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Making the US safer? The jokes on us...

by Ethan Wells Friday, Feb. 20, 2004 at 6:17 PM

The Bush administration is running its election campaign on the assertion that it has made the US safer. Is this true? A report in today's LA Times indicates that in fact, the Bush administration has done precisely the opposite. How so?

In response to Bush's decision to withdraw from the

1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and pursue "missile

defense technology," the LA Times report on the front page of today's paper that the Russians have developed and tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile, capable not only of carrying multiple nuclear

warheads, but also of out-running, as it were, any

missile defense technology. The Pentagon, attempting to downplay the significance of what is, in fact, a new arms race, noted that the Missile Defense System was never meant to protect the US from Russian missiles; "the threat is really from countries like North Korea that are developing long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction that could be carried by the missiles." Russia, the Pentagon quietly concedes, has always been able to defeat the missile defense program because it is capable of launching so many warheads that no missile "shield" could successfully intercept them all.

A couple things to note: first, the Pentagon openly admits that the way to counter our missile defense

program (which, by the way, doesn't work), is to

develop more (nuclear) weapons. The missile defense program thus provides an incentive for proliferation -- as the Russians, like the Chinese, well understand; hence their move to develop and deploy more weapons. "And deploy" because the Russians (and Chinese) can best counter our missile shield only by launching as many missiles as possible. This should leave us all extremely frightened, especially in light of the fact that Russia's missiles are inadequately secured and poorly maintained, thus increasing the likelihood of either an accidental launch or a misplaced missile falling into, say, Al Quada's hands (which, according to Al Jazeera, has already occurred).

Second, if the missile shield is meant to protect us

not from the Russians or Chinese, who have relatively

advanced missile programs, but rather from countries

like North Korea, as the Pentagon maintains, than the

joke is on us. As numerous scientists have noted,

such a shield can only work against sophisticated

intercontinental missiles (sophisticated, but not so

sophisticated as to have multiple warheads, since the

intercept missile targets the warhead, not the

vehicle.). Less sophisticated missiles -- such as

those developed by, say, North Korea, tumble as they

fly. This tumbling makes targeting the warhead nearly

impossible, since the position in space of the vehicle

carrying the warhead can only be known within a margin of error equal to or greater than the circumference traced by the length of the vehicle as it tumbles plus its displacement as a function of its velocity (neglecting, very optimistically, extremely difficult calculations concerning wind speed, gravitational flux, etc). Such a margin is much too great, when the task is, as the Pentagon admits, to hit a bullet with a bullet.

So what do we learn? There are in fact TWO ways to

defeat our missile shield: (1) launch as many warheads as possible or (2) launch an un-sophisticated tumbling warhead. The shield thus is unable to protect us EITHER from sophisticated weapons systems, such as Russia's, China's, Israel's, France's, and Great Britain's, all of which are capable of overwhelming it through multiple launches or by launching missiles with multiple warheads, OR from unsophisticated weapons systems such as Pakistan's, North Korea's, India's etc. Who, then, can it protect us from? No one. Meanwhile, the direct consequence of the development of this system is a new arms race with Russia and China, and a rush to develop albeit unsophisticated nuclear weapons by the likes of North Korea. The upshot, in both cases, is that there are now more weapons threatening the US, against which we are unable to defend.

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Gee that makes sense. Genres Friday, Feb. 20, 2004 at 8:43 PM

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