Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Dangerous Fantasy of an Anti-Missile Defense

Post's Krauthammer Pushes Dangerous Fantasy


Joe Cirincione

President of Ploughshares Fund

Posted: July 10, 2009 10:50 AM


Washington Post senior columnist Charles Krauthammer

wants Russia to build more nuclear weapons. Why?

Because he thinks we can shoot them out of the sky like

clay pigeons. This is simply not true. The Post's

promotion of this fantasy could lead to global disaster.


Krauthammer supported the arms control treaty

negotiated by conservative President George W. Bush,

but now opposes the similar agreement crafted by

progressive President Barack Obama. Instead, he says we

should "invite the Russians to build as many warheads as they want."


It doesn't matter because, he claims, "We can reliably

shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile." This

is demonstrably false. We cannot now reliably shoot

down a real long-range missile. We have never been able

to do this and there is no prospect that we will able

to do this in the future. Claims that we can are not

true. People who repeat these claims are not telling the truth.


These false claims are based on carefully staged

demonstrations where interceptor rockets hit missile

targets. The trick? The targets cooperate. They have

known characteristics including size, velocity, radar

signature, and are carefully directed into exact

position for the "intercept." They even have little

transponders guiding the interceptor with an electronic

"here I am." Still, the successful hits are counted in

single digits after 30 years of trying.


There is close to zero chance of intercepting a real

long-range missile. Why? Because real missiles don't

cooperate. They hide their warheads with decoys,

jammers, chaff, spin, and radar-reflective coatings. If

we can't see it, we can't hit it.


Our intelligence services concluded 10 years ago that

any country capable of building a long-range missile

(including North Korea) could build any or all of six

basic "counter-measures" that could defeat any know

defensive system. Russia, China and the U.S. have

already done so.


Tests in the 1990s with realistic decoys (balloons with

the same radar and infrared signature as the warhead)

showed that our sensors could not pick out the real

warhead from the fakes. Did we stop the missile defense

program? No. We stopped using realistic decoys. We

dumbed down the tests. Testers call this "testing for

success." Most of us would call this "rigged."


This is not the first time the Washington Post has

knowingly published false statements. Last week, in the

only oped the Post ran before the Moscow summit, the

former head of the missile defense program, retired

General Trey Obering, also claimed the anti-missile

system for Europe he was rushing to deploy in the last

years of the Bush administration would provide "cost-

effective protection." He trashed an independent joint

assessment by US and Russian scientists that found the

system would not work.


Two of the scientists, MIT's Ted Postol and nuclear-

weapon designer Richard Garwin, wrote a detailed

rebuttal, correcting Obering's factual misstatements. I

have seen the oped they submitted. They objectively

examine the flaws of the anti-missile interceptors and

the fact that the radar cannot "discriminate between

warheads and decoys."


A distinguished group of scientists wrote President

Obama an open letter last week. Ten of the letter's 20

signatories have won a Nobel Prize, 15 are members of

the National Academy of Sciences, and seven are members

of the National Academy of Engineering. They said, in part:


   We assess that the planned European missile defense

   system would have essentially no capability to

   defend against a real missile attack. ... This

   system has not been proven and does not merit

   deployment. It would offer little or no defensive

   capability, even in principle. At the same time, its

   deployment would result in large security,

   political, and monetary costs....


   Congress has required that the Secretary of Defense

   certify that the interceptors have been shown to

   work "in an operationally effective manner" through

   "successful, operationally realistic flight testing"

   before they can be deployed in Europe. This has not

   occurred. Testing of the interceptors has not begun

   and will not be completed for several years.


   The interceptors proposed for Europe would use the

   kill vehicle and a modified version of the

   interceptor booster being fielded as part of the

   Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. This

   technology has not been adequately tested and has no

   demonstrated capability in a realistic attack

   scenario. None of the GMD tests have included

   realistic countermeasures or tumbling warheads. All

   flight intercept tests have been conducted under

   highly scripted conditions with the defense given

   advance information about the attack details.


   For these reasons, the intercepts achieved in past

   tests of the GMD system say nothing about the

   effectiveness of these interceptors under real-world

   conditions. Until these systems are subjected to an

   honest technical assessment and a rigorous testing

   program, there will be no data on which to base an

   assessment of how effective they might be in an actual attack.


   Claiming that this system is effective when it is

   not is dangerous and could contribute to unwise

   decisions by U.S. policy makers.


But President Obama should not wait for the Washington

Post to re-discover its obligation to provide its

readers with facts instead of spin. He should call

these scientists to the White House so he can hear

first-hand why he should stick to his guns and only

deploy weapons that work. Starting a new arms race is

bad enough. But deploying scarecrows while the other

side deploys nuclear weapons is dereliction of duty.




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