Keeping National Missile Defense in Perspective

Homeland Security

DEAN A. WILKENING

Keeping National Missile Defense in Perspective

If we’re going to pursue this strategy, let’s do so in a realistic way that minimizes the economic and political costs.

The United States is in the midst of its third major debate on nationwide ballistic missile defense–the first culminating in the 1972 ABM Treaty and the second sparked by President Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech in 1983. This time the Cold War is over, the objectives for the defense are limited, and technology has advanced to the point where some options may be technically feasible.

However, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are not the primary threat to the United States, as events since September 11 demonstrate. Other homeland defense programs, especially civil defenses against bioterrorism, are more important. Yet emerging missile states may acquire ICBMs some day. To the extent that this is a concern, diplomatic efforts can limit the spread of ballistic missiles, and deterrence can dissuade their use. National missile defense (NMD), then, is insurance against the relatively unlikely event that ICBMs will be launched against the United States.