29 March 2013
Your March 19 editorial "The growing need for missile defense; Countering threats from North Korea and Iran" claims "even an imperfect system is better than nothing."
In reality we're wasting billions of dollars per year to counter an unrealistic threat with a system that doesn't work.
It has an abysmal success rate, even when the launch and trajectory of the target were known in advance. Its failure in the real world is all but guaranteed.
Our nuclear arsenal is a real deterrent, as any nation that launched an intercontinental missile against us would be destroyed. A nuclear attack would be far more likely to come via a "dirty bomb," a shipping container or some other means that's harder to trace.
Our anti-ballistic missile system isn't "better than nothing"; it's a false sense of security with a trillion-dollar price tag.
— Mike Mosser, Chicago
Your March 19 editorial argues that recent developments in North Korea and Iran demonstrate a "growing need for missile defense." It acknowledges the importance of being able to retaliate but also labels the expenditure of nearly $1 billion to buy 14 unreliable interceptors to fend off incoming warheads "reasonable and useful."
A reality check is in order on the intercontinental ballistic missile threat faced by the United States. Only Russia and China are capable of attacking the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons. Neither North Korea nor Iran has ever flight-tested an ICBM. U.S. intelligence concludes that Iran has not yet decided to actually build a nuclear weapon. Both countries are years away from acquiring a credible strategic nuclear arsenal.
Building up U.S. strategic defenses against either is more likely to convince Moscow and Beijing to build more ICBMs rather than discouraging Pyongyang and Tehran from building their first.
The missile defense issue also requires some deference to both physics and human psychology. Independent studies from the Defense Science Board in 2011 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 confirm that the United States has not figured out how to reliably discriminate inexpensive decoys from actual warheads. Until this happens, missile defenses remain of more relevance to raising the cost of conventional ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces and allies in Asia and the Middle East than to thwarting a nuclear missile attack against the homeland.
Indeed, the leaders of North Korea or Iran are much more likely to be deterred from a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies by the certainty that such an attack would result in the end of their regimes, than by the possibility that some of the missiles they fired at the United States might be intercepted.
— Greg Thielmann, senior fellow, Arms Control Association, Washington
A costly mistake
A recent Tribune editorial applauds as a "reasonable and useful step" the U.S. government's decision to add 14 missile defense interceptors to the 30 already in Alaska and California. In fact, the decision is neither reasonable nor useful.
The fact is the Pentagon has no idea whether the system could stop a
North Korean missile because none of its intercept tests have been
conducted under realistic conditions. As the U.S. intelligence community
and others have stated, any country capable of building a long-range
missile would be able to equip it with decoys and other
"countermeasures" that could fool the missile defense system, and a
recent National Academy of Sciences report again confirmed that the
Pentagon still doesn't know how to deal with this problem.