For all of you who missed the Cold War
June 19, 2001 9:49 AM   Subscribe

For all of you who missed the Cold War (NyTimes/Free Reg Req.) If America builds a shield, Putin says he'll arm his missles with multiple warheads. Twenty years orf arms control going down the drain for a failed technology. Remember kids, duck and cover.
posted by mister scratch (31 comments total)
It will be one of those screwball logic things: we'll need the shield because we've built the shield. Or rather, George W. has built it. Though now that I think of it, with the kind of missles nuke-capable countries can build, a shield won't do much good anyway. See, this is why I voted for Gore. This and a few other reasons.
posted by amyscoop at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2001

This missile defense shield is full of holes. What we need is a backpack nuke defense shield.

"Hey you, take off that backpack!"

Eventually the world will be forced to go naked 24-7, which may or may not be a bad thing.
posted by skallas at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2001

Oh no! Multiple warheads? Like on the SS-N-23 (10 warheads), SS-N-20 (10 warheads), SS-24 (10 warheads), SS-20 (mod 2-3 warheads), SS-19 (mod 3 - 6 warheads), SS-18 (mod 2 - 8 warheads; mod 4 - 10 warheads; mod 5 - 10 warheads).

Yes, this is truly a disastrous result of Bush's attempt to fulfill his campaign promise.
posted by CRS at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2001

Honest questions, to which no one seems to have any answers: Whether or not it works, aside, what is the threat inherent in missile defense? Why is a plan (futile as it may be) meant to enhance our safety seen as such a horrible thing? And how is it that we're saying "We will defend ourselves to the utmost capability." and Putin is saying "If you defend yourselves, I will make my weapons even more deadly." and we're the bad guys in the situation?
posted by Dreama at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2001

When America has a shield it means Russia's weapons are useless and America's are not.

Which negates Mutually Assured Destruction, the reason the 'Arm the World' fanatics gave for keeping nukes in the first place.

Whether the shield will give this type of defence is a moot point, Russia and China are bound to be nervous.

There agin, the chances that America will actually use nuclear weapons are very slim.
Umm, use them again I mean.
posted by fullerine at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2001

I never thought that if someone was going to blow up the US of A, it would be done by launching some nuclear missle at us. That only gives us time to spot them on radar, figure out where they came, counter-strike and attempt to shoot them down.

No, my theory was always that if someone were seriously going to try and nuke us, they'd do it by pulling a pickup truck full of plutonium up to a streetlight somewhere.
posted by tomorama at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2001

Dreama, "mutually assured destruction" may sound like a bad thing, but it's been the basis for a delicate balance of power lasting decades now. Essentially, both Russia and the US have enough warheads that even if one side launched a surprise first strike, knocking out (say) 75% of the other side's warheads, the remaining 25% would still be able to reduce the attacking nation to rubble. This being the case, neither side has an incentive to attack the other. Thus the peace is (perilously) kept.

If an effective missile shield were in place, however, Russia would have no guarantee that the US might not just launch 'em some day. After all, if they knock out most of Russia's nukes with a first strike, and the missle shield can get rid of most of the rest, hell, why not? This gives Russia an incentive to be the one launching the first strike.
posted by lbergstr at 11:10 AM on June 19, 2001

CRS, you missed the point completely. You're right, multiple warheads are not a big deal or anything new.

On the other hand: Russia just threw down the gauntlet for a new arms race. Your focus on the number of warheads is like me noticing a spelling error in Putin's prepared statement.

Anyway, there's no doubt that Putin doesn't want an arms race or a war, he simply wants to make it exceedingly clear that he is against the idea of the missile shield, and he doesn't mind throwing his weight around.
posted by jragon at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2001

what do you think would happen if Bush said, "well, howsabout this, what if the missile shield covers everybody? Everybody kick in a piece, and it'll protect everyone from 'rogue nations'. We'll start working on our piece first, but everyone can use the technologies, and we'll cooperate to simplify it's operation and exploit economies of scale." Doesn't seem to violate any of his stated goals (avoiding attack from these "rogue nations" seems to be the only one), and it doesn't seem to piss anyone off, since the precious balance is maintained (ie no one can shoot any missiles at anyone), and it probably doesn't matter that it would never work on a global scale, because it'll never work on any scale anyway.
posted by jeb at 11:19 AM on June 19, 2001

Dreama, aside from the threat of an escalating arms race, it's not so much that there is "threat" inherent in missile defense. It's more a matter of priorities. To me, this is the fundamental choice: spend billions of dollars on a missile defense system that a)may not even work, and b) will likely never be used; or spend those billions of dollars to protect against much more imminent dangers such as pollution, failing schools, etc. etc. Things that pose a much much greater risk to our society than these supposed "rogue nations".

The first choice (to me) just seems foolish.
posted by jnthnjng at 11:22 AM on June 19, 2001

Considering we could blow up the world a million times over, this is just another way to launder money to Bush's defense "investors"
posted by owillis at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2001

Dreama: "Why is a plan (futile as it may be) meant to enhance our safety seen as such a horrible thing?"

Missile Defense is not a purely passive mechanism like the North American Early Warning Radar system maintained by NORAD. The radar system can tell you when a missile has been launched. It can tell you if a bomber is approaching American or Canadian airspace. The radars can not be equipped to fire at anyone. [NORAD also maintains squadrons of bombers, interceptors and missiles to counter any threat that has been launched.]

On the other hand, no matter how much you tag a missile to be of "purely defensive use," it can be fired first without provocation. Just like a gun. [I don't want to get into a merit of gun ownership debate here. I am just explaining the cause of the fear.] The uproar in this case is that many in the general public (me included) take this missile defense as something like my next door neighbor owning an AK47 for his personal safety. Makes me think twice before approaching his yard when my ball/Frisbee lands on his yard.

[One practical example of life where everyone owns heavy weapons is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gun ownership and proliferation of automatic weapons there will make the NRA proud. Two years ago I read on Yahoo!News that a small "war" broke down in Pakistan when one families rooster landed on another families property. Both sides duked it out a la the Hatfields and the McCoys with their AK's and grenade launchers. In both of these countries brothers/fathers/uncles routinely kill/taunt any other male who so dare to look at sisters/daughters. It is just not very nerve soothing to live near/next to someone with fire power that can be used as an offensive weapon with a flip of a switch.]
posted by tamim at 11:39 AM on June 19, 2001

How, exactly, did Russia throw down a gauntlet for a new arms race? Essentially, nothing has changed. They already have multiple warheads on their missiles. It's as if Putin said that if the U.S. does this, we'll build 20 missiles this year. (Russia builds, on average, 20 new ICBMs every year). So how, exactly, is this a new arms race?

More problematic for the Russians is that their early warning satellite system is in such disrepair that it doesn't provide coverage for up to 7 hours each day.
source: Melloan, George, Putin Needs Bush More than Bush Needs Putin, Wall Street Journal, p. A23, June 19, 2001.

Until that failing is addressed, they can't even think about entering a new arms race. Then there is the added expense of fielding and maintaining an expanded nuclear force when the Russians are doing everything they can to reduce that cost.

As for NMD missiles being used for offensive actions, that is ludicrous. What are you going to shoot with an ABM? Maybe a satellite or a jet, but that's it. I doubt that it can target the Kremlin. Besides, we have more than enough offensive missiles right now.
posted by CRS at 11:48 AM on June 19, 2001

Remember kids, duck and cover.

For those of you who have forgotten how, we present:
Duck and Cover (Warning! 28.6 MB .avi download)
posted by Avogadro at 12:05 PM on June 19, 2001

Part of the frustration with the proposed missile shield is that its brief history is a fearful catalogue of all-too-typical above-the-law Pentagon abuses. To name a few:

-fraud (repeated falsification of test results, from the first trials in 1984 to the current attempts);
-censorship (harassment of a scientist who publicized the most recent fraud, and ridiculous attempts to classify his already published work); and
-unconscionably ballooning budgets (worsened by the fact of the fraudulent test results used to support these demands, and the usual conflicts of interest with contractors).

Whether or not you agree with the strategy, the politics, or even the ethics of missile defense, the methods and execution have been insupportably incompetent (even in a secretive national-security way).

History is in a way repeating itself in Putin's response. When Reagan tried to leverage Gorbachev with his SDI plan, Gorbachev called his bluff, saying the plan was unworkable.
posted by Joe Hutch at 12:06 PM on June 19, 2001

Dreama: a plan "meant to enhance our safety" would be lovely. Bush's missile-defense plan, however, is meant to repay his defense-industry sponsors, and would do little to enhance our safety even if it worked.

We're the bad guys because we're saying "We're going to pretend that we could survive a nuclear war intact" and Russia is saying "Oh shit, then we'd better get ready to have one."
posted by nicwolff at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2001

Whether or not it works, aside, what is the threat inherent in missile defense?

This is a good honest question, but the first part hides a large flaw. Whether or not the missile shield works does matter, strategically. Here's why:

On July 13, the President stated the following in a news conference: I told the allies I'm committed to working closely with them to address this common threat by developing a new framework for nuclear security. This framework must include greater nonproliferation and counter-proliferation efforts, decreased reliance on offensive weapons and greater transparency so that responsible nations can have greater levels of confidence.

Thought Experiment: So let's suppose that the missile defense shield is built and that an attack is launched by a rogue nation on the United States. If too much emphasis is placed on a defensive system, and that defensive system does not work, then your offensive capabilities are in jeopardy. It's like the floor hockey team that I played on in college. We were all great defensive players, but had little ability to put the puck in the opponents net. So all of our eggs were in one basket. I meant that we had really low scoring games, but if you lose every game by one goal, you still don't make the playoffs.

I have fundamental problems with the missile defense shield (that are, arguably, just opinions), but I'm willing to put them aside in order to at least think about whether it is a sound idea apart from my political views. And I'm not sure that the missile defense shield passes that test.

NB: It's a thought experiment. That's probably important for you to remember.
posted by iceberg273 at 12:20 PM on June 19, 2001

It's not about the shield, but the money that defense companies will get. What happened to the billions we spent on star wars? What did we get out of that? Will this be any different?
posted by NJguy at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2001

Iceberg273, I think that you are setting up an experiment which will return only a certain set of results. There are no calls to do away with the framework of MAD. In fact, even with a defensive shield, I am sure any launch against the U.S. will immediately generate a counterstrike. The NMD simply gives the U.S. the ability to protect U.S. citizens against a small strike.

Therefore, while the U.S. will have a defensive capability which it now lacks, it will still retain its overwhelming offensive ability.
posted by CRS at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2001

Therefore, while the U.S. will have a defensive capability which it now lacks, it will still retain its overwhelming offensive ability.

If this is correct, then you are right, my experiment is pointless. I had understood that Bush was talking about serious arms reduction as part of his plan, but now that I think about it, it would take a lot of reductions to get us below the "overwhelming offensive ability" level. Point well taken.

I guess I'll just have to fall back on my other reasons (some of them completely irrational) for disliking the missile defense system. :)
posted by iceberg273 at 12:40 PM on June 19, 2001

Of course, it forces a redefinition of the phrase "mutually assured", so that it refers to something that is neither mutual nor assured.
posted by holgate at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2001

Of course, it forces a redefinition of the phrase "mutually assured", so that it refers to something that is neither mutual nor assured.

How about Separately Uncertain Destruction/Safety* ?

* SUDS**

** See, we've moved from the era of MAD to the era of SUDS. It's a cleaner, gentler world that leaves you feeling refreshed. Ahhhhh.
posted by iceberg273 at 1:37 PM on June 19, 2001

all of this NMD stuff hinges on the question "will it work?" to date, the answer has been no.
posted by tolkhan at 1:49 PM on June 19, 2001

[Russia just threw down the gauntlet for a new arms race. ]

With their economy in shambles Russia has as much of a chance of winning a new arms race as I do as winning a Miss Black America pageant.
posted by revbrian at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2001

Here's a missile shield for you - take those twenty thousand nuclear missiles and divide them up more or less equally among the world's nations. With judicious aiming, this gives every country on the planet the ability to end civilisation as we know it while simultaneously killing a billion or so people.

There. No more East-West standoff. No more arms race. No more "rogue nations". No more dollars wasted trying to design a system which can find a needle in a haystack and hit it point-first with another needle. Just plain, simple mutually assured destruction for everyone on the planet, a policy that has kept us all alive for the last fifty years, and may even protect us for another fifty if we don't screw it up.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:51 PM on June 19, 2001

Whats with the overwhelming assumption that the US would never fire a nuke? Why not? Its the only country that has done so in the past and looking at how deep it has its little fingers in so many of these "rogue nations" I can easily imagine a cruise nuke for the purposes of dethroning whoever is in power and placing the blame elsewhere. The US trained the Taliban and help Sadam Hussien in his heyday. We're not exactly angels.

If there's a real reason for a missile defense system its because we're planning on some really evil covert operations in the near future be it nuke, chem, or bio and are scared of retaliation. In 1951 the US was seriously considering nuking the USSR for the hell of it.

I'm pretty suspicious of the ICBM launch capabilities of "rogue nations" and why they would bother with such an elaborate scheme when biologicals can be carried on a person walking down Main Street, USA. Sounds like the defense industry wouldnt mind bringing the world closer to complete annihilation just for some extra cash.
posted by skallas at 1:54 PM on June 19, 2001

On a related note, Danny Stillman, a retired scientist at the Los Alamos is suing the Federal Government to allow him to publish his memoir: Inside China's Nuclear Weapons Program. The government contends that a book that exposes Chinese nuclear secrets, somehow compromises American national security. Who knows what the big Chinese secret America is trying to hide in their path to justifying a pie-in-the-sky NMD. So much for freedom of speech in America! [via FreeRepublic]
posted by tamim at 1:57 PM on June 19, 2001

The missile defense system stems from a thought process that has long dominated American political thought: the joy of dominating the world without accepting any of those pesky responsibilities. This comes from a country that hasn't suffered major damage from warfare since 1865.

I mean, come on, Putin's right: the missile defense shield is all about the U.S. wanting to nuke the hell out of the rest of the world without getting hurt itself. A natural inclination, I suppose, when discussing such doomsday scenarios in diplomatic circles, but totally irresponsible and lacking in any real basis. Ask the French how well building a wall worked.

I like Mars' idea. If you're so concerned about it, give everyone weapons and let everyone share in the responsibility of Not Destroying The Planet.
posted by solistrato at 2:38 PM on June 19, 2001

Oh dear. Yet again, it looks like Bush was right after all.
posted by aaron at 2:41 PM on June 19, 2001

Kinda funny that Shrub is so lovey-dovey with Vlad when he was slamming Clinton for being soft on Russia. Yeah, it's funny how that works out.

(Missile Defense Shield: Brought to you by BushCo - Obfuscating the truth for a more profitable tomorrow)
posted by owillis at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2001

what do you think would happen if Bush said, "well, howsabout this, what if the missile shield covers everybody? Everybody kick in a piece, and it'll protect everyone from 'rogue nations'. We'll start working on our piece first, but everyone can use the technologies, and we'll cooperate to simplify it's operation and exploit economies of scale."

Yes, and wouldn't it be funny if that missle defense shield was controlled with the Windows operating system? Hehe, sorry I know that this wasn't called for, but the idea of the NMD crashing upon a nuclear missle launch just tickles me giggly. That is, until I see that the Lockheed/Microsoft partnership headline in the paper, in which case I'm moving to Antarctica.
posted by fooljay at 5:10 PM on June 19, 2001

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