Missile Defense

Nuclear disarmament is the college debate topic this year, so happily I’m paying closer attention to nukes than to, say, taxpayer-funded prostitution rings. The latest development is fairly straightforward: Obama plans to disassemble a radar station in the Czech Republic and an interceptor launch station in Poland. Predictably enough, mainstream conservatives are infuriated: it takes Niles Gardiner all of four paragraphs to label this move “appeasement.” For a more measured view, I recommend this Peter Scoblic post from a few months back (emphasis mine):

Everything we learned during the cold war demonstrates that there is no such thing as strategic decisiveness when it comes to nuclear weapons–there is balance; and there is danger. If we were ever to build missile defenses that actually threatened Russia’s deterrent capability–say, by deploying a system with hundreds, instead of tens, of interceptors–Russia would simply build more nuclear weapons. If we tried to counter that increase with more defenses, Russia would counter with more offenses. And even if we “got ahead” in this offense-defense race, there would never be a point at which we had a 100 percent effective defense, meaning that if there were a nuclear exchange, the United States would quickly cease to be. Defenses would never be strategically decisive, but it’s always possible that Russia might fear they were–which would just destabilize our relationship. Does this sound familiar? It was exactly the problem we faced during the cold war, and frankly I’m not sure why we should have the discussion again.

Now, there is a case for a limited missile defense to counter a potential missile threat from North Korea, which is why we’ve already deployed a couple dozen interceptors in California and Alaska. (Unfortunately, Krauthammer is stretching things when he says we can “reliably” shoot down an ICBM. In fact, the boosters on the interceptors to be deployed in Eastern Europe have never been tested.) But there is also a case for securing Russian cooperation to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear and missile programs: Wouldn’t we prefer to prevent a nuclear warhead from being built than to try to stop it outside the atmosphere when it was a mere 15 minutes from striking the United States or Europe? In fact, we need Russian cooperation on other vital nuclear issues, including North Korea’s atomic weapons program and the persistent problem of loose fissile material in the former Soviet states. We can’t do away with the offense-defense linkage-but, even if we could, why would we want to? If slowing deployment of the Polish and Czech systems buys us greater cooperation on Iran or North Korea or loose nukes, it’d be well worth it.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Mitt Romney emerges from the shadows to prove once again that his ability to mindlessly recite Republican talking points is basically unmatched. Having her crown snatched away by Massachusetts’ favored automaton son must sting, however, so I anticipate a quick Facebook response from Sarah Palin, who will undoubtedly compare getting rid of an ineffective, counterproductive system to Munich, 1938. Credit National Review with publishing this succinct defense of Obama’s decision to remove the interceptors, though.

Thinking more on the decision, I’m fairly surprised that this Administration decided to risk any political capital at all to get rid of our interceptor sites in Eastern Europe. Regardless of the merits of missile defense, removing a program that purports to protect the United States and its allies from a nuclear attack is always going to be unpopular, particularly when the counter-arguments are nuanced and fairly difficult to explain. I don’t understand the political logic of this move, but it’s a good decision on the merits and Obama deserves credit for for going through with it.

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22 thoughts on “Missile Defense

  1. Missle defense is a crock in my eyes. True there is a minor arguement to be made about crackpot states like North Korea though I’ve never read anything that convinces me that Kim Jong Il is batshit crazy enough to actually lob a nuke tipped missle at anyone. The only groups internationally who actually -would- detonate a nuke if they had one would sure as hell not be delivering one by missle. They’d be delivering it by brain-washed pakistanii peasant in a pickup truck across the mexican border or in a tramp freighter into New York or Los Angeles harbor. Unless our missle tech can detect and intercept religious dingbatter it’s a big expensive useless destabalizing piece of corporate wellfare. Means-test the Nork part and scrap the rest and divert the funds to Medicare or something.

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    • 1.) Rationality will not save us – so the threat that Kim Jong Il poses is less contingent on his sanity/not sanity than might be evident at first glance.

      2.) From the BBC profile: Kim Jong Il: Master or Moron

      But analysts are undecided whether his eccentricities mask the cunning mind of a master manipulator or betray an irrational madman.

      He is said to have a library of 20,000 Hollywood movies and to have even written a book on the cinema. He even went so far as to engineer the kidnapping, in 1978, of a South Korean film director and his girlfriend.

      As head of North Korea’s special forces for much of the 70s and 80s, he has been linked by defectors to international terrorist activities, including the 1986 bombing of a Korean Airlines jet in which 115 people died. ”

      I’m a fan of cinema too but I think engineering the kidnapping Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh so they could make home movies in my garage would earn me a one-way ticket to a batshit crazy moniker.

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    • Also should be mentioned that the technical practicality of missile defense is, um, low. Quite a few scandals about how the supposed “passing of test X” was a) rigged, b) set at a much lower bar than would happen in reality, or c) failures simply ignored.

      Missile defense is mainly corporate military welfare for US companies with their snouts in the government funding trough.

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  2. It was never, really, about defense from missiles.

    It was about aid-that-isn’t-really-aid to a couple of countries that demonstrated loyalty at a time when NATO seemed to be more interested in discussing “root causes”.

