Missile Defense Will Follow the 50 Year Trajectory of Missile Offense
In the mid 1950s, before the Cuban Missile Crises, offensive nuclear weapons carried a positive image in middle class America’s collective brain:a kind of a friendly metal security blanket. They would do two things for America: keep her safe, and keep her as the world’s sheriff. The Cuban Missile Crises changed that for a lot of people. After 1962 there would be people, a lot of people, whose enthusiasm for nuclear weapons had been forever diminished.
Mr. Ilan Berman, identified as vice president for policy of the American Foreign Policy Council, and Clifford D. May, identified as president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in the August 25, 2009 Wall Street Journal present an argument for missile defense under the heading,Hillary’s Right About the ‘Defense Umbrella.’
They approvingly quote Hillary Clinton’s statement that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the U.S. will offer its allies in the Middle East a missile defense system. Then they ask the key question, “Are we capable of doing so?”
They make a start toward answering their question by criticizing the Obama administration’s attempts to cut back planned or actual operating defense systems. First, it wishes to scale down President Bush’s planned network of Missile-defense systems which would only be able to hit single missiles fired from third world rogue states such as North Korea. It has closed projects such as the “multiple-kill vehicle” program which would utilize a satellite to hit enemy missiles. It terminated a program to create an aircraft-based high energy laser. Russia’s objections have apparently convinced Obama to abandon a centerpiece of the Bush’s administration defense program: ground-based interceptors and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic.
But probably the defense system that has become the most electric pole in the entire nuclear weapons debate in the past generation is the “space-based” shield. I think the reason for this is that no one believes that any other system could make America as safe as she was in 1956; before the development of the ICBM armed with a nuclear warhead. For America ever to play the role that interventionists wish, American technology has to establish the kind of security that British ambition, racial identity, intelligence, guts and technology established for the creation of the British Empire. America itself would have to be safe from destruction.
The Cuban Missile Crises drove fear into big portions of the American middle class. American interventionists see that for America to play the same role in the world that it played prior to the ICBM, that fear has to be relieved.
I think that the American heartland, read honestly, favors Berman’s and May’s ambition which is simple and direct: America’s enemies should be forced to understand that money and talent spent developing a nuclear weapons arsenal will be wasted, “because Americans have the know-how and hardware to prevent them from reaching their intended targets.” The American heartland likes that combination of confidence and ambition.
Now the simple fact is that Americans have not demonstrated either the knowledge or the hardware to stop an attack on New York or Los Angeles by Russia or China. With that in mind, consider the particulars of their concluding sentences: “The U.S. should offer a comprehensive and impenetrable ‘defense umbrella’ to protect itself and its allies. But first we need to match rhetoric with concrete action and get the job done.”
Understand this; in 1956, the U.S. had what amounted to a defense umbrella against both Russia and China. Today it does not. And all the evidence points to a determination on the part of Russia and China not to accept 1956 again.
This is the precise point where the distinction between those who believe nuclear weapons reflect IQ, and those that think that they reflect national wealth is sharpest. If one believes what I believe; that nuclear weapons have been demonstrated to be an expensive IQ test, the first rational step is to understand that America will never again have a world where American three year olds are infinitely safe and Chinese three year olds are infinitely vulnerable. The Chinese and the Russians will not accept it. The Chinese discovered something in the second half of the twentieth century: The best Chinese 15 year olds in algebra class will grow up to be 30 year olds who can do a hell of a lot of engineering.
The Cuban Missile Crises changed this country in a more important way than is generally acknowledged. The sheer numbers of ordinary Americans that became not just afraid, but terrified, in October 1962 functions as a pump that continues to cycle unease throughout America today. In an instant an educated citizenry had to look into the bottomless pit: What if the unthinkable becomes reality?
The unease in the educated middle class continues. There have been so many nuclear weapons systems that have been sold to America as the last word, the last word that will forever proclaim America safe, and those others, vulnerable. The Atom Bomb, the Hydrogen Bomb, the ICBM, instrumentation that can start the killing in one block rather than another block from half a world away, nuclear submarines, spy satellites: All began with America enjoying virtually a monopoly, only to be, in one degree or another, matched by first Russia and then China.
There is a wariness about the space based missile defense celebration party. It sounds too much like a whole bunch of other parties over the past half-century. Undoubtedly the whole world, including Kansas is less safe than when the original celebrations were held in 1945.
After 50 years, Americans, like the rest of the world is more vulnerable that it was in 1956. The unease is both understandable and valuable: It helps the argument that weapons systems, whether offensive or defensive, should be kept out of space.
One wonders what Chinese and Russian intellectuals who deal with military matters make of the relationship between the American public and nuclear weapons. I suspect that they place nuclear weapons and America’s nuclear weapons history in the same bin where American intellectuals place them: the bin labeled “economic strength.” Both Russian and Chinese intellectuals are aware of the immense economic disadvantage they bear compared to America. But they are also aware of the incredible balance that has been achieved in the mutual assured destruction game between the U.S., Russia and China in one overwhelming particular: They can each destroy the others.
There is some evidence that the Russians are grateful for that balance and do not intend to relinquish it. (See my post “Arms Control, Obama’s Challenge.”) One must assume the same is true of the Chinese.
The risk of a “defensive system” is that America’s opposition will see it for what it is: an attempt to return to 1956 when America was absolutely safe and Russia and China were absolutely vulnerable. They do not want to turn the clock back and the risk in America’s attempt to recreate 1956 is that Russia and China will both multiply their offensive systems, and will bring them nearer to the American heartland.
The proposed defense umbrella is just another attempt to win an engineering project. The issue is whether the project is more similar to a pre-nuclear age weapons system, or a quantitative IQ test. I think that the project has more similarities with an IQ test than with weapons prior to 1945; accordingly, I think Berman’s and May’s ambition is both impossible and dangerous.