Bad Medicine: The Missile Defense Age

Alan Dowd has got a pretty eye-opening article on the WPR frontpage about the quantum leaps in American missile defense technology that culminated in Thursday’s intercept of the failing US-193 satellite. Dowd argues that America has just ushered in the Missile Defense Age:

Like the Rocket Age, which terrified Americans when Sputnik orbited the globe and then transfixed the world when Armstrong took his giant leap on the lunar surface; like the Jet Age, which turned the skies over Korea into a killing field and then opened the way to inexpensive, high-speed global travel; like the Nuclear Age, which ended a war by erasing two cities, put Armageddon within man’s grasp and then provided boundless supplies of energy; this new epoch promises to bring both highs and lows, worry and wonder.

Count me among the worried. Not because I don’t see the practical value of missile defense. It’s just that with all the challenges to dissuasion and deterrence posed by global terrorism and asymmetric warfare, it seems like a pretty dicey moment to be undermining the one area where we’ve actually managed to reach a stable status quo. I’m a non-believer when it comes to N. Korean or Iranian ICBM capabilities, and consider those nations (by definition) to be eminently deterrable even if they should eventually achieve a strike capacity. With regards to Russia and China, on the other hand, the new age that Dowd accurately describes as irreversibly upon us basically sweeps away the strategic underpinnings of the past fifty years, and this at a time when there seems to be a global sense of urgency about pushing back against the prerogatives that go along with American military dominance.

Missile defense as a national security doctrine seems to reflect the idea that America can somehow immunize itself from the world. Ironically, while it will very likely provoke an outbreak of local “rashes,” it can’t protect us from the most dangerous threat of “infection” (asymmetric attacks, whether conventional or non-conventional) that we actually face.

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