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    • Fair point, except I’d add that those were bones President Bush threw to Eastern European politicians that backed him at rather great political costs to themselves. Bones which are now less necessary as people, particularly Europeans, actually like President Obama so he can probably get away with not throwing in a free toaster missile defence system with an open-ended commitment to keeping the peace in the middle of dusty nowhere.

      Will, I’d even go so far as to speculate that the President’s hoping to pick up a few bonus points in Europe that he can cash in on one of his two big Euro-American ventures: Afghanistan and the future of international finance. On both of those if he can walk away with any more support from Europe for whatever the Americans want, that’ll be a.) good and b.) translate into domestic political momentum. If it doesn’t work out, at least now the Russians are less annoyed.

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  3. Even the French now acknowledge that Iran wants a bomb and Obama refuses to protect the US. Is Obama really so naive that he thinks he can get the Russians to bear any pressure on Iran? If Obama really wants Russia to like us, he should invite them back into Eastern Europe.

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    • Oh come on Scott, you can’t honestly believe that. Even if the Mullahs of Iran actually got a bomb surely you don’t think they’d nuke us using a missle? How exactly is missle defense going to stop a wild eyed Abdulla in his second hand K-car from putting into Dallas and blowing the whole burb to kingdom come? It’d be a hell of a lot cheeper and that way they’d be able to plausibly deny it.

      Missle defense is corporate wellfare to Lockheed et all and yes, a bit of candy for the state department to hand out to some eastern bloc nations. It’s an unnecessart goad and a white elephant and we’re better off done with it. Let Hill pay off the Ukranians with cash.

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      • I don’t know what the Iranians might or might not do and you don’t actually know either. I don’t know what the sane driver next to me on the road might do either but I still want car insurance. But since Obama won’t secure the boarder, I guess the K-car is viable threat as well.

        Even if not not viable is it really a good idea to look weak to the Russians given that they have been asserting themselves recently?

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        • I know that even Shiite Mullahs are cheap and so the idea of spending 100k to smuggle a bomb to the US is a lot cheaper than spending 100 million to develope a ballistic missle that can reach us. It’s called common sense and the conservatives used to claim to be the party of it. Now of course there is no way of knowing for 100% certainty that the mullahs would not strap their expensive hard to get warhead to a (currently assuredly nonexistent) missile capable of reaching us. So I imagine you and I will have to agree to disagree. I also think it’s unlikely that they would try and catapult the warhead to us but I gather you’d also be in favor of a multi billion dollar catapult shield. Or, Iran has a coast, perhaps they’d swim the warhead to us on islamic jihad dolphins so perhaps we need to sink a few billion into dolphin outreach.

          As for the Russians, there is no one (especially not the Russians) who think that they are even remotely in the same world of military power as the United States. We’re long long past the days when looking weak to the Russians was a problem militarily (if those days ever did exist).

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          • You inane arguments about dolphins aside, you can’t deny that Iran is building a nuke and is trying to develop a missile to deliver it. The US can either ignore the threat or at least try and protect ourselves.

            It isn’t about military parity with the Russians. The Russians are determined to increase their sphere of influence as was seen in their attack on Georgia. They see East Europe as theirs and Obama is encouraging them.

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            • I can’t deny that Iran is building a nuke nor do I. Whether they’d be mad enough to use one if another matter but that’s an arguement for another day. My point remains that a missile defense shield is expensive and causes unnecessary friction with our neighbors and that its’ only benefit; a shield against missile carried weapons could be bypassed extremely easily using only a fraction of the resources it would take to build a missile in the first place. The costs of this white elephant are massively higher than their benefits so I think that Obama is right in axing it.

              Now, in case you haven’t noticed, East Europe is right next door to Russia so the Russians are probably well within their rights to be torced that we’re messing around in there. I seem to recall the US getting mightily exercised when the Russians started fiddling around in Cuba… oh stationing missiles there in fact. Go fig. Now obviously the East Europeans are independant and are allowed to be so but noone thinks the Russians are going to roll back in there millitarily, especially not the Russians. So of what use is this posturing arguement? It was barely plausible in the 60’s, let alone now. Putin could cause more damage to East Europe with his hand on the oil switch than he could with every tank in Russia.

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              • So we should just throw our hands on in the air in resignation that trying to protect ourselves is too expensive? We will never have a viable missile defense system if we give up on trying to create one. There was no friction with the Poles or Czechs as they agreed to host our system. Funny, only the Russians took offense.

                It is very ironic that Obama’s white flag comes on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. I’m sure some naive Georgians thought that Russians tanks would roll back in their either. Trying to compare a missile defense system with the offensive missiles in Cuba is pathetic.

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  4. My God man, listen to yourself. Did you just teleport in from 1980? The -Russians- (Not the Soviets, they went out in the 90’s) don’t care about invading the Ukraine or Poland. They sure as hell didn’t want to invade Georgia which probably explains why they left after they rolled in in the first place. Do you honestly think they care a whit about whether we look strong or not?

