittsburgh, agreed that U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts are stimulating rather than discouraging ballistic missile proliferation.

Yousaf Butt, consultant to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), wrote in The New York Times September 20, that part of the “central conundrum of midcourse missile defense” was that it “creates incentives for [U.S.] adversaries and competitors to increase their missile stockpiles.” Butt and MIT’s Theodore Postol elaborated on Russia’s (and China’s) concerns about NATO missile defenses in a FAS Special Report released this month.  Their blunt conclusion: “[M]idcourse missile defense is, and will be, an empirical failure at dissuading countries of concern to the United States from pursuing ballistic missile programs…”

A recent study of bilateral missile defense cooperation and MTCR compliance by Tong Zhao and Li Bin  judged that U.S. help with Israel’s Arrow 2 and Japan’s SM-3 IIA missile defense interceptors constituted blatant violations of the MTCR’s ban on Category I transfers.  The authors implied that such open U.S. tolerance of missile and technology proliferation by those countries considered allies undermines the willingness of countries like China to constrain missile defense cooperation with partners like Pakistan.

That neither Israel nor India are signatories of the NPT or members of the MTCR appears not to damper U.S. enthusiasm for missile defense cooperation, proliferating sensitive missile technology to both.

NATO Leaders at the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon

Similarly, the logic behind NATO’s 2010 Lisbon Declaration calling for development of a territorial missile defense in Europe not only encourages the spread of MTCR Category I and II ballistic missile technology inside the alliance, but increases the chance that national holders of the technology will later seek to benefit commercially from its further spread.  Indeed, according to The Diplomat, a Tokyo-based magazine covering Asia and the Pacific, NATO has joined Israel in its willingness to sell missile defense technology to India. The negative secondary effects of such sales on efforts to discourage a build-up of Pakistani and Chinese missile arsenals are as obvious as they are unacknowledged.

There is no doubt that some benefits accrue from developing and deploying missile defenses – whether it is to provide potential damage limitation in the event of an actual missile attack, political reassurance to U.S. allies and friends in Europe and Asia, or high-tech jobs for domestic constituents.  There is at least a lawyer’s argument that missile defense programs are worth their high price tag for these reasons. However, the collateral damage to U.S. objectives in other areas is extensive and must also be acknowledged and weighed.   In the area of nonproliferation as in the area of arms control, missile defenses are clearly on the negative side of the ledger.

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1 Response to More Collateral Damage from Missile Defense

  1. yousaf says:

    thanks — you make an excellent point. And folks certainly do not need to take my or Joshua’s word on this: the Bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission quite clearly stated that “China may already be increasing the size of its ICBM force in response to its assessment of the U.S. missile defense program.” And if China does that in earnest, India (and then Pakistan) will follow.

    I addressed some of the mythology of missile defense being a deterrent in an article for the Bulletin:

    quote: “It’s often incorrectly asserted that missile defenses dissuade adversaries from researching and producing ballistic missiles. For instance, the BMDR report states: “The United States, with the support of allies and partners, seeks to create an environment in which the acquisition, deployment, and use of ballistic missiles by regional adversaries can be deterred, principally by eliminating their confidence in the effectiveness of such attacks, and thereby devaluing their ballistic missile arsenals.”

    But the countries developing ballistic missile technology do so for numerous reasons, not just to launch nuclear attacks against the United States. Many countries desire conventional ballistic missile technology for prestige or because of regional considerations. Whether or not a U.S. missile defense system is operational, such nations will still try to acquire ballistic missile technology. In fact, the countries of most interest to the United States–Iran and North Korea–currently have well-developed ballistic missile programs. The BMDR’s claims of an already-functioning missile defense shield obviously haven’t diminished their ballistic ardor.

    Furthermore, space-launch technology and ICBM technology are identical, and U.S. missile defenses are unlikely to dissuade an adversary from pursuing a space-launch capability. So missile defense has been, is, and will be, an empirical failure at dissuading countries of concern to the United States from pursuing ballistic missile programs.”

    Note that while the SM-3 BMD interceptors could be outfoxed by countermeasures and decoys, they would be potent Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Block II SM-3s could hold almost all satellites in LEO at risk due to their high burnout speed (which translates to a maximum altitudes in excess of 1000 km). They would be impotent missile interceptors but potent ASATs. Thus, they will also worsen prospects for planned space security initiatives.

    You may be interested to know that (then Senator) Biden also concurred with our views on missile defense:

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