Open thread: ballistic missile defence


in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics, Security

An episode involving missile defence* from the West Wing holds up very well today. The craggy old American chief of staff is in favour, out of fear of what rogue regimes might do to America. The British ambassador is opposed because it’s impractical, violates international law, and risks worsening the global nuclear weapons situation.

I can see why people like the idea of being able to stop a few missiles launched by North Korea or Iran, or by a rogue commander somewhere. At the same time, I think the dangers of a nuclear arms race make the development and deployment of such a system unwise, even if the major technological hurdles could be overcome. It’s the classic security dilemma: you build something meant to make you safer, potential opponents interpret it as making them less safe (by reducing the credibility of their deterrent) so they build expensive countermeasures. In the end, everyone has wasted money on the race and everyone ends up less safe. It could also tempt decision-makers into recklessness, based on false confidence that the system will nullify any response to their aggression.

We should be working to de-alert and dismantle the nuclear arsenals of the authorized nuclear powers under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Against that backdrop, resisting proliferation to new nuclear states would be more plausible.

* I don’t mean defending things like aircraft carriers from ballistic missiles. I mean systems to protect domestically-located military facilities and population centres from ballistic missile attack, probably with nuclear weapons.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

. February 22, 2018 at 6:20 pm
anon February 26, 2018 at 4:36 pm

With hypersonic weapons and everything else there may be a full-on arms race regardless of whether the US continues to develop missile defenses, and there’s no chance they’ll stop now that they have spent so much.

Milan February 27, 2018 at 7:02 pm

. September 4, 2018 at 2:13 pm

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

. January 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Trump announces huge expansion of US missile defense system

Arms control experts fear system review, unveiled at Pentagon, could fuel arms race with Russia and China

. July 18, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Though gmd was declared ready in 2004, it was not tested against an icbm-type target until 2017 and then under generous conditions. Using four interceptors against one warhead is assumed to give a 97% chance of a hit. That sounds promising. But if merely a dozen missiles were volleyed at America, not only would it soak up more than $3bn of interceptors but a single warhead would still have a 30% chance of getting acquainted with an American city. The average revolver offers better odds for a game of Russian roulette.

. July 18, 2019 at 4:22 pm

Hypersonic missiles
Gliding missiles that fly faster than Mach 5 are coming
They combine the speed of intercontinental ballistic missiles with the accuracy of cruise missiles

. October 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm

Russia is helping China build a missile defence system, Putin says

Days after Beijing unveils state-of-the-art missiles, Moscow reveals plan that would ‘radically enhance China’s defence capability’

. November 22, 2020 at 4:32 pm

De profundis ad astra – The significance of an interceptor missile launched from an American warship | United States | The Economist

. November 22, 2020 at 4:36 pm

US-China relations: shooting down of mock ICBM was warning to Beijing, observers say | South China Morning Post

. November 22, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Pentagon says US warship destroyed ICBM target in test off Hawaii | Russia | Al Jazeera

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