Writing in the Globe and Mail, Hellyer said bluntly that "BMD...has about as much to do with rogue missiles as the war on Iraq had to do with weapons of mass destruction." The notion that North Korea might fire one or two ballistic missiles at the US, even if it had a few long-range missiles and nuclear warheads to put on them, is ludicrous. The entire leadership and most of the country would instantly be destroyed by a massive US retaliation. Pyongyang is a very nasty regime, but it hasn't attacked anybody in the past fifty years, it isn't suicidal, and it can be deterred by the threat of retaliation just like Russia or China.. So what is BMD really about?
BMD first emerged in the 1980s as President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" proposal. He was genuinely horrified by the idea of a nuclear war, and it was sold to him as a project that could save Americans from a Soviet missile attack. Reagan even wanted to give the BMD technology to the Soviet Union, too, so that they could jointly eradicate the danger of a nuclear exchange, but that's not what the people who sold him the project really had in mind.
In practice, any system designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles that depends on ground-based interceptors can easily be overwhelmed just by building more missiles. The cost to the Soviet Union of building more ICBMs would always have been far less than the cost of the interceptors needed to shoot them down and their supporting systems, so the Soviet Union could always have saturated US defences in an all-out attack. But what if it were the victim of a US surprise attack that destroyed most of its missiles on the ground? THEN a good American BMD system might beable to deal with the ragged retaliation that was all the Soviets could manage.
How can we know that the technology will never be cost-effective? Because even if the technology could finally be made to work to specifications, the whole notion of ballistic missile defence is ridiculous. It will always be ten to a hundred times cheaper to evade the ABM defences by adding decoys and other "penetration aids" to the incoming warheads, making them manoeuvrable, etc. than it is to upgrade the performance of the interceptors.
That performance, after a quarter-century's work, is so poor that only two out of the last five tests worked. And those tests are rigged in the ABM system's favour, with the defenders knowing the incoming missile's type, trajectory and destination. In more recent tests, they have used no decoys at all in an attempt to get the hit rate up. And yet they have deployed the system anyway, first in Alaska and now in Poland.
This is fantasy strategy in the service of the military-industrial complex, and no strategist in the know takes it seriously. But it does allow the owner to make quite impressive symbolic gestures, albeit rather expensive ones.
Such a BMD system is not yet a technological reality even now, twenty years later, but that's what it was always about: giving the United States the ability to launch a first strike against the Soviet Union and to survive the inevitable retaliation with "acceptable" losses. It seemed less urgent when the Soviet Union collapsed, but it was never abandoned -- and in the later 90s the neo-conservatives revived it as part of a scheme for establishing permanent US military dominance over the planet.
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