    The only thing Putin wants to do is maintain his own power and fatten his swiss bank accounts. He does the former by satisfying Russian Nationalist sentiments and Russian Nationalists don’t like seeing America putzing around in their Mexico (which like it or not the Eastern Europeans are). Russians don’t want to build a world wide empire. They’re more interested in peddling oil, arms, influence and drinking themselves to death (oh and trying to figure out how to keep the Chinese south of the border in the Russian far East.)

    We sure hate it when the Russians putz around in Latin America don’t we? Calling our missiles defensive is utterly pointless. Our defense is their offense. It’s spending a retarded amount of money to piss off a mercenary (elected) government to fight against missiles that are phantoms now and will be redundant later. It’s rediculous. If you want to fight soviet russia go out and buy Code Red. There are codes you can put in that’ll let you win every time and best of all you’ll be doing it on your own dime.

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    • Actually, over a year later, the Russians are still in Georgia. (Reuters) Moreover, they’ve inked a deal with the Georgian breakaway provinces to build military bases in both provinces. With what money, I’d ask, but that’s besides the point.

      I think there are rather tight limits to applying the dime-a-dozen corruptocrat analysis to Putin/Medvedev’s Russia. The Kremlin’s insistence on applying such a heavy hand to countries that displease it (gas shutoffs to the Ukraine which affected a sizeable chunk of eastern/central Europe), pressuring Kyrgyzstan to reject a US base deal.

      I happen to agree with Will that we probably made a solid strategic trade-off here. Unlike our bilateral disarmament treaty with Russia, that is.

      However, Russia’s hunger for prestige and security is centuries old and their contemporary behaviour has demonstrated only moderation in pursuit of those goals not abandonment of them.

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      • That is fair enough Kyle but the Georgia situation is a complicated mess just as inappropriate for simple analysis as Russian motivations. For instance the breakaway province is extremely pro-russian and were they allowed self determination would probably secede from Georgia and join Russia all on their own. Not to mention the murky murk of Georgia’s own internal politics, what their leaders were led to believe about our commitments and Russia’s limits etc.

        I don’t really want to defend Russian behavior per say but I do think there’s some merit to the fact that East Europe is in Russia’s back yard. It stands to reason they’d be meddling and also stands to reason that they’d be annoyed with Americans stirring the pot there. Certainly America with the never refuted Monroe doctrine has a similar habit of getting their fingers into the pies of the governments on our border (or even in our hemisphere!).

        I’m just saying the Communism is dead and they’re a warty capitalist democracy. Sure they’d love to bestride the world, what country regardless of their size wouldn’t, but I think it’s patently obvious they’re more interested in their own domestic affairs than they are in landing a red battalion in Chesapeke Bay.

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  5. “They’d be delivering it by brain-washed pakistanii peasant in a pickup truck across the mexican border or in a tramp freighter into New York or Los Angeles harbor. ”

    I used to think so to, but on the land borders the sensors they are using are to OTT sensitive that they ae alerting returning Canadians who have come down here to get their barium enemas and whatnot. a bomob in a cabnn on a vessel would be even hoter – well, yeah – so much so that you don’t even have to run each can trhough to get a hit.

    Missle defense if a pretty tall order just on technical grounds. Anfd i always wondered- if the real concern was Iranian missles, why not put the missle shield down on russia’s and the Ukraine southern borders? That would have allayed any fears the Russians had. they might even have felt a little flattered.

    Anyway when it comes to dealing with Iran, the Russians are going to be a lot more effective, as friends of ours (one can hope) than the Europeans could ever be, and no fault of the Europeans.

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    • That’s very interesting Jim, I didn’t know that. I have, however, visited Manitoba. There’s hundreds and hundreds of miles of border that you could just drive over. Canada is a touch tougher to sneak a nuke into than Mexico and the Mexican border is dicier but even so it’d be a lot easier the building a missile that’ll go half way round the world. But point taken.

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  6. This is about Israel. Iran has said that the deaths of 15 million Iranians is acceptable if it leads to the deaths of 5 million Jews. Bush wanted to put missle defence in Poland and the Czech Republic now that Iran is developing a missle that can hit Europe. This would give NATO the option of helping Israel if they were attacked. Without that missle shield, no European power will come to the aid of Israel in case of war with Iran. By putting missle defence in Eastern Europe, we have enough time to track the trajectories of the incoming missles, which would not be the case if our defences were on the Russian border with Iran. These defences were not meant to target Russian missles. They are too close to be useful for that. We have told this to them. So, why do they object? It helps their ally Iran. I am afraid Obama is bringing us closer to another holocaust.

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    • 1. Russia objects because the US is expanding into their sphere of influence, same way the US doesn’t like Russia selling weapons to Chavez.
      2. Israel has its own missile defense system against Iran, which the US gave it.
      3. The missiles based on ships in the Mediterranean that Obama is using to replace the systems in eastern Europe are capable of defending Europe – unlike the ones Bush was putting in place, which were useless at shooting down the type of missiles Iran uses.
      4. Israel could wipe the floor with Iran without any help from Europe, which they’d be unlikely to get missile shield or no missile shield.

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