Tue Jun 19 22:56:11 CDT 2001
If you have a spare moment I would appreciate backchannel feedback and
suggestions on a draft of the op-ed pasted below (under review by the
Boston Globe). I am always buoyed by the quality of constructive (and
deconstructive!) criticism on works in progress that I float to this list.
* * *
SECOND THOUGHTS ON SCARECROW DEFENSE
by Gordon R. Mitchell
So far the Bush administration?s missile defense plan has been short on
specifics and heavy on hype, but signs of change are on the horizon. During
NATO meetings earlier this month in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld started to get down to brass tacks, previewing for European
allies details of some missile-busting systems currently on the Pentagon?s
One plan calls for a crash effort to deploy a bare-bones battery of
ground-based interceptors in Alaska by 2004.
The early deployment date for this rush job seems odd given that the most
credible assessments do not forecast emergence of a real ballistic missile
threat from "states of concern" until 2007 at the earliest. One explanation
for the hurry-up could be that Bush?s missile shield is really a Democrat
shield in disguise, designed to protect the GOP White House from political
attack during the 2004 presidential campaign.
But apparently, missile defense?s true believers really think that throwing
together a jury-rigged system as fast as possible is militarily sound.
Rumsfeld put it this way to U.S. allies in Brussels: "As this program
progresses we will likely deploy test assets to provide rudimentary
defenses to deal with emerging threats."
Translation: The Bush administration wants to deploy missile defenses
before showing they work!
What is the military logic behind such a peculiar strategy? Rumsfeld
explains that when it comes to missile defense systems, "they need not be
100 percent perfect" to have a deterrent effect on future adversaries.
Here, leaky shields are thought to work like scarecrows, frightening away
enemies hell-bent on destroying the United States. This makes about as much
sense as expecting a burglar to be deterred from theft by a sign reading:
"Beware: house protected by untested and unreliable alarm system."
When confronted with such conundrums, Bush?s missile defense pitchmasters
are wont to issue the fallback rejoinder: "Any defense is better than
However, recent disclosures from the office of Rep. John Tierney (D-MA)
provide compelling reasons to question even this apparently straightforward
In a June 12 letter to top congressional leaders, Tierney reveals that for
months, the Pentagon has squelched an internal report that "highlights
severe deficiencies" in the National Missile Defense (NMD) testing program.
Phillip Coyle, former Director of Operational Test and Evaluation at the
Pentagon, wrote the "National Missile Defense (NMD) Deployment Readiness
Review" last August. Tierney, a member of the House Government Reform
Committee, had to request this report six times from the Pentagon before he
finally received a copy on May 31, 2001.
It is not hard to imagine why defense officials were reluctant to hand over
Coyle?s report, which found serious problems with the NMD command and
control system. In simulated tests the system mistakenly identified a radar
signal as an incoming missile. The system then launched interceptors at the
illusory missile after manual override attempts failed.
According to Tierney, Coyle?s report provides a sober warning to missile
defense advocates seeking to rush deployment of immature systems: "One can
imagine the potential hazards that could arise in future deployment
scenarios if the United States launches multiple interceptors against
missile that do not exist. One immediate danger in these types of
situations is that adversaries may interpret these launches as a hostile
first strike and respond accordingly."
President Bush is fond of touting missile defense?s potential to transcend
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the nuclear doctrine that enshrines
deterrence as the cornerstone of strategic stability. But in his haste to
erect a scarecrow defense, Bush may usher in a new and even more dangerous
kind of MAD ? Mutual Accidental Destruction.
Gordon R. Mitchell (gordonm at pitt.edu) is an Associate Professor of
Communication and Director of Debate at the University of Pittsburgh. He is
author of Strategic Deception: Rhetoric, Science, and Politics in Missile
Defense Advocacy (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000).
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