A good explanation of why a missile defense shield should be pursued.
February 7, 2001 7:11 AM   Subscribe

A good explanation of why a missile defense shield should be pursued. Granted, the tech may not be up to the challenge yet, but that's no reason not to try to build it. And if, God forbid, someone was to launch a nuke this way, it would give us a chance of avoiding having to turn someone's country into a glass-covered parking lot.
posted by CRS (40 comments total)
"...into a glass-covered parking lot"

When I'm blasting across the radioactive alkali flats in my monkey-navigated rocket car, I'll look back on your foolish idealism and laugh.

A parking lot? When you could have a *race track*?
posted by aramaic at 7:27 AM on February 7, 2001

Since this is a double post, I'll just refer back to my last comments about this stupid idea.
posted by norm at 7:28 AM on February 7, 2001

I think its about time someone tried to deal with all those nuclear missiles that the US is constantly being pummelled with. Now if Bush could only solve the Zombie problem. That would also be a good way to spend tax payer dollars.
posted by Doug at 7:48 AM on February 7, 2001

Well, it's not technically a double post, norm, although it is on the same subject.

Personally, I would like to have the option of defeating an ICBM (or small number of them) rather than just retaliating in kind. Of course, any attack would engender retaliation, but at least we wouldn't have to nuke anybody like we would if it happened now. Seems to me like this would only provide an additional safety against another Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
posted by CRS at 7:55 AM on February 7, 2001


What you jivin' bout?
This is no double post, foo'!
I woke up for this?
posted by DoublePostGuy at 7:58 AM on February 7, 2001

In neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki were we retaliating for a nuclear strike. We also dropped bombs from planes, and didn't use ICBMs.
Also, the only people to ever use a nuclear weapon against other humans were the Americans. So you can see why the rest of the world may not dig this idea too much.
posted by Doug at 7:59 AM on February 7, 2001

"no reason not to try to build it"? Geez, where to start?
First of all, this is just a continued rehashing of the "Starwars Defense Initiative". (Notice how they threw the 'Starwars' word in there? Isn't that a kiddie movie? Like calling a buried missle site a 'silo').

Secondly, do you have too much money? Do you have ANY idea how much treasure this Impossible Mission will cost? Any idea who will benefit?

Thirdly, do we really want to start a new arms race? Destabilize the world again?

Finally, I have to repeat the words of Nobel prize-winner I.I. Rabi, who called SDI "the foolish dream of an old man".
posted by Twang at 8:11 AM on February 7, 2001

Wow, that really made me see the light, Doug. There's certainly no reason we should take any steps to protect our country until after we've been attacked.

It's just like that silly global warming thing. I mean, why should we worry about global warming if the polar ice caps haven't melted yet? I have no idea what I was thinking.

And I think your last post lost me. The rest of the world should like this idea since it gives us an option to not use nukes again. A short example:

The leaders of country A ( a very radical group) launch an attack on the U.S. (Unlikely, but possible.)

Scenario 1: No missle shield

Effect: missile hits U.S. U.S. retaliates against Country A with several nuclear strikes. Hundreds of thousands (and probably millions) die. U.S. catches hell over dead civilians.

Scenario 2: Missile shield

Effect: Incoming missiles destroyed. U.S. retaliates using convention forces. Less than 100 thousand die (probably fewer, but I'm trying to be conservative). Fewer casualties, less outrage against U.S.

I prefer Scenario 2. But then, I really don't care to see people incinerated. I think the potential tragedy in loss of life is avoidable through a missile shield.
posted by CRS at 8:12 AM on February 7, 2001

I must admit that I haven't read a lot on the subject, but in all that I have read I haven't seen any likely, real-world scenarios discussed i.e. under what unprovoked circumstances would a small nation launch a first strike against the U.S?

If Kissinger is correct about a world where smaller nations are both able and likely to launch limited strikes against a superpower, then all of the superpowers would benefit from constructing their own missile defense shields. Of course, some of them won't be able to afford it, even if it is possible to build an effective system. Why am I starting to suspect that this all some kind of bargaining ploy to get the other superpowers onside in squishing the ambitions of any rogue nations through more conventional means?
posted by xiffix at 8:16 AM on February 7, 2001

Technicalities, technicalities. I thought a post on the same subject was a double post. (shrug)
posted by norm at 8:24 AM on February 7, 2001

CRS, why can't we retaliate with conventional forces against a country that attacks us with nuclear weapons? The point of my second post was that we WEREN'T attacked by nuclear weapons, yet HAVE used nuclear weapons against another nation. So why in the world does this system insure against us doing it again? It's just a silly thought.
Also, we have no real enemies, except those we'll make by building this.
Also, it doesn't work. See Norm's post. Maybe we should spend this money on educating people, and making them less likely to kill each other.
posted by Doug at 8:27 AM on February 7, 2001

