Bush's Missile Defense:
Defensive Shield or Offensive Weapon?
Robert M. Bowman
President, Institute for Space and Security Studies
NOTE: This was the keynote lecture in a forum on Missile Defense sponsored by The Madison Institute on March 31, 2001 in Madison, Wisconsin. Recordings are available.
President Bush has abandoned Clinton's attempt at a treaty-compliant national missile defense relying on a limited number of interceptors, and has reverted to the Reagan concept of a multi-layered Star Wars system concentrated on the destruction of the boosters shortly after lift-off. This requires, not weapons here in the United States attempting to defend ourselves from re-entering warheads, but weapons spread around the world — at sea, in the air, and in space — weapons that have to get within 300 miles of the booster being launched in order to shoot at it.
This system violates almost every paragraph of the ABM treaty. For two decades, this treaty helped to prevent nuclear war. Its rationale is as sound today as it was on the day it was signed.
The ABM treaty was an attempt to outlaw a class of weapons which would reward an aggressor. The kind of ballistic missile defense envisioned by the Bush administration is exactly that kind of weapon. This "defense" would be totally useless to an innocent party waiting for an attack, because the weapons in it are essentially in enemy-controlled territory. They could easily be destroyed by an enemy launching a surprise attack against the United States. On the other hand, if the United States were to launch a surprise attack, these weapons could be useful for blunting retaliation.
In short, Star Wars has nothing to do with defense. It is an attempt to gain absolute military superiority through the development and deployment of new offensive weapons disguised as defense. The goal is complete domination of space and the ability to destroy any target on the surface of the earth without warning.
It's a losing argument to say, "But these things are going to cost a trillion dollars," because in return they'll say, "Well, how much is New York worth? How much is Madison worth?"
To stop Star Wars, we must say that these are offensive weapons, that they will do nothing to protect the people of this country. They will only endanger national security and make nuclear devastation more likely.
There is a nuclear threat today far greater than the threat from the Soviet Union at the height of its power. And that is the nuclear terrorist threat. Star Wars is not going to do one bit of good against that threat. No Star Wars weapon can do any good whatsoever against a terrorist with a nuclear bomb in a rental truck.
The United States is the target of terrorists because our government is feared and hated, and for good reason. For decades now, we have been doing hateful things to people all around the world. We depose popularly elected leaders and install and support and arm brutal dictators. We did it in Greece and in Iran decades ago; we've done it in Central America.
The truth of the matter is that the only way we can protect the American people from the threat of nuclear terrorism is to get control of our government and stop it from doing such hateful things.
We must build an America at peace with the world, that seeks not to be king of the hill, but rather to be a responsible member of the family of nations.