I recently participated in a debate on the merits of the National Missile Defense Shield. The strategy professor is a ruthless fiend, so he chose those of us who opposed the subject to defend it. "This," he said, "will be an exercise in yellow hat thinking." And how. There are so many good reasons against it; surely someone had an argument in favour of it? The research was thought-provoking, to say the least...

Is President George Bush's decision to deploy an anti-ballistic missile defence system (designed to protect the United States from a nuclear attack by a "rogue" state) in his nation's best interests?


"What is the concept of defence?" asked Carl von Clausewitz. "The parrying of a blow. What is its characteristic feature? Awaiting the blow." Today, America is changing the way it waits for the blow. It's called the National Missile Defense Shield, and it's in America's best interests to deploy it. There are four main reasons for this:

  1. It will be a cornerstone in America's move away from a doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD);
  2. It will protect America from a serious and growing threat from the world's superpowers and rogue states;
  3. It will protect America from an unforseen threat - an attack that we don't know will happen until the missile is launched;
  4. It will allow the United States to pursue its policies without the constant threat of retaliation.

1 MAD is no longer a viable policy

Bush's decision to build a missile defence shield was taken because America is no longer interested in maintaining "deterrence through retaliation." Back in 1983, Ronald Reagan intended to develop "effective strategic defences that might some day completely eliminate the present state of mutually assured destruction." In fact, he even went so far as to say that it was "ethically repugnant."

So what's wrong with MAD? The policy was developed when there were just two super-powers, Russia and America. But now, there are many international powers with the capability to strike against America. And not all of them are interested in deterrence and stability.

Take the Gulf War as an example. Lt. Gen. Malcom O'Neill of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (now known as the Missile Defense Administration)states that Iraq attacked America despite America's overwhelming forces, since it "took the gamble" that America would not respond with nuclear weapons. In this case, the so-called stability of MAD provided nothing.

As forseen by Reagan in 1983, America must defend itself from those countries who are not deterred by MAD. This is the first reason why it is in America's best interests to develop a missile defence shield.

2 It directly addresses a serious threat

But the deployment of a missile shield won't just defend against the possibility of non-deterrence. It directly addresses a serious threat from the world's superpowers and rogue states. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, supported by the 1998 "Report of the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States July 15, 1998" (aka The Rumsfeld Report, concluded that "during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq."

In the wake of the Cold War, the focus of anti-ballistic missile attention has traditionally fallen on Russia. But the Rumsfeld Report indicates that the Russian threat has changed significantly since the 1980's: "the likelihood of a deliberate missile attack on the U.S. from Russia has been greatly lessened but not entirely eliminated." Instead, China, North Korea, Iran and Iraq are nominated as primary concerns. Each of these countries could have a fully capable ICBM program ready to deploy within 5 years of deciding to do so (in the case of Iraq, 10). The report stated that due to sketchy regional intelligence, "the U.S. is unlikely to know whether some of these countries possess nuclear weapons until after the fact."

Also, all of these countries are capable of assisting any other nation to develop a nuclear missile system. Countries such as India and Pakistan may not have a motive for attacking America, but they might not feel any need to protect it. These countries have the capability to donate or sell technology to interested parties, if they so choose. This indirect threat is all the more dangerous, since it is difficult to determine which countries have sufficient technological knowledge.

If diplomacy cannot prevent an attack? If MAD isn't a deterrent? What will stop them? Even the most advanced missile shield could not stop every missile that is launched; but if it neutralises just one missile, if it saves one life, then it has fulfilled its mission.

This is the second reason why it is in America's best interests to build a missile defence shield - to defend itself from an increasing threat from countries with ballistic missile capabilities.

3 It directly addresses an unforeseen threat

But that's only the nations that we know might attack. What if another nation - or organisation - chose to attack America? The third reason why America should build the Missile Defense Shield is because it directly addresses an unforeseen threat.

"The Intelligence Community's ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding," declared the Report of the Ballistic Missile Threat. "The U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment."

Imagine that a well-funded terrorist organisation arranges to rent a silo in the Ukraine for a few hours. I agree that it's extremely expensive, but should the U.S. rely on price as a prohibitor? Imagine if a mad sailor takes a nuclear submarine hostage - you've all seen 'The Hunt for Red October.' Imagine if North Korea 'accidentally' sends a test missile in the wrong direction. Imagine if Dr Strangelove enjoys a resurgence in popularity. And imagine that the limited capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community means that nobody knows about this threat until the missile is launched. Again, diplomacy will mean nothing. MAD will mean nothing. The U.S. will be powerless to stop the attack.

The missile defence shield protects against all of these scenarios. It ensures that in instances where intelligence fails, the protection of America does not. Thus, this is the third reason that it is in America's best interests to develop protection from an unpredictable, unforseen threat to its territory.

4 It allows the U.S. to pursue more wide-ranging policies.

And now that America is more protected from the aforementioned threats, she is free to pursue more wide-ranging global policies. This is the final reason why it is in America's interests to build the missile shield - because it allows America to act internationally without hesitation or fears for her own safety.

As Senator Thompson of Tennessee stated, he did not wish to see "American cities become hostages when our interests elsewhere in the world are challenged by a rogue state." In this scenario, an attacker may not intend to obliterate life in North America; they may simply wish to smack America's hand.

  • A good example of this is the U.S. promise to protect Taiwan from China. America lacks credibility as a defender for its protege if it cannot adequately defend itself from a retaliatory attack by China. As Lt. Gen. Xiong Guang Kai stated, "Would the U.S. be willing to trade Los Angeles for Taipei?"

  • In another example, Moammar Qaddafi said after the 1986 U.S. attack on Tripoli, he felt America would have "lacked the resolve to attack Tripoli conventionally" if he had had an ICBM.

With the protection of an anti-ballistic missile shield, these two examples would not be a concern for America. Thus, it is in America's interests to build a missile defence shield so that she can protect her own political interests around the globe.


In conclusion, as former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said, "The goal is noble and straightforward: to destroy missiles that kill people." The anti-ballistic missile shield will help the United States to dismantle the "repugnant" doctrine of MAD; it will protect the United States against increasingly likely threats from superpowers, from rogue states or from unforseen danger, and it will allow the United States to pursue its global policies without fear of retaliation against its citzens. For these reasons, it is in America's best interests to build the National Missile Defense Shield.


Thompson, Sen. F. National Missile Defence [online]
Available: http://thompson.senate.gov/issues/nmd.htm [2002]

1998, Report of the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States July 15, 1998, aka The Rumsfeld Report
Available: www.house.gov/nsc/testimony/105thcongress/BMThreat.htm [1998]

Blagovolin, S. 1994 'Stability and Deterrence Under Contemporary Conditions and the Role of Ballistic Missile Defence', Comparitive Strategy 13, Taylor & Francis, United Kingdom

Crouch, J.D. 1993 'National Missile Defence?', Comparitive Strategy 12, Taylor & Francis, United Kingdom

Freedman, L. 1987 'Strategic Defence in the Nuclear Age', Adelphi Paper no. 224, Institute for Strategic Studies, London

Gray, C. S. 1996 'The Influence of Space Power upon History', Comparitive Strategy 15, Taylor & Francis, United Kingdom

Lionetti, D. 1993 'Achieving National Missile Defence', Comparitive Strategy 12, Taylor & Francis, United Kingdom

Schroeer, D. 1987 'Directed Energy Weapons and Strategic Defence: A Primer', Adelphi Paper no. 221, Institute for Strategic Studies, London