Hey, let's all submit a scenario! Here's mine:

Scenario 3: Missile shield 2

Small "rogue" nation launches single nuclear warhead at U.S., along with a dozen decoys. Effect: Missile shield fails miserably, taking out at best one or two decoys. Nuke hits U.S. Millions killed, but with trillions of dollars lost on failed missile defense system, government has no money left to deal with the aftermath. Disease and lawlessness run rampant.
posted by owen at 8:29 AM on February 7, 2001

1) What Xiffix said. What 'rogue state' is going to make a random, unprovoked, suicidal attack on the US?
2) Putting a nuclear bomb on a rocket and firing it around the world is about the most difficult way to deliver the weapon to the target. Putting a bomb on a boat and detonating it offshore near a major city would be much easier (and make finding the attacking party more difficult, were it an unprovoked terrorist attack.)
3) Conventional attacks are somehow less horrific than nuclear ones? Tell that to anbody who lived in Dresden or Tokyo in 1945.
4) For a demonstration of the effectiveness of expensive, immobile defensive systems, see the Maginot Line.

posted by twitch at 8:29 AM on February 7, 2001

Scenario 3: Missile Shield

Leaders of country A (a radical group) read the papers. Rather than an ICBM, (which immediately lets you know WHO sent it), they put the nuke in a tramp freighter and detonate it at the NYC docks. Or put it in a small plane. Or smuggle it in and place it in a building, waiting for a phone call to detonate.

The missile defense systems, as currently specified, are the equivalent of building a heavily fortified gate across a road, without a wall. Anybody can walk around it.

posted by grimoire at 8:38 AM on February 7, 2001

If someone attacks the U.S. with nuclear weapons, I will guarantee you that our government will respond in kind. That's official policy and the public would demand it.

I don't think dropping nukes on Japan during WWII is a relevant point since we were at war with Japan at the time and thought that nukes were simply easier ways to destroy cities than 1000-plane incindiary raids. Everyone knows and fears nukes today. You just can't throw 'em around willy-nilly.

And we have real enemies. They're just not powerful nations. And what if somebody screws up and there's an unintended launch?

And I noted that the current proposed system doesn't work. But that doesn't mean we can't build one that will.
posted by CRS at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2001

I think the Toronto Globe and Mail did a good job of summarizing the flaws of this missile-shield plan.

It violates existing treaties, jumpstarts a new arms race, costs billions of dollars and has a 1-in-1,000 chance of actually working.

The missile shield is corporate welfare for U.S. defense contractors.
posted by rcade at 8:49 AM on February 7, 2001

And I noted that the current proposed system doesn't work. But that doesn't mean we can't build one that will.

That reminds me of the Simpsons episode where the teachers go on strike. At the PTA meeting they look at plans prepared for such an event: Use superintelligent cyborgs to teach the students! Or, if cyborgs haven't been invented yet...
posted by owen at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2001

Wow, you guys are busy. Ok, here we go.

Owen: What if it hits the incoming missle? What if their decoys aren't that effective? What if the system can defeat the decoys? At any rate, I'll take a 23% chance of hitting it over a 0% chance any day.

1) Dunno. Maybe none. But what if one does? What if we have provoked them? Does that make it any better?
2) You're saying that if we can't defend against every possible attack, we shouldn't defend against any. Specious logic at best.
3)Nope, Dresden and Tokyo were just as bad as a nuke (sans radioactive fallout, of course). However, we've come a long way in conventional munitions accuracy since WWII. I noticed the U.S. didn't firebomb Baghdad in '91.
4)The Magniot line is a good example of what can happen if you rely entirely on a fixed defense. However, you can use a fixed defense as a component of or supplement to an overall defense.

Grimoire: See my answer to twitch, 2), supra.
posted by CRS at 8:53 AM on February 7, 2001

CRS - while your magical missile shield might catch missiles from terrorists. However they don't seem to be using nukes. Truck bombs and biologicals seem to be doing the job just fine.

The problem with your shield is that it encourages other nation to try and keep up. This re-ignites the arms race. Remember the cold war? Hello? We just got that resolved. Why are you so eager to start it up again?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2001

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha......missile shield....hahahahahahahahahahahahha...please, stop...hahahahahahahahahaha....I can't take any more...hahahahahahahahhahahaha.....
posted by briank at 9:17 AM on February 7, 2001

If someone attacks the U.S. with nuclear weapons, I will guarantee you that our government will respond in kind. That's official policy and the public would demand it. - CRS

Yes, that's true - and it will be true whether or not the incoming missiles are intercepted. You really think that if N. Korea launched a couple of ICBMs at us, and they were shot down, we'd sit around laughing at them and gearing up for an invasion? We'd nuke them immediately, to prevent a second-wave attack - it would be strategically and politically necessary.

Note that this doesn't prove that we shouldn't build an anti-missile defense, which might or might not save American lives, which might or might not be worth the expense and the diplomatic destabilization. I just don't think it'd save the lives of anyone not under the "shield".
posted by nicwolff at 9:17 AM on February 7, 2001

But what about the aliens? Turn these bad boys around and instant inter-planetary defense!
posted by Mick at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2001

Here's my last attempt at illuminating you benighted souls here on mefi on this particular subject (time to go home).

y6y6y6: Umm, it's not really "my" shield. I really can't afford it on my budget. Yeah, I know terrorists don't use ICBMs. They're notoriously difficult to hide under a coat. However, see my response to twitch and Grimoire on that argument. As for an arms race, nobody else can afford to do this. Ergo, no arms race.

briank: (sarcasm)If you can't make logical arguments against something, just laugh at it. That'll really sway people to your view. (/sarcasm)

nicwolff: I think that the attitudes of the people both here and in other countries would prevent a general nuclear attack on someone who launched ICBMs at the U.S. and had them destroyed in flight. A very limited strike against their strategic assets may occur, but nothing like what would happen if someone razed L.A.

Mick: Nah, their deflector shields would make our puny weapons laughably ineffective.
posted by CRS at 9:37 AM on February 7, 2001

How about the fact that it would be a spectacular waste of cash? How big is the national debt? Granted, we can probably budget it, but I personally believe there are better and more pressing issues to spend that kind of money on. How many actually useful programs would die on the account of a missle program that might not even work (or even be the best deterrant)?
posted by Hackworth at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2001

I have nothing much to say on this subject othger than wondering whether those who should know have said It Can and Will work (I have heard otherwise), and more to the point: "rogue" nations--ones that we don't lie, are as likely to use bacteriolgical warfare and skip the shield once we have spent a fortune to erect it...after all, lots of nations now can and probably have made chemical and bacteriological weapons. Why bother to try missles when you know a country might be protected by some shield, a condom like thing to protect us against one sort of threat and leaving the door open for a dozen other approaches?
posted by Postroad at 10:24 AM on February 7, 2001

Not a fan of sarcasm, eh?

Even if Washington and Moscow ultimately agree to cut their long-range arsenals to 1,500 nuclear warheads, they said, it would leave Russia with more than enough missiles to be confident of overcoming any foreseeable U.S. defense

So, hmmm....we've established that there are so many warheads that no possible defense could stop an attack from Russia....we've established that smaller countries and/or political terror groups could deliver nuclear devices and/or bioterror devices through everything from a boat parked in NY harbor to a bag left in an airport...we've established that the US is bound to retaliate to any nuclear strike, which in turn is bound to cause the Russians to launch even if the retaliation is not against them....

I still don't see any upside to this, CRS, unless you work for an aerospace defense contractor who will reap countless billions of wasted taxpayer money for a system that has virtually no chance of working.
posted by briank at 10:26 AM on February 7, 2001

I have nothing to say on this subject, except the obvious fact that pursuing the missle shield idea, feasible or not, will royally hack off our friends and enemies around the world. Don't you guys watch The West Wing? :)

"Starwars Defense Initiative". (Notice how they threw the 'Starwars' word in there? Isn't that a kiddie movie?

First of all, SDI stands for "Strategic Defense Initiative." "Star Wars," being a familiar phrase and a mildly applicable term, became the colloquial name of the proposed system.

Secondly, Star Wars is not a "kiddie movie." Have you ever seen it?

Like calling a buried missle site a 'silo').

There's no reason not to call a tall, cylindrical structure like a "buried missle site" a "silo." It fits the definition of one. The only difference is that the grain it stores is significantly higher in fiber.

posted by daveadams at 10:27 AM on February 7, 2001

Why don't we put all our resources into a little robotic dog, which can sniff out nuclear weapons around the world before they're even launched! I've got some magic fairy dust that will even let her (I call her "her") fly around the world in search of these "rogues" and their deathbombs. And we could fund it through merchandising. SaDIe, the SDI pooch, in her own saturday morning cartoon show. Feature films. Lunch boxes. The works!

Such a plan is just as feasible as the neo-SDI plan, and a lot more fun.

These mythical "rogue nations" are much more likely to use chemical or biological weapons than nukes. We'd actually be waging a new Cold War against ourselves--as we destroy our economy Soviet-style to build an arsenal of expensive, ultimately useless gadgets.

