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The Tired BMD Debate


Some thoughts at the Diplomat on BMD:

The nub of genuine utility is this; ballistic missile defense can help protect the forward military installations of a state from attack by hyper-accurate ballistic missiles designed to destroy and disrupt military capability. Soviet plans to strike Western European airbases and staging areas with short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) during the opening hours of a NATO-Warsaw Pact war helped drive a sensible interest in theater missile defense.  Similarly, the U.S. Navy is quite correct in pursuing BMD options that can protect aircraft carriers and Pacific airbases from the PLA’s Second Artillery.

Unfortunately, little of the public conversation on BMD is held on these terms, either in the United States or abroad.  The operational details of ballistic missile usage and the utility of defense are difficult to explain to a general public that is uneducated in and largely indifferent to military affairs. Consequently, BMD advocates drum up the direst possible scenarios to make their case to the public at large, initiating the ritualistic cycle that plays out across the world. This, in turn, hampers realistic assessments of risk, threat, and capability.


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  • jkay

    IMHO, calling what we have “missile defense” is a disturbing fraud upon our taxpayers and anybody whom might wrongly think themselves protected by it, as real as Iraqi WMD when we invaded. At vast taxpayer overexpense, we’ve developed a system which works worse than the old Soviet systems of the 70s, four decades ago (!!).

    There are two cases:
    In-theater missiles strike me as needing too fast a human reaction time to be reliable, though the missile system at is least OK. Why think surprise wouldn’t work as well at Pearl against us?
    Our out-of-theater systems don’t work atall, at staggeringly huge expense, as Farley’s link points out.

    • Domino

      Can you post a link re: our defense capabilities and the Soviet’s from the 70s?

  • agorabum

    Many Americans are still aware of the potent anti-ABM documentary from the 1980s, although I feel that this awareness proportion is dropping. Perhaps greater awareness of this movie will lead to a more enlightened public.
    Oh, the movie? Spies Like Us, of course.

  • Domino

    Foreign Policy seems to be the most complicated thing to read and discuss. Sometimes it seems like “Up is actually Down, and Left is actually Right,” and other times it seems like people are just stating the obvious. And still other times all the discussion may be moot due to the fact that we are dealing with people, and people are unpredictable.

    Signed, 20-something political junkie

    • cpinva

      and your point would be? welcome to the real world, as opposed to the world of books. you should be familiar with the book world, but don’t expect the real one to be exactly like it. as you sagely note, we are dealing with human beings, not known for their rationality.

  • Monte Davis

    Since Nike-Zeus in the 1960s, BMD advocates have consistently blurred the enormous difference between defense of a relatively few compact hard targets (our own missiles, airfields, naval bases etc] and broad population defense. In blurring it, they have fostered the impression that the former would be a significant step towards the latter. “Protect our deterrent today, then just scale up to protect ourselves tomorrow.”

    I used to ascribe that blurring to carelessness or optimism, but it’s gone on so long that I can only conclude it’s deliberate. And unforgivable.

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