In Name Only: Arms Control Experts Say Bush Administration's Missile Defense System Provides No Protection
For Immediate Release: Oct. 15, 2004
(Washington, D.C.): The general in charge of a rudimentary long-range missile defense system being deployed in Alaska suggested yesterday that it could be declared operational within six to eight weeks. Once the system's first six missile interceptors are up and running, Major General John W. Holly said America will be safer. But the unproven defense offers no reliable, useful shield against the threat it is designed to counter and is worthless in protecting Americans from more real dangers posed by terrorists and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, according to Arms Control Association (ACA) experts.
Even before the system is declared operational, the administration is hyping it. President George W. Bush recently exclaimed, "We want to continue to perfect this system, so we say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail America and the free world: you fire, we're going to shoot it down." The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly asserted, "it will mark the first time the United States has a capability to defend the entire country against a limited attack by a long-range ballistic missile."
"The gap between rhetoric and reality is enormous when it comes to the Bush administration's missile defense deployment," said ACA Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball. "The system's testing record falls far short the administration's misleading claims," he argued.
Prototype missile interceptors have only scored five successes in eight highly scripted and unrealistic intercept attempts. Since a failed December 2002 experiment, there has not been another live intercept test of the system. In all the tests, which were essentially repeats of one another, the target's launch time, trajectory, and physical characteristics were known in advance. This information would not be available in a real attack.
In addition, all the tests involved a slower-moving interceptor different from the version being deployed in Alaska. The model being embedded there has yet to be flight or intercept tested. Advanced radar and satellite capabilities intended to help the missile interceptor find the right target are still under development and will not be available for at least another year.
Describing the system as an "unproven work in progress," ACA Research Director Wade Boese stated, "The testing done to date has not demonstrated that the system can work consistently under tightly controlled conditions, let alone perform in the event of an actual attack."
"The last time the United States 'deployed' a strategic missile defense system in 1975, it was shut down as cost ineffective several months later. This should occur again since the current system being deployed is a huge waste of money with no technical credibility," advised John Rhinelander, a former State Department legal advisor and arms control negotiator. "Before rushing ahead, efforts should focus on rigorous testing if and when key components become available," he further recommended.
But the Bush administration appears more interested in pushing forward with ambitious deployment plans than seeing if the system will actually work. It intends to field four missile interceptors in California and add 10 more in Alaska by the end of next year. The Pentagon has already secured funding for an additional 10 interceptors and is exploring a potential European missile defense site for another 10. More dubious longer-term plans envision planes armed with lasers and possible space-based weapons.
Kimball declared, "The strategic missile defense program puts politics ahead of sound security strategy." He added, "Rather than sinking billions into an unworkable missile defense, the United States should be working with much greater vigor to reinforce its first line of defense to prevent nuclear and ballistic missile dangers before they emerge. A short list of effective actions include tightening export controls to impede the development of long-range ballistic missiles, bolstering port security, and accelerating programs to secure and eliminate nuclear weapons and materials in Russia and other former Soviet states that terrorists or hostile regimes could get their hands on."
The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that an attacker would more likely use means other than a ballistic missile to strike the United States, such as smuggling a weapon inside a ship, because the alternatives would be easier to acquire, more reliable, more accurate, less costly, and offer greater anonymity.
For a more thorough analysis of the missile defense system's rudimentary nature and limited testing record, see the September 2004 Arms Control Today news analysis, "Missile Defense: Deploying a Work in Progress," at <http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_09/Missile_Defense.asp>.
For a breakdown of the status of each of the Bush administration's missile defense programs, see the Association's latest fact sheet, "U.S. Missile Defense Programs At a Glance," at <http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/usmissiledefense.pdf>.
For a recent Op-Ed piece on the potential dangers of deploying an unproven and partial missile defense system, see "Today's Missile Defense: Worse Than Nothing?" published September 27, 2004 by Defense News, which is available at <http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2004/20041015_DefenseNews.asp>.
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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.
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