Email Our Editor

Join Our Mailing List

View Our Archives

Search our archive:

The Last 20 Days' Editorials

1/21/2019 "The Black Economy 50 Years After The March On Washington"

Email This Article  Printer Friendly Version


Today, President Bush is scheduled to deliver his long-awaited speech on his vision for a missile defense system. The Bush administration's support for missile defense has disturbed many for a variety of reasons. Some question the validity of the concept while others see the program as nothing more than the latest cash cow for the military industrial complex. Yesterday, the World Policy Institute released a press release in anticipation of President Bush's address. The statement, written by Bill Hartung, offers one of the strongest cases against a missile defense system.

New York, April 30th - As President Bush prepares to present the outlines of his missile defense program in a speech at the National Defense University tomorrow, it's important to compare his ambitious rhetoric with the realities of actually existing missile defense projects and the likely reactions that a crash missile defense program will provoke around the world.

1. There is no workable missile defense on the horizon. The Clinton administration's land-based National Missile Defense program, which was far less ambitious than the multi-tiered approach favored by Bush Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, failed two out of three rudimentary tests. And critics such as MIT scientist Theodore Postol have charged that the entire NMD test series was rigged to hide serious flaws in the system. The sea-based, "boost phase" intercept option favored by many missile defense advocates would involve building an entirely new interceptor missile which is not even on the drawing boards yet. And by the Pentagon's own optimistic projections, the first test of its latest space-based laser won't happen until 2012, at the earliest.

2. A ballistic missile is the least likely method an adversary would choose for delivering a nuclear weapon to U.S. soil. The U.S. intelligence community's top expert on ballistic missiles, Robert Walpole, has repeatedly stated in testimony to Congress that a ballistic missile is the least likely way a foreign adversary would choose to deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States. That's because a ballistic missile has a "return address"-- the identity of the attacking nation would be known immediately, and that nation would be subjected to a devastating retaliatory attack by U.S. forces.

3. An early decision to break out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and deploy a missile defense system could spark a renewed global nuclear arms race, thereby causing more security problems than it will solve. In a May 19, 2000 front page story in the Los Angeles Times, Bob Drogin and Tyler Marshall cited a classified U.S. intelligence assessment which suggested that deployment of a missile defense would set off "an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects . . that would include a sharp buildup of strategic and medium-range nuclear missiles by China, India, and Pakistan and the further spread of military technology in the Middle East."

4. A multi-tiered system of the kind preferred by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will be enormously expensive, dwarfing the $60 billion price tag for the Clinton NMD system and creating a huge potential windfall for the Big Four missile defense contractors. In the short-term, annual R&D resources devoted to missile defense projects of all kinds will probably increase by at least $2 billion per year, bringing total missile defense spending up to $7 billion per year and making it the largest program in the Pentagon budget. An accelerated development program that pushes forward land-based, sea-based, and space-based options simultaneously could cost $10 billion per year or more. The whole effort, including expansion of radars and space-based sensors, construction of interceptor missiles and laser systems, and all the other elements of a multi-tiered system, could cost anywhere from $120 billion to $240 billion over a twenty year period. This represents a huge potential windfall for the Big Four missile defense contractors - Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and TRW. These firms have received nearly two-thirds of all missile defense R&D spending over the past several years, and have already racked up long-term missile defense contracts worth in excess of $20 billion.

5. Other methods of dealing with Third World ballistic missile threats could be far less costly and far more effective than building a multi-billion dollar missile shield. President Bush's decision to walk away from the framework talks with North Korea just when U.S. and North Korean negotiators were on the brink of instituting a verifiable ban on Pyongyang's ballistic missile testing, production, and exports is the most obvious example of his administration's unwillingness to utilize hard-headed diplomacy as a tool to prevent the spread of ballistic missiles.

6. The President's speech suggests that nuclear policy in the Bush administration is currently dominated by a hard-line group of nuclear unilateralists who are more interested in undermining arms control than they are in coming up with a cost-effective defense strategy. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's longstanding associations with ideologically-driven, pro-missile defense think tanks like the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and Empower America go a long way toward explaining his current positions on missile defense. These organizations and their ardent followers believe in "peace through strength, not peace through paper," as Senator Jon Kyl put it at one CSP gathering. Their unquestioning faith in the power of U.S. military technology to solve any and every security problem has blinded them to the fact that arms control agreements like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban have far more to offer in terms of making real contributions to global security than Bush's missile defense scheme does. From the perspective of the anti-arms control ideologues, destroying the ABM treaty is a positive achievement in its own right, regardless of the current status of U.S. missile defense programs. Add to this the enthusiasm of key Bush advisors for developing a new generation of allegedly more "usable" low-yield nuclear weapons, and a stark reality emerges: unless Secretary of State Colin Powell and other moderates in the administration are given a greater say in nuclear weapons policy, the Bush policy risks provoking a situation of "nuclear anarchy," in which every nation builds up its own conventional and nuclear arsenal according to a worst case assessment of the intentions and capabilities of its adversaries, real and imagined.

Before he throws away four decades of progress on arms control and risks sparking a new arms race, President Bush should re-think the consequences of his speech and re-adjust the direction of his policy to bring it into line with strategic, political and economic realities.


Robert Kerrey and William D. Hartung, "Toward a New Nuclear Posture: Challenges for the Bush Administration," Arms Control Today, April 2001, available at

William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, Tangled Web: The Marketing of Missile Defense 1994-2000, World Policy Institute, June 2000, available at

William D. Hartung, "Bush's Nuclear Revival," The Nation, March 12, 2001, available at

Tuesday, May 1, 2001

To discuss this article further enter The Deeper Look Dialogue Room

The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

Copyright © 2000-2002 BEC