An Alternate Plan for Missile Defense
This morning in an op-ed in the New York Times MIT prof Theodore Postol proposes an approach towards defending against missile attacks from Iran or North Korea that there are reasons to believe would be acceptable to Russia:
President Obama has correctly shown skepticism about the missile defense system promoted by the Bush administration: its performance is unproven, it requires unending additional resources and it faces problems that cannot be solved with existing science. Russia, for its part, has long perceived missile defense as a threat to its security — a concern the administration chose to ignore, worsening tensions with Moscow.
Fortunately, there is a “designer” missile defense that would answer President Obama’s hesitations and allay Russia’s fears. And unlike the Bush missile defense, it would actually be able to deal with the threat of ballistic missile attacks from North Korea and Iran if such a threat ever emerged.
This is a proposal I’ve developed and analyzed with a variety of American and Russian experts and the idea itself is simple. The defense system would shoot down Iranian or North Korean long-range missiles as they slowly accelerate from their launching sites. It would take advantage of the fact that long-range missiles built by Iran or North Korea would be large and cumbersome, have long powered flight times and could take off only from well-known launching sites.
The defense would have fast-accelerating interceptors that could home in on and destroy the large, slow and fragile ICBMs. The interceptors would weigh about a ton and could achieve a top speed of five kilometers per second in tens of seconds. They would be carried by stealthy unmanned airborne vehicles that look like B-2 bombers, but are smaller and carry much smaller, though still substantial, payloads. Such vehicles already exist.
Only two of these armed drones, controlled by remote teams of operators, would be needed to patrol within several hundred kilometers of a launching site. At these ranges, it would be possible to shoot down an ICBM, with its nuclear warhead, so that the debris falls on the territory of the country that launched it. Only five drones would be needed to maintain a continuous patrol for extended periods. But the system would have to operate only when satellites and reconnaissance aircraft indicate that an ICBM is being prepared at the launching site.
While this sounds to me like an eminently effective and practical plan, the question that it raises in my mind is would implementing such an approach for Iran and North Korea be stabilizing or destabilizing?
It seems to me that the answer depends on whether you think that Iran or North Korea are acting aggressively or reacting to perceived threats whether those threats really exist or not. If they are acting aggressively, although this missile defense wouldn’t eliminate their motivations for aggression it could well be an effective defense against that aggression. However, if the two countries are responding, however irrationally, to perceived threats wouldn’t moves towards an effective defense (especially one as cost-effective as this one sounds) further aggravate their feelings of vulnerability and being under attack?
Note that I don’t have ready answers to these questions only the questions and I’m prepared to listen to arguments either way.