Establishment GOP Puts Cronies over Country on Missile Defense

As North Korea demonstrates America’s vulnerability to ballistic missiles, and as President Trump pledges “many billions of dollars” for “the anti-missile,” establishment Republicans are poised to use missile defense talk today in the same way they did in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s commitment to it: profit politically from rhetoric, funnel money to the best-connected contractors, and accomplish nothing.

Since Reagan restored missile defense to the nation’s agenda 34 years ago, Republicans have led the spending of some 80 billion dollars on its behalf. But they have acquiesced as the U.S government has crafted each and every program according to one overarching policy: to put no barrier to missiles from China or Russia reaching Americans.

Accordingly, our so-called National Missile Defense is but a hamstrung token. Using the same logic with respect to technology, we are depriving the equipment we build for defense against threats such as North Korea and Iran from all capacity defend against China and Russia. In practice, this means that it is less capable of doing anything. Today, malnourished North Korea is on the cusp of overwhelming every defense we’ve got, in Alaska and California, as well as in the Western Pacific.

Republicans banked votes, contractors banked the money, and America’s vulnerabilities deepened. Unless President Trump changes basic policy, the cycle repeats.

A $30 Billion Boondoggle
The Establishment Republicans’ intellectual guide, 
the Wall Street Journal, has just pointed the way. In an obituary (September 2-3) and an editorial (September 6), it celebrated George A. Keyworth, the White House science adviser from 1981 until 1984, as “the Godfather of Missile defense.” In fact, no one was more responsible than Keyworth for turning President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative into a research program that produced zero anti-missile weapons—by design. The so-called Fletcher Panel that he created defined SDI by precluding building defensive devices, restricting its mandate to long-term research. He staffed it exclusively with delegates from the national labs and their contractors. They divvied up some $30 billion to fund their favorite hobby horses.

Some—Edward Teller’s and Lowell Wood’s X-ray laser and free-electron laser—were patent scientific frauds that discredited the initiative. But steering programs to the right people got Keyworth a seat on Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors. Hence from the very first, SDI was a typical U.S-government program: soaring rhetoric that covered a feeding trough for well-connected interest groups. One of its former directors, asked what SDI had produced, waved a report titled, “What We Got for $30 Billion.” An expensive missile-swatter.

The Journal also says, “to the extent that the North Korean nuclear threat is at all containable,” it is because SDI “eventually gave us systems like THAAD.” Thus does the Journal show the Republican Establishment’s nonchalant ignorance. The combination of interceptor missile and radar called Theater High Altitude Defense was a U.S. Army program. All it owes to SDI and its Missile Defense Agency successor are limitations, such as depriving the interceptor of a warhead and requiring it to crash directly onto the oncoming warhead. This added layers of technical complexity—e.g. exquisite reductions in vibrations—and added to the cost of nearly $1 billion per battery. Expense, and hence scarcity, is one reason why even North Korea can overwhelm it quantitatively.

THAAD’s effective range is set by how soon after the offensive missile takes off the interceptor may be launched. The reason why the interceptor, whose physical range is just over 500 miles, has an effective range of only 120 miles is the policy (in the spirit of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) that requires our interceptors to be programmed and launched only by radar/fire control systems co-located with the interceptor. The THAAD warning radar is not equipped to program and fire interceptors. (Just now, Navy Aegis ships networked with one another are being given a partial exemption).

Blinded By Partisanship
More fundamentally, all U.S interceptors continue to be hampered by their radars’ inability to look over the earth’s curvature to see missiles being launched by China and Russia (or Iran, or North Korea’s interior). Already a generation ago a network of infrared satellites was being designed that would have made it possible see all such launches as they happened and to launch interceptors with plenty of time to stop them at maximum range. But the SDI office and its successor canceled that. It would have displeased Russia and China. Thanks, SDI!

Partisanship with regard to missile defense is the last thing America needs. That is why it was so disheartening to read former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen last week in the Washington Post: “If we had continued the Bush program over the past eight years, we would now have a robust array of defenses against any North Korean ICBM.”

