Evaluating Ballistic Missile Defense

June 16, 2004

Evaluating Ballistic Missile Defense

In the abstract, ballistic missile defense is an attractive idea.

According to General P.X. Kelley, co-chair of a recent Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on non-lethal weapons, such a device could have prevented disaster by knocking out the entire electrical system of the truck that killed 241 soldiers in Beirut in 1983-an attack that forced the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon - before the vehicle found its target. This same technology could have prevented the 2000 Al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.S. Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors and did hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Other non-lethal weapons are also ideally suited to the challenges of homeland defense and counterinsurgency that U.S. troops are now confronting.

The technology for these weapons already exists, but the Pentagon is not procuring them, in part because so much attention, money and energy are directed toward ballistic missile defense systems.

There is a role in US homeland defense for a limited missile defense program. Developing the system in coordination with trusted allies could allay costs. Weapons fired by rogue nations - and nuclear blackmail - do constitute a threat to US national security. But the national resources devoted to combating these threats should be compatible with the likelihood of such an attack taking place. Spending disproportionate resources on systems and technologies unlikely to work as designed does not make America safer.  


Ian Bremmer is President of Eurasia Group, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, and a columnist for the Financial Times