A Strategic Defense InitiativeIssue: Summer 2004
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, were both good and bad news for the Bush Administration's early commitment to the near-term deployment of defenses against ballistic missiles. The good news was that the vulnerability of the American homeland to devastating attack was demonstrated to be real, not merely a figment of the overactive imagination of Reagan-era strategists. The bad news, on the other hand, was that the method of attack utilized by the terrorists involved neither ballistic missiles nor nuclear weapons. Al-Qaeda's largely unanticipated concept--the use of fuel-laden commercial airliners in suicide missions to produce enhanced conventional explosive effects--inflicted less damage than might be anticipated from most so-called weapons of mass destruction, but it was well suited to a technically constrained and low-budget terrorist organization.