This plan has more holes in it than Ronald Reagan's cerebellum.
posted by jpoulos at 10:42 AM on February 7, 2001

No Dog Nukes!.
posted by Avogadro at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2001

Avogadro--Cool Cartoon

Anyway, it's been established that ICBM's are a really unlikely delivery vehicle for a rogue nation to use so I won't touch on that.

Consider the term "missile defense shield". It implies that missiles will shield the US from ICBM attacks. It won't. Here's why.

The main pro arguement is that such a shield will allow the US to use conventional rather than nuclear weapons in the counter strike.

If any country/group is bold/stupid enough to launch an ICBM based attack against the US and has the resources to do so, wouldn't it be logical to assume that they are willing to attack at all costs?

That said, let's say that the MDS manages to stop an ICBM attack from a rogue nation. The US strikes back with conventional forces.

Given that this country is both bold and has sufficient resources, what is to stop it from launching more nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks?

*If* we employ a MDS, *if* it works partially or completely, and *if* the US fights back with conventional forces, the US will still have NBC based attacks launched at it until the rogue nation is decimated.

The use of conventional weapons in response to a nuclear ICBM attack only serves to encourage further nuclear strikes.

posted by yangwar at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2001

Too bad Clinton was incapable of standing up to Congress on this - now that we're in the fourth term of the Reagan administration, the United States might actually build this silly thing. National missile defense (not national weapon-of-mass-destruction defense, national suicide-biological-attack-at-the-airport defense, or national dinghy defense, mind you) was probably quite a good idea in 1962, but is anachronistic and fairly disingenious to be speaking of nowadays.

Congratulations to the representatives from the handful of defense-industry districts that will benefit from this plan. Your constituents will love you right up to the moment we're attacked in a manner consistent with a far more likely scenario.
posted by Vetinari at 11:43 AM on February 7, 2001

CRS wrote:
And we have real enemies. They're just not powerful nations.

So having this in place will keep them from becoming powerful and/or not give them a reason to become powerful at a faster rate?

And what if somebody screws up and there's an unintended launch?

what if someone screws up with our missle shield and launches an attack? It's just as likely.

CRS: I can't for the life of me understand why anyone smart enough to use a computer would think throwing trillions at a system that doesn't work, doesn't protect against the real attacks (*cough* Oklahoma City *cough*), and would relaunch an arms race is a good idea.

I've said it before as have others for decades. We spend too much on military activities as it is. Why on earth would we want to throw even more money at this "problem" when it shows no signs of even working?
posted by mathowie at 1:00 PM on February 7, 2001

Haven't you guys ever played Total Annihilation? You're screwed if you don't have a missile defense system and the other guy has nukes ready.....just like RL....sorta
posted by grank at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2001

Scienario 8: Mad axeman falls on the president causing him to slip and knock a post that makes a ball tumble down a long track onto a bit of tar that is set alight by percusion and causes the curtains to flame up and set light to the ceiling. The president fails to notice any of this and decides that the big red button on his desk reminds him of flowers. He likes flowers. He likes to destroy them by pressing them between his fingers. He likes the gelatinous squelch of flower-mucus. He presses the button to find out whether it feels like a flower. Many lights flash. The president is bemused. But the lights are pretty so he does nothing.
The people manning the defence shield thing are panic stricken because of the rabbits. The rabbits are looking at them. So it doesn't work. We are all toasted. But toast is really cool! Hooray!
posted by davidgentle at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2001

Many lights flash. The president is bemused. But the lights are pretty so he does nothing.

Given the current President, it's not as unlikely as scenario as one might think.

posted by jpoulos at 2:48 PM on February 7, 2001

"And I noted that the current proposed system doesn't work. But that doesn't mean we can't build one that will."

Well, let's see why might it be that the current proposed system doesn't work? Maybe because it's not possible for us to build an effective missle defense? Either that or we have to assume that we're just building an ineffective system for the fun of it.

I'm going to try to make this last post on missle defense stupidity.
posted by rdr at 5:44 PM on February 7, 2001

I had suggested earlier and I will put it in stronger form. If I were leading a small nation and wanted weapons to strike at big nations, as soon as America voted for the Shield I would turn all efforts to chemical and biological weapons that could be delivered by means other than missles that could be knocked down...I would have smiled at the Americans spending so much money and smile that I simply circumvented their defenses.
posted by Postroad at 6:37 PM on February 7, 2001

It's simply a great way to turn your allies into "rogue nations".
posted by holgate at 8:38 PM on February 7, 2001

good reason not to do it? How about because the US signed a treaty saying they wouldn't , and it would illustrate proof to the global community that any agreement made with americans ain't worth the paper it's written on...
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2001

Couldn't we just build big, mile-high nets around the country? That'd keep those darn nukes out!
posted by Neb at 12:25 PM on February 9, 2001

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