TCS Daily


Direct Hit! One Small Step For National Security

By Nick Schulz - December 4, 2001 12:00 AM

So the Pentagon scored a direct hit in its latest missile defense test. This follows a test earlier in the year in which missile defense architects effectively "hit a bullet with a bullet." The Pentagon is on a roll.

As I pointed out last week, be sure to look for press accounts that trot out missile defense critics such as Ted Postol saying that the test proves nothing and that an effective missile defense shield is impossible. These critics are blinded by their zealous faith in arms control as a means to reduce the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction.

But if September 11 proved one thing it`s that the world is full of unpredictable and unreasonable bad actors that do not care for their own lives and certainly not the lives of others. Arms control is predicated on both sides fearing their own demise -- the doctrine of MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction. But 9/11 proved there are plenty of people for whom this calculus does not apply and the United States and its allies would be foolish to believe otherwise.

But missile defense critics are right about one thing - a single test doesn` t prove a whole lot. That`s why much more testing is needed and the Pentagon and lawmakers in Washington should push ahead vigorously to develop missile defense technology.

It is worth noting, however, that it wouldn`t have mattered if the National Missile Defense (NMD) gang hadn`t scored a direct hit in the test. A failure to score a direct hit would, in a sense, have been a "successful" test, too. Why? Because failures are part of the trial and error process. It would have allowed the Pentagon to learn what went wrong and begin better understanding how to make it work in the future. Trial and error is a key element to the scientific method of learning and discovery.

One disappointment in the aftermath of the test is important to mention here. In the news wire account of the report, "U.S. officials say the current missile defense tests do not violate the ABM treaty between the United States and former Soviet Union. That treaty forbids the United States or Russia from developing a national missile defense."

It is past time for U.S. officials to scrap concerns over the ABM treaty. As my colleague Ken Adelman has pointed out on TCS and elsewhere, the treaty is a relic of the Cold War and fealty to it binds the hands of those seeking to develop defensive systems. It has been so scrutinized and reinterpreted by arms control lawyers over three decades that no one truly knows what`s permissible and what`s impermissible under the terms of the treaty. This is especially true after thirty years of technological advances. The longer the ABM treaty is with us, the longer we needlessly jeopardize our security.
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