FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Reality of North Korean Missiles vs. the Mythology of Missile Defense

Photo by Stefan Krasowski | CC BY 2.0

Last month, the mainstream media endorsed the Pentagon’s description of a collision between an American interceptor rocket and a mock intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean as the “first successful test of whether it could shoot down a North Korean warhead racing toward the United States.”  Nonsense!

The reality of anti-missile defense, whether called anti-ballistic missiles, “Star Wars,” or today’s National Missile Defense is—in Yogi Berra’s ironic words—a continuing story of “deja vu all over again.”  For the past sixty years, an alliance of weapons laboratories and defense contractors have exaggerated the military threat that these systems are supposed to meet as well as the potential for the success of these systems.

President Eisenhower began the search for a defense against ICBMs in the 1950s when he authorized the operational development of a nuclear-tipped interceptor missile.  President Nixon moved from protecting cities to protecting military sites, and the Senate approved the deployment of a SAFEGUARD anti-ballistic missile system to protect Minuteman missiles in North Dakota. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on these projects.

In 1981, President Reagan launched the biggest peacetime military buildup in history in order to close a non-existent gap in both nuclear and conventional arms with the Soviet Union.  CIA director William Casey and deputy director Robert Gates falsified intelligence to justify the buildup, but an economic downturn and a growing nuclear freeze movement led to pressures against increased defense spending.  President Reagan’s response was the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” to change his image from a warmonger to a man of piece and to gain addition military appropriations.

Secretary of State George Shultz, unlike other members of Reagan’s national security team, was interested in a genuine detente with the Soviet Union and did his best to tone down the “Star Wars” campaign.  In private, he went even further, calling Reagan’s science adviser George Keyworth a “lunatic” for suggesting that the technology existed to create a genuine national missile defense (NMD).  The arguments against “Star Wars” that Shultz raised thirty years ago were spot on, and should remind us today that the idea of such a defense remains an illusion.

Thanks to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, we now have so-called NMD in California and Alaska, and key military advisers and their congressional allies are calling for an expanded system on the East Coast.  President Bush is particularly responsible because he abrogated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone of strategic deterrence, and began a campaign against multilateralism that the Trump administration is waging aggressively.  In his memoir, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld fatuously argued that the ABM Treaty was of “dubious legality” because it was negotiated with a Soviet Union that no longer existed.

North Korea has been far more aggressive in testing its missile program in recent months, launching a dozen missiles since the first of the year compared with the 16 tests that took place during the 17-year reign of Kim Jong Un’s father.  Nevertheless, Pyongyang has not demonstrated a missile that could reach the continental United States or the ability to shrink a nuclear warhead to fit atop an ICBM and survive the stresses of re-entering the atmosphere. Since 1999, the CIA has regularly predicted that North Korea would have ICBMs to deploy against the United States.  Secretary of Defense William Cohen cited the 1999 assessment in calling for deployment of national missile defense.

At the same time, the United States has not demonstrated a defensive system that can deal with unsophisticated countermeasures, including the ability to distinguish between genuine and fake warheads.  U.S. defensive systems could be evaded with short-range ballistic and cruise missiles, and have no value against munitions designed to disperse chemical and biological agents.  Since a national missile defense could never be tested in battlefield conditions, any shortcomings would not be apparent until it was too late.  U.S. strategic defenses are already undercutting U.S. efforts to counter the proliferation of strategic offensive weaponry, thus jeopardizing strategic stability.

What the United States has failed to do is to test North Korea’s interest in actual negotiations to place limits on Pyongyang’s missile program.  The United States has genuine leverage in this regard because of Pyongyang’s interest in a peace treaty to end a Korean War that was waged 65 years ago, and to ensure that the United States doesn’t return nuclear weapons to South Korea.  Pyongyang would also like to see some limits on extensive U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are responsible for increased tensions in the region.  Washington regularly ignores Beijing’s suggestion of a trade-off between limits on North Korean missile testing for greater restraint in U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.

Unfortunately, the first five months of the Trump administration have clarified that Washington is far more interested in unilateralism than in multilateralism, and has not looked for ways to bargain with either Pyongyang or Moscow toward limiting missile testing or reducing strategic inventories, respectively.  In the past twenty years, we have witnessed the dissolution of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the abrogation of the ABM Treaty, and the nonsensical deployment of a national missile defense.  There is no reason to believe that the Trump administration, dominated by general officers and an incompetent secretary of state, has the sagacity to pursue statesmanship.  The myth of American exceptionalism will continue to dominate American strategy.

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His forthcoming book is American Carnage: Donald Trump’s War on Intelligence” (City Lights Publishers, 2019).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail