By John Isaacs & Samuel M. Hickey
The Council for a Livable World has long opposed spending massive sums of money to develop and deploy a defense system against long range missiles.
After 65 years and more than $350 billion dollars spent, ballistic missile threats continue to outpace development of defenses, and there is no sign that this will change.
The American Physical Society recently published a well-researched scientific report that corroborates the Council’s critique of the program. Two of the 13-member team were board members for the Council or our sister organization, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: Frank Von Hippel of Princeton University and the late Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon official.
The report came to the conclusion, as summarized by study chair Frederick Lamb, “that the current US missile defense system is unreliable and ineffective against even the small number of relatively unsophisticated nuclear-armed ICBMs that we considered, and that creating a reliable and effective defense remains a daunting challenge.”
Lamb continues, “Despite decades of work and costs totaling more than $350 billion, the United States still has not been able to field a defense that would be able to intercept even a small number of relatively unsophisticated ICBMs reliably and effectively.”
The Council has been pointing out these deficiencies in the program for decades, but many politicians today are reluctant to oppose the only defensive program that intends, however ineffectively, to protect the United States from a nuclear attack.
It is evocative of Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in which no one wants to admit they don’t see a vain emperor’s non-existent new clothes for fear of appearing stupid. Likewise, when it comes to missile defense, people are afraid to criticize a program because the perceived wisdom is that the system is good or important.
In June 2021, the Council organized a letter to President Joseph Biden urging reconsideration of a system that overspends and underperforms.
The Pentagon implicitly acknowledged these deficiencies when in August 2019 it canceled a new interceptor on top of the missiles after spending $1.2 billion. This was a positive step.
The letter was signed by 63 distinguished former government officials, retired Members of Congress, scientists and experts on missile defense, and retired military officers and diplomats.
The letter quoted then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden who criticized the absurdity of the “theological allegiance to missile defense.” He continued, “Are we really prepared to raise the starting gun in a new arms race in a potentially dangerous world? Because make no mistake about it, folks, if we deploy a missile defense system that is being contemplated, we could do just that.”
Senator Biden was correct. The American Physical Society’s conclusions should be given the attention by policymakers they merit. President Biden should launch a credible study to address the strategic implications of the system and determine the explicit goals of all pieces in the U.S. missile defense architecture. Are the pieces fit for purpose? What is their performance being measured against? Presently, there is no goal to measure success against. The United States is throwing good money after bad, in the hopes that a robe will magically appear to cover our Emperor.