Evidently, Thiessen’s partisan concerns overcame his duty to know what he is talking about. “We would be able to target a North Korean missile in the boost phase.” In fact, trying to intercept North Korea’s missiles in boost phase from nearby ships was nuts. Simple algebra showed that our interceptors would be engaged in tail chases that they would lose.

Thiessen continues: “we would have 44 ground-based interceptors [GBIs] armed with hundreds of warheads that could be fired to take it out in midcourse.” Baloney! Since these GBIs (as well as THAAD) are required to crash directly onto the oncoming warhead, their guidance system is on such an edge that two interceptors, each with its own exquisite kill vehicle, are needed for reasonable assurance of stopping one warhead. The only “robustness”is in the pretense.

A true establishment Republican, Thiessen joins The Wall Street Journal in urging more money for missile defense and in chiding Trump for being too slow to offer it. But money to do what, precisely? Neither Thiessen, the Wall Street Journal, nor any other prominent Republican is asking Trump to reverse the fundamental decision to remain vulnerable to Chinese and Russian missiles. Only the president of the United States can do that.

Only Trump can prevent the “many billions of dollars” for missile defense that he will propose and that will surely be allocated from being wasted on current programs, and on hobby horse research that substitutes for building weapons that protect us against the really serious Chinese and Russian threats.

The Latest Quest for ‘Unobtanium’
The Missile Defense Agency’s hottest idea nowadays is to equip drones with laser weapons capable of destroying missiles deep in North Korea while hovering over international waters “for the cost of a gallon of gas per shot.” But neither the batteries to generate high levels of power nor the lasers with wavelengths short enough to compensate for low power exist. Something like that also requires perfect compensation for atmospheric turbulence, existing and induced. Attempts to achieve this have already been made at the cost of over $100 million. Were such technical difficulties surmounted, defending these drones on station 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year would be beyond our capacity. In short, the laser drone project is about inventing a host of things, the main attraction of which is that they do not exist. In the trade, these are called “
unobtanium” and are sure-fire excuses for follow-on contracts.

Here is hoping that Donald Trump, a practical man, sees the foolishness of much of what we have been doing for the past 34 years; that he will reverse the ban on defending against China and Russia, and that he will use our money to build things that actually destroy missiles of all kinds no matter whence they come.

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About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

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54 responses to “Establishment GOP Puts Cronies over Country on Missile Defense”

  1. Somehow, someone must ensure that President Trump reads this article and receives a thorough briefing on our current anti-missile capabilities and research priorities. He must be made aware of the gap in reality and perception.

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      • “I think he is a personally and professional corrupt conman, swindler, and sexual predator.”

        That description has a certain Clintonian ring to it, don’t you think?

      • I can’t entirely disagree with you but Bubba never ran scams like Trump University.

      • Oh really, then what do you call the Clinton Global Initiative, the pay to play scheme that enriched the Clinton’s and betrayed their country?

      • Right wing horse crap. Try visiting the villages in Africa that have Clean water because of the CGI. All your hero does is stiff charities. Stop buying Fox’s fake news, Koolaid drinker!

      • Right, and ask the people of Haiti what happened to the money they pledged? CGI puts about 10% of their donations to work while the bulk of the money go to funding the Clinton’s life style.

        “All your hero does is stiff charities.”

        Which heroes would you be referring to, chump?

        “Stop buying Fox’s fake news, Koolaid drinker!”

        Smears and insults are the last resort of the ignorant and those who cannot make a cogent argument like you.

      • The Haiti story is literal right wing crap made up by Hannity and others. I have no doubt you are a loyal American. Just stop buying into the fake new con you are being fed.

      • “The Haiti story is literal right wing crap made up by Hannity and others.”

        The CGI “pay to play” schemes and corruption are widely known. How about this headline: “How the Clinton Foundation Got Rich off Poor Haitians”

        “Their visit gave critics an opportunity to address the millions of dollars that seemingly disappeared inside the country under Hillary Clinton’s watch as companies connected to the former secretary of state received lucrative contracts in the wake of the 2010 earthquake there.”

        This is just one of the many suspect and corrupt dealing led by the Clinton’s under the aegis of their foundation. I am more than capable of discerning on my own how corrupt the foundation and the Clinton crime family is.

  2. ISIS and NK and Iran gained power while these same elected officials were letting 0bamacare and honerous taxation ruin US. They are dimwits.

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  3. Why are we asking anyone’s permission to defend ourselves?
    Who gives a rat’s backside if the Russians or Chinese get their panties in a twist?
    It’s a defensive system, only an aggressor has reason to be concerned.

    • Sir,

      With respect, while the idea that we should not defer to others in our choices for defense sounds good, sounds independent, sounds strong, when it comes to understanding Nuclear weapons employment and theory, it is, unfortunately, incorrect.

      All major nuclear states possess nuclear inventories which are DESIGNED to DETER first strike by a hostile nuclear power.

      The inherent justification for continued development of nuclear weapons for over 60 years has been deterrence.

      All sides know that winning a full scale war is essentially impossible. Therefore the existence of the weapons is primarily geared towards convincing your adversaries that if they were to strike at you first, your response would equally devastate them, ensuring that they have no incentive to strike first.

      Missile defense, if geared toward major nuclear powers, upends that balance. While it seems like a defensive tool, it has the ability to create an opening for offensive strike.

      If we have nuclear missile defense capabilities, and our peer- level adversaries do not, then, in theory, we could strike first, while being able to defend against their retaliatory strikes.

      This has the effect of INCREASING the likelihood that an aggressor state might resort to nuclear weapons first use, especially prior to full deployment of a system designed to incapacitate the adversary’s retaliatory capability.

      I know that sounds convoluted. I’ve tried to come up with simpler ways of explaining that, but without success yet.
      Mutually assured destruction works to prevent nuclear war between major nuclear powers.

      IN that context, development of missile defense which would defeat a major power, will be perceived as an offensive capability, as it threatens to make obsolete the enemies retaliatory capability.

      • really, what is stupid about it? A lot of really smart people understand it.
        I’m happy to debate, in a respectful manner, but hurling insults without a basis in logic is pointless.

      • one. one EMP burst. we go back to the year 1800 in a flash. nation gone in one year. we prep for EMP attack and I can buy your argument. but we haven’t.

      • I’d be happy to provide some more context.

        Part of the reason we do not prepare for a HEMP strike (which is considerably different from simple source EMP resulting from a ground or low-altitude burst), is that our nations power grids (there are 3) are privately managed, and it is politically challenging to address the issue.

        And because the magnitude of the effects, when seriously considered, is so terrible, that there is a psychological reluctance to believe it is valid.

        I’ve been working this issue professionally for more than 10 years. I’m an emergency manager for a federal agency. I understand it quite well. I’ve seen attitudes start to change, but it is still early.
        Many in the scientific community have been raising the issue since about 2003.

        2 separate congressional committees have been formed to look into it, although almost none of their recommendations were acted upon because they are VERY EXPENSIVE to implement.

        Recently, the Continuity community within the federal government has added EMP shielding and hardening as a requirement for sensitive communications that support national continuity, because such requirement did not previously exist, and more folks are starting to take it seriously.

        But most importantly, it’s not “back to 1800 in a flash”. It’s worse.

        Sure, there would still be some tech left, but almost no one today knows how to survive like people in 1800 did.

        Let me explain.

        Post HEMP, the degree of damage would not be even. In more than half the country, anything but the most hardened or shielded electronics would be at least damaged, if not destroyed.

        About 70% of cars built after 2000 would stop functioning – period. heavy trucks would fare a little better, but not much. Older vehicles would have lower rates of impact, anything before 1990 would probably be fine. With the exception that parked vehicles in underground garