more anti-anti-missile commentary
This Atlanta Journal-Constitution commentary rightly dismisses Bush's ABM plan as a "costly fantasy" justified, in part, by (imagine my surprise!) fuzzy math:
The commitment by President Bush to deploy an anti-missile defense system by 2004 is an exercise in wishful thinking. At a cost of $17.5 billion for the next two years alone, it will provide the illusion of a defense, to guard us against the illusion of a threat.
...There are three fundamental problems with the plans laid out by the president Tuesday.
First, missile defense is a vision born in the Cold War, when the main threat to our safety was nuclear-tipped missiles deployed by the Soviet Union. That world has disappeared. The attacks of Sept. 11 have demonstrated all too well that our true vulnerability is to low-tech assaults and unorthodox delivery systems. That message has been reinforced since then by repeated warnings from the president and others, pointing out that today we can be attacked by nuclear weapons delivered in suitcases, by nuclear weapons delivered by boat driven into our harbors, and by devastating biological weapons such as smallpox.
If we take those warnings seriously, how do we justify the hundreds of billions of dollars it would take to deploy an effective missile-defense system? In the decentralized, wide-open 21st century, spending a fortune on a centralized, fixed high-tech defense system is foolish.
Second, we have no grounds for confidence that any system within our technological reach will be effective, even against the ballistic missiles it is designed to attack.
The Pentagon claims that in testing, its current system has destroyed its target missile 88 percent of the time, which taken at face value means that roughly one out of 10 missiles would elude the system. Even that figure is derived by disregarding causes of failure that the Pentagon deems unimportant, including the failure of a test less than a week before the president's announcement.
When you're deploying a system, however, every cause of failure is equally important and must be counted. Because in the real world, only one thing matters: Did you shoot down the missile or not? The "why" doesn't matter.
When the numbers are counted that way, the success rate is barely 40 percent. Even that number is based on testing under perfect conditions, with no effort to subject the system to realistic battlefield situations in which the incoming missile attempts to evade or confuse with tactics such as decoys. Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that fact by describing the proposed system as "better than nothing."
And that's the third point: It's not better than nothing. By committing to deploy a temporary, untested approach, we make it more difficult to develop a truly effective system sometime in the future. That point was driven home in a 2001 report by defense experts at the well-respected Rand Institute:
"While it cannot be ruled out that this . . . solution is an ideal first step toward a general and versatile solution, neither logic nor analysis has been produced to indicate that it is," the report concluded. "We need only reflect on the changes in the world security environment in the past decade -- regional transformations, technology diffusion, collapsing and rising powers -- to doubt that the immediate threat well represents those of the decades to come."
It's important to note that those cautionary words were written before the attacks of Sept. 11, which underlined the message of a world in flux. That same Rand report also warned against short-term political pressure that could push the United States toward "a path of least technical, bureaucratic and diplomatic resistance, instead of making a considered judgment of what missile defense capabilities and treaty rights it needs."
Unfortunately, that describes exactly what the Bush administration did this this week.
(via Blog Left)