Published letter to DefenseNews 7-3-12

Letter to DefenseNews 7th March 2012 – Published

I’m sorry my letter – “Counterview of MD” [February 6th] offended Stanley Orman [“No Pre-emption” February 20th]. He does seems to agree with much of it – particularly the implausibility of even the US being able to avoid retaliation from a nuclear superpower by way of mounting even a massive missile defence system.
We agree too on the impossibility of at all much being affordable.
We even can refer back – he to 29 years ago; me 33 years, specifically to the excellently comprehensive 1969 “Signet Broadside”, “ABM – An Evaluation of the Decision to Deploy an Antiballistic Missile System” introduced by Edward M Kennedy. This addressed most of the issues still before us.

Mr Orman ignores two facts:
1) that the US is not the only actor in the field (though probably that best placed)
2) that“pre-emption” was legitimated as part of US military doctrine – though hardly defined – by President G.W.Bush.

The contribution a missile defence system can make to an offensive strategy is when you are a quite substantial nuclear weapon power, and your opponent has no more than a very minimum “minimum deterrent” capability – if that. “Pre-emptively” (not necessarily with nuclear weapons) you can attack this force, thus destroying, or at least limiting, his “retaliation”. This seems to be the situation in which senior Israeli defence officials see the multi-layer Israeli MD system now being procured (largely at US expense) as giving “support” to Israel’s “strategic” forces.

The Russians certainly see United States missile defences through a distorting lens – the “worst case analysis” we all require our defence officials to conduct. Presumably they have been watching the Republican would-be Presidential candidates whose enthusiasm for Missile Defences appears unlimited. (Defence expenditure is the only government expenditure not deemed “socialistic”.)

And after all, US Missile Defence Commands are beginning to display a certain global character with three already “activated” – the European, the Northern, and the Pacific. Add to them, the US Navy’s ever increasing MD responsibilities, and the whole system fits neatly with Mr Panetta’s new SMART strategy.

What “worst case analysis” NATO has carried out showing Iranian ambitions to nuke Western Europe remains unpublished. It would seem most likely that Iran would want no more than an invulnerable minimum deterrent force, to prevent the destructive attacks visited on non-nuclear Iraq and de-nuclearised Libya. How will NATO proceed this summer remains to be seen.

Where Mr Orman certainly disagrees with me is this: I am one of those who believes intelligent détente with Russia – and China – and Iran – is better way to “ensur[e] Western security” than embarking on new arms races, putting our trust in expensive new weapon systems that will in any case be unforeseeably vulnerable to cyber attack.

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