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Safety from Rogue States or a Waste of Time?

(Written for Mr. Poe's English 4AP Language and Composition class in my senior year of high school)

In the midst of an economic downturn after a war that is still costing the United States 500 troops per day, the Bush administration has determined that ballistic missiles pose a grave danger to the country and has made plans to increase spending by $1.54 billion to develop weapons to counter them. National security has always been one of the highest values of any society; it ensures the survival of a state and protects citizens' basic rights. As technology developed greater weapons of mass destruction, new technology was developed in an attempt to counter those weapons. But the greatest question lies in deciding which weapons should be developed and which threats to the nation's security should be addressed first. The United States has never been attacked by ballistic missiles, and the government has not been able to provide a clear list of countries whose ballistic missile technology threatens the security of the United States. The current $7.6 billion spent on ballistic missile defence and the amount of steel, labour, and other resources used have no output in the civilian sector and already takes a toll on the economy. Without clear evidence of threats citizens' taxpayer money should not be used to fund an increase in ballistic missile defence spending. Anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) had existed previously, but the first programme to implement a national missile defence system was first suggested under the Reagan administration. Reagan's intention had been to build a "leakproof shield" (Nimroody 3) that could defend the United States from any attack. When he made his famous "Star Wars" speech, Reagan had requested that the scientists who had helped to develop the great weapons of destruction should turn around and work to develop technology that would "render them obsolete" (Drell 59). As an alternative to deterrence the project would remove the need for citizens to live constantly in fear of attack. Though his intentions were noble, Reagan had not consulted with his White House science advisor prior to making the speech, and he did not have adequate knowledge of the difficulties of deploying a complete nationwide ballistic missile defence system. The Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) that was established under Reagan realised that a perfect ABM shield that would prevent all ballistic missiles from reaching any target in the United States was impossible. Instead the programme developed the goal of creating a partial shield that would further deterrence. The change in goals of the SDI meant that the original purpose in Reagan's speech was nullified; another level of deterrence would never guarantee the complete security of the people. The main issue was that technology was not advanced enough to effectively intercept the majority of ballistic missiles. The programme suggested a multi-layered defence that would target an enemy's ballistic missiles at each phase of deployment. Boost phase defence was supposed eliminate an enemy's missiles within the first few minutes of their launch and before warheads and decoys are deployed. Even if only a small percentage of enemy missiles could be eliminated, the goal was to eliminate more missiles during the post-boost phase, the midcourse phase, and the terminal phase. The ABMs were, however, too heavy to launch quickly enough to intercept the missiles during the boost phase, where it would be the most effective. The missiles were also often not "intelligent" enough to consistently differentiate between the real missiles and the decoys; the missiles could only target intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), not small aircrafts that could carry nuclear bombs, bombers, or cruise missiles. In short the system was ineffective. The underlying theory was also flawed; the SDI hoped to strengthen deterrence by convincing enemies that their ICBMs were useless and not worth deploying. It did not consider that an enemy might instead decide to increase its ICBMs to compensate for those shot down. In a speech delivered at the National Defense University on May 1, 2001, President Bush shared his vision of a new policy for the world - "a broad strategy of active non-proliferation, counterproliferation and defenses." Following this vision, in June of 2002 the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which Bush felt did not "recognize the present, or point us to the future." The treaty was made between the United States and the Soviet Union and had been a product of the Cold War. The treaty stated that though short- and medium-range (theatre) defences were allowed, Moscow and Washington were to be left unprotected, movement around the country of the parts to be used in ABMs was not allowed, the development of new ABM technology was not allowed, and only two distant areas in the country could be used for deployment of the theatre defences. The agreement was made on the belief that leaving both countries vulnerable to attack would strengthen deterrence, as both sides would have assurance of complete devastation upon retaliation. Bush claims to recognise that today's Russia is different from the old Soviet Union and to want only what is in the interests of world peace, he did not consider Russia's opinion before making the speech or withdrawing the country from the treaty. Though Bush did meet with Putin to discuss the policy that is now known as the New Strategic Framework (Bolton 5), it was Bush's original determination to withdraw from the treaty that made the new meeting and separate agreement with Russia necessary to ensure continued, lasting peace. Bush plans to implement a nationwide ballistic missile defence system by September of 2004. The new deployment plan combines theatre defences and strategic defences under the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and contains seven main defence programs inherited from the Clinton administration. The new system plans to deploy four interceptors at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by September of 2004 and sixteen interceptors at Fort Greely, AL, by 2005. Bush makes Reagan's mistake by believing that a full ballistic missile defence system could be deployed within two years of his speech. The technology used in the missiles is still undergoing testing, and as of March of 2004 even the booster, used to launch the ballistic missile interceptors, has not been chosen. The president declared the system necessary to protect our "individual liberty" from "states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life." However, the ballistic missile defence systems have been implemented mainly to protect important military areas and weapons from being destroyed, and enemies of the United States have often not hesitated to target large civilian populations using more primitive methods (Chu). The September 11th attacks were caused by terrorist fanatics and could not have been prevented using ballistic missile defences. The issue was one of national security; the terrorists had hijacked planes on domestic flights, and the pilots were unprepared. Similarly, the subsequent anthrax attacks were caused by infected mail, not ballistic missiles (Chu). The United States needs to be more concerned with dealing with enemies within the borders than without. Though ballistic missile defence has cost the United States fifty billion dollars in the past twenty years, the most recent tests of ballistic missiles have not shown much more success than the weapons first developed under the Reagan administration. Bush has requested from Congress an increase in spending from $7.6 billion to $9.14 billion. In light of the role that the United States plays as a world power and the current unrest with the yet unsettled War on Terrorism, that much spending on defence would appear reasonable. But the economy is currently unstable and the unemployment rate has risen since the beginning of the War on Terrorism, and a good leader must take into account the burdens that the country already bears. Even though Bush plans early deployment of a few missile systems, many of the missiles are not expected to be available for full use within two years. Therefore, they cannot address the immediate threats of "rogue states" (Bolton 6), as the Bush administration claims. The development of the multistage booster for the ground-based midcourse defence is three years behind schedule, and there are no plans to test this interceptor though it is to be deployed at Fort Greely later this year. The much talked-about theatre high-altitude area defence (THAAD), a short-and medium-range interceptor, has also had only two successful tries out of eight in intercepting its target and is currently being redesigned. The even more expensive and illusive space tracking and surveillance system (STSS) is not to be launched until 2007 at the earliest. Over the years the gap of knowledge between the scientists in charge of developing technology for the weapons and the decision-makers has increased. Currently, despite the establishment of the MDA under the Bush administration, the projects' directors in the Pentagon continue to place emphasis on plans developed on paper rather than the utility of the weapons. Initial working models of the missiles are costly to develop and rarely meet military standards; the plans must be revised multiple times at an even greater expense. Under the Eisenhower administration a panel of scientists had existed to help the president make informed decisions regarding the defence of the country, but no such panel exists under the current administration. Eisenhower did not care about the political leanings of his scientists, only their science (Drell 65). The panel was disbanded in 1973, and since then the scientific community in the United States has constantly urged the government to establish another such panel. The lack of communication between the developers and the Pentagon means that the politicians in charge are quickly losing sight of military purpose. The Bush administration has many plans of deployment, but other than boosting the administration's appearance of being accomplished, there seems to be no real action. The reorganised MDA depends on good communication between the developers at each stage of production of the missiles in order to share technology. The "middle men" do not have adequate understanding of the weapons to relay information from one sector to another and often are too motivated by political agendas to present accurate information. Increased spending on the ballistic missile defence system limits other major spending programmes such as health and education programmes, which suffer cash limits due to the redirected taxpayer funds. These programmes depend government funding to continue research and to pay for labour and resources. The citizens often have a say in the amount of their taxpayer money given to social spending programmes through their vote. They have less of a voice in the use of their money to develop ABMs, however, as most of the information is not released until after the development of the weapons, by which time the money spent cannot be retrieved and the resources consumed cannot be recovered. In market economies such as the United States, the average citizen is brought up with the expectation that the living standard will rise (Kennedy 3). While the current economy is struggling, the prices of products in the civilian sector will only continue to rise while the living standard remains stagnant or falls. As a result of the budget increase in ballistic missile defence spending taxpayer money paid to the government fails to cycle back to the working population in the form of immediately effective public goods that address citizens' current needs. While twenty-five percent of the federal budget is used up in defence spending and sixty percent used up in various "uncontrollables," only fifteen percent is left for the remaining programmes. A great difficulty comes in the inability of the government to come up with a method to calculate the value of ballistic missile defence. In the civilian sector outputs are measured by the market price of the product, but there is no demand to help determine the market price of the missiles, and even the opportunity costs within the same industry cannot be determined because there are usually too many characteristics to narrow down into a set of criteria, used to evaluate alternatives. A claim within the administration is that the direct benefit of ballistic missiles, security, can only be measured subjectively using abstract terms, as it is a public good (Kennedy 23); therefore, they are justified in providing only a vague, generalised report to the public on the utility of the missiles. This claim is not completely valid, however, as other programmes that produce public goods often have to report their "interim outputs" (75). The government cannot provide clear reports of threats that would qualify the ABMs as necessary; the current measure of utility, "safety," is a subjective measurement. The Bush administration makes the assumption that the system is necessary as more third-world countries develop nuclear weapons. This conclusion has no grounds; countries with nuclear weapons may not develop them for the sole purpose of attacking the United States. It has also been shown that enemies of the United States tend to use the simplest and most effective terrorist methods to attack. Politicians fail to consider the hidden costs of developing the ABMs. The inputs of defence, oil, steel, and labour, all have alternative uses in the open market (Kennedy 3). Steel is used all over the country in various industries such as in automobiles, the infrastructure of the country, factories, and buildings, and the War on Terrorism has caused the prices of oil to rise and made its usage even more costly to the normal working population. The opportunity cost is the amount of people that will struggle to pay for heating and energy with the prices raised after more oil is consumed in the development of ABMs. Modern technology also requires a whole labour force of scientists and engineers to develop weapons. At the moment a large percentage of funding for the development of the missiles is lost in the exchange between the Pentagon and a few big contractors. After the weapons are developed, the material cannot be reused should the weapons fail to work. Missiles used up in testing are often wasted as testing often occurs prematurely in uncontrolled and unrealistic environments where equipment freezes, and the time needed to rebuild the weapons causes further delays in the actual, effective deployment of missiles. It is a fallacy of the Bush administration to believe that bigger weapons pose a bigger threat to the nation's security. The increased complexity of the technology to counter big weapons only means a lesser probability of their effectiveness, that all parts would work at the same time.


Works Cited

Bolton, John R. "The New Strategic Framework: A Response to 21st Century Threats." U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda 7.2 (2002): 5-6.

Bush, George W. "Bush Calls for Nuclear Cuts, Missile Defense Development." Speech. Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. 1 May 2001 Federation of American Scientists. 4 Mar. 2004 <http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/abmt/text/treaty-abm-010501.htm> Transcript.

Charlton, Michael. From Deterrence to Defence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Chu, Eugene. "Ballistic missile defense a waste." ICU Daily Skiff. 6 Feb. 2004. 4 Mar. 2004 <http://www.skiff.tcu.edu/2004/spring/issues/02/06/missle.html>

Drell, Sidney D. "Scientists and the Strategic Defense Initiative." Schaerf, Reid, and Carlton 57-65.

Kartchner, Kerry M. "Missile Defenses and New Approaches to Deterrence." U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda 7.2 (2002): 11-14.

Kennedy, Gavin. Defense Economics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Martin, Davis. "Ballistic Missile Defense." U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda 7.2 (2002): 19-21.

Mosher, David E. "U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance." Arms Control Association. Sep. 2003. 4 Mar. 2004 <http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/usmissiledefense.asp>

Mosher, David E. "Understanding the Extraordinary Cost Of Missile Defense." Arms Control Association. Dec. 2000. 4 Mar. 2004 <http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_12/mosherdec00.asp>

Nimroody, Rosy, ed. Star Wars: the economic fallout. Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1988.

Pike, John E. "Clarifying ABM Treaty Ambiguities: Threshold Limits." Schaerf, Reid, and Carlton 80-95.

Schaerf, Carlo, Brian Holden Reid, and David Carlton, eds. New Technologies and the Arms Race. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.