Missiles increase fear, reduce caution

Imagine you have a project to complete successfully. The project is to take a vehicle traveling at several miles per second and ram it into another vehicle, also traveling several miles per second. This would take place far above the atmosphere. To make it a little more interesting, you have to avoid decoys that travel and look just like the target vehicle. They even have the same infrared signature. Now imagine that not one vehicle has to be rammed, but a dozen. Every single one has to be destroyed; none can get through.
About this time, anybody with any sense at all would be saying that this is almost impossible. However, sense is something that many members of Congress have in short supply, and they insist on going forward with a missile defense shield. This is a tall order, and even if it were technologically feasible, it is very dangerous for many other reasons. Going forward with a missile defense shield is pure folly.
This past Friday, the military conducted a $100 million test of this defense technology. The test was far, far easier than any real application of the defense shield, because only one target vehicle was used with no decoys, but the test was a failure all the same. In fact, there have been three tests conducted so far, and two have been failures. When you consider that all the tests were very easy relative to what would happen if somebody actually did launch a missile at us, it becomes obvious that going down this dead-end road will only eat up resources that are better used elsewhere.
A missile shield deployed using this technology probably could be 100 percent effective. Conducting foreign policy while counting on a defense shield that just doesn’t work is seriously dangerous. If we found ourselves one day with nuclear missiles arcing from horizon to horizon, counting on our multibillion dollar shield to protect us, what would happen when a warhead slipped through? While missing a warhead in a test only results in the loss of a few dozen million dollars, letting one slip through in real life means the loss of a few million lives. Who would take the blame? A defense shield now would allow us to take foolish gambles in foreign policy.
Some proponents of a missile defense shield say that while the technology isn’t ready now, in five or 10 years it will be possible to build a shield that would work perfectly. This may very well be true, but at that point a defense shield would be pointless. For example, say that space-based high-powered lasers or particle beams were used to destroy incoming missiles. Once you deploy that system, why use it for defense? Those same lasers could be used offensively, and now you have a new military buildup. People would start screaming about the “Laser Gap.”
Instead of minimizing the threat of war, the technology used for the missile defense would itself cause even more escalation.
The major problem with a defense shield would be the preemptive strike mentality that such a system would afford us. The more powerful your shield, the more likely you are to attack preemptively without fear of retribution. Our cold war with the Soviet Union never escalated into a hot war simply because both sides knew that neither of us could survive a full nuclear strike.
However, if one side had a full shield, this threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) would not exist. If you want to see what happens when one side in a cold war gets technology that the other side doesn’t have, watch “Dr. Strangelove.” If we had a defense shield, who is to say that some swashbuckling future president wouldn’t end a conflict with nuclear weapons, knowing that there would be no retaliation? That is not some crackpot idea.
General Douglas MacArthur wanted to end the Korean War by droppings bombs and radioactive dust on the North Korea-China border so that Chinese troops wouldn’t be able to cross the Yalu River. Vice President Richard Nixon thought that we should have backed up the French army at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam with nuclear weapons.
And who can forget Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president in 1964, who suggested that a limited used of tactical nuclear weapons would be a fine prescription for our own mess in Vietnam? There are plenty of people out there who think that God gave us ICBMs to ruthlessly smite the enemies of this great nation. A defense shield would allow them to argue that the risks entailed in launching a nuclear strike would be reduced for us.
A world where countries are afraid to shoot at each other due to temporary technological advantages is a very fragile world indeed, for those advantages are temporary. Shouldn’t we aim for a world where nobody shoots at each other because they have no reason to? People point to countries such as North Korea that are threats to our safety and thus require a missile defense.
The people of North Korea would probably be less likely to shoot at us if they had their basic human needs fulfilled and weren’t starving. This missile defense shield will only point us in the wrong direction for peace, a peace based on fear. The kind of peace we need is a peace based on respect and love for humanity, where everybody can live free of want. Yes, war is unfortunately a part of this freedom from time to time, but a missile defense shield is the wrong instrument of war.

Nathan Hunstad is fleeing the country. This will be his last column. Send final comments, fan or hate mail to [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected].