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National Missile Defense: Examining the Options, Cato Policy Analysis No. 337

National Missile Defense: Examining the Options, Cato Policy Analysis No. 337

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Published by Cato Institute
Executive Summary

To date, the debate surrounding national missile defense (NMD) has been dominated by political rhetoric. Supporters (usually conservatives) often paint a "doom-and-gloom" picture, pointing out that the United States is vulnerable to an attack by ballistic missiles. Critics (usually liberals) defend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as the cornerstone of deterrence and stability and argue that any defensive deployment would upset the balance between the offensive strategic nuclear forces of the United States and Russia.





Opponents of NMD, who use the ABM treaty as an argument not to deploy a defense, need to acknowledge that the threat of attack by long-range ballistic missiles from rogue states may become real. They also need to recognize that the United States can build a limited NMD without disrupting the strategic nuclear balance. Supporters of NMD need to acknowledge that NMD is not a panacea for the full spectrum of threats from rogue states -- that long-range ballistic missiles are only one of the options available to those states to strike America. NMD will not provide protection against shorter-range ballistic missiles launched from ships, cruise missiles launched from aircraft or ships, or terrorist attacks. Supporters also need to recognize the daunting technological challenge that NMD poses.





A limited NMD, which would afford the United States protection against long-range ballistic missile threats from rogue states, is feasible and probably can be deployed at a reasonable cost. The elements of the Clinton administration's NMD program can provide such a capability. The debate should not be whether or not to deploy defenses. It should be about the nature and capabilities of a limited NMD system that would accomplish cost-effectively the mission of protecting the nation against threats from rogue states.





No matter what the threat, however, the development of an NMD system should proceed at a measured pace because an excessively rapid development program could waste taxpayer dollars on an ineffective system.
Executive Summary

To date, the debate surrounding national missile defense (NMD) has been dominated by political rhetoric. Supporters (usually conservatives) often paint a "doom-and-gloom" picture, pointing out that the United States is vulnerable to an attack by ballistic missiles. Critics (usually liberals) defend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as the cornerstone of deterrence and stability and argue that any defensive deployment would upset the balance between the offensive strategic nuclear forces of the United States and Russia.





Opponents of NMD, who use the ABM treaty as an argument not to deploy a defense, need to acknowledge that the threat of attack by long-range ballistic missiles from rogue states may become real. They also need to recognize that the United States can build a limited NMD without disrupting the strategic nuclear balance. Supporters of NMD need to acknowledge that NMD is not a panacea for the full spectrum of threats from rogue states -- that long-range ballistic missiles are only one of the options available to those states to strike America. NMD will not provide protection against shorter-range ballistic missiles launched from ships, cruise missiles launched from aircraft or ships, or terrorist attacks. Supporters also need to recognize the daunting technological challenge that NMD poses.





A limited NMD, which would afford the United States protection against long-range ballistic missile threats from rogue states, is feasible and probably can be deployed at a reasonable cost. The elements of the Clinton administration's NMD program can provide such a capability. The debate should not be whether or not to deploy defenses. It should be about the nature and capabilities of a limited NMD system that would accomplish cost-effectively the mission of protecting the nation against threats from rogue states.





No matter what the threat, however, the development of an NMD system should proceed at a measured pace because an excessively rapid development program could waste taxpayer dollars on an ineffective system.

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Published by: Cato Institute on Mar 26, 2009
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To date, the debate surrounding national mis-sile defense (NMD) has been dominated by polit-ical rhetoric. Supporters (usually conservatives)often paint a “doom-and-gloom” picture, point-ing out that the United States is vulnerable to anattack by ballistic missiles. Critics (usually liber-als) defend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as thecornerstone of deterrence and stability and arguethat any defensive deployment would upset thebalance between the offensive strategic nuclearforces of the United States and Russia.Opponents of NMD, who use the ABM treatyas an argument not to deploy a defense, need toacknowledge that the threat of attack by long-range ballistic missiles from rogue states maybecome real. They also need to recognize that theUnited States can build a limited NMD withoutdisrupting the strategic nuclear balance.Supporters of NMD need to acknowledge thatNMD is not a panacea for the full spectrum of threats from rogue states—that long-range ballis-tic missiles are only one of the options availableto those states to strike America. NMD will notprovide protection against shorter-range ballisticmissiles launched from ships, cruise missileslaunched from aircraft or ships, or terroristattacks. Supporters also need to recognize thedaunting technological challenge that NMDposes.A limited NMD, which would afford theUnited States protection against long-range bal-listic missile threats from rogue states, is feasibleand probably can be deployed at a reasonablecost. The elements of the Clinton administra-tions NMD program can provide such a capabil-ity. The debate should not be whether or not todeploy defenses. It should be about the natureand capabilities of a limited NMD system thatwould accomplish cost-effectively the mission of protecting the nation against threats from roguestates.No matter what the threat, however, the devel-opment of an NMD system should proceed at ameasured pace because an excessively rapid devel-opment program could waste taxpayer dollars onan ineffective system.
 NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE 
 Examining the Options
by Charles V. Peña and Barbara Conry
 ____________________________________________________________________________________
Charles V. Peña is an independent consultant on missile defense and Barbara Conry is an associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
Executive Summary
No. 337March 16, 1999
 
Introduction
My fellow Americans, tonight we’relaunching an effort which holds thepromise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks,and results take time. But I believe wecan do it. As we cross this threshold, Iask for your prayers and your sup-port.Ronald ReaganAddress to the NationMarch 23, 1983Ronald Reagan’s introduction of theStrategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983sparked tremendous controversy. Althoughthe national missile defense (NMD) programbeing considered today bears little resem-blance to Reagan’s “Star Wars” program—which sought to defend against a full-scaleSoviet nuclear attack—the tenor of the debateis relatively unchanged 16 years later. Missiledefense remains a contentious issue, withadvocates and detractors so passionate intheir convictions that NMD sometimes re-sembles a theological, rather than a publicpolicy, issue. Unfortunately, devout ideo-logues on both sides of the issue often sacri-fice reasoned dialogue in favor of dema-goguery.Proponents of missile defense, especiallyconservative activists, often portray NMD as abenchmark issue separating politicians whoare serious about safeguarding U.S. nationalsecurity from those who would undermine it.Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), for example,said of President Clinton: “We have a presi-dent that vetoed the DoD authorization billbecause he doesn’t want to spend moremoney on defending America against ballisticmissile attack. And now you can come to onlyone conclusion. . . . We need a new president.”
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Proponents of missile defense often painta “doom-and-gloom” picture of the sit-uation. According to Republican NationalCommittee Chairman Jim Nicholson, nothaving the ability to defend against a missileattack could become the “most important[security] issue of the 2000 election . . . I dontthink people in the country fully realize theenormity of the threat we’re facing.”
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Radioads in Nevada paid for by Empower America,to garner support for legislation to deploy anational missile defense as soon as possible,are another example: “We are only one voteshy of ensuring the safety of you and yourfamily. But the people standing in the way areNevada’s own senators,” according toRepublican stalwarts William Bennett andJack Kemp.
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Since the inception of the SDI program,the United States has spent at least $45 billionover a 15-year period to develop a nationalmissile defense system. Although the efforthas yet to be successful, supporters believethat it is simply a question of money andpolitical will. According to Senator ThadCochran (R-Miss.), there has been no com-mitment from the White House and thus:“Theres been no real incentive to push ahead,to use all the assets, resources and technologyavailable.”
4
Opponents of missile defense, on the otherhand, depict NMD as an outrageously expen-sive boondoggle that may destabilizethe strategic nuclear balance. An
 AtlantaConstitution
editorial posed the question:“Why waste billions on a system that will notwork, to defend against a threat that does notexist?”
5
The
Oregon Statesman-Journal
hasbeen even more caustic: “Some members of Congress apparently see outer space as a black hole, to be filled with your tax dollars.”
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Why such ire on both sides of the issue?First, NMDlike SDI before ithas becomesomething of a political and ideological lit-mus test. Virtually all conservatives supportNMD and virtually all liberals oppose it.
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Second, even though NMD differs greatlyfrom Reagan’s original SDI proposal, manyopponents of NMD intentionally blur the
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NMD sometimesresembles a theo-logical, ratherthan a publicpolicy, issue.
 
distinctions between the two. The followingcomments by former Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill.) are typical of the refusal of most liberals toacknowledge that NMD and SDI are two dif-ferent things:The President and Congress . . . oughtto acknowledge that SDI by anyname remains nothing more than a1990s version of the old FrenchMaginot Line. The Maginot Line did-n’t work in World War II, and StarWars can’t work today, for reasonsmade clear over the past 10 years of congressional and public debate.Sadly, we are visiting an issue nowthat should have gone away in thelate 1980s.
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The refusal of liberals to examine NMDon its own merits instead of on the merits of SDI is not conducive to constructive debate.Nor is the tendency of conservatives to auto-matically dismiss opposition to NMD as a sig-nal of weakness on defense or as evidence of unfitness for public office.Before rushing into a policy decision onwhether the United States should acquire anddeploy an NMD system, ideology and theolo-gy should be set aside to ask a few importantand fundamental questions:1. Against what threat is defenseneeded?2. What are the defense objectives?3. Is an effective NMD technicallyfeasible?4. What is the cost of an NMD sys-tem?
ABM Treaty Considerations
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to NMD isthe Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.Almost by definition, any NMD systemwould be a violation of the ABM treaty. Thetreaty specifically prohibits a system thatcould defend the national territory of a signa-tory, which is the purpose of NMD.Conversely, a system that is compliant withthe treaty has essentially no value for NMDbecause it would provide only a limited capa-bility to defend a specific area. That is, anABM-compliant missile system (not nowdeployed) could have protected only one U.S.site—the intercontinental ballistic missile(ICBM) installations at Grand Forks, NorthDakota—leaving the rest of the countryunprotected.
Does the ABM Treaty Serve AmericanInterests?
Supporters of the ABM treaty argue thatwithdrawal would undermine the stability of the nuclear balance between Russia and theUnited States. They argue that the deploy-ment of defenses against ballistic missilescould make the nuclear superpowers uneasythat their offensive nuclear deterrents (onenuclear superpower would be deterred fromlaunching an offensive nuclear attack by theoffensive nuclear forces of the other super-power) would be compromised, and that thisunease could result in an offensive arms raceto offset the new defenses. John Pike of theFederation of American Scientists makes thefollowing argument:Unfortunately, we’re still stuck in aMAD [mutual assured destruction]world with the Russians. . . . There area lot of people at Strategic Commandwho continue to believe that we needto have about 3,000 warheads to keepRussia in a deterred frame of mind.There are clearly a lot of their coun-terparts in Moscow who feel that theystill need to have a very robust lay-down with high damage expectancieson a lot of targets in order to be ableto sleep well at night. . . . As a result,we continue to be in a condition of 
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The United Statescan build a limit-ed NMD withoutdisrupting thenuclear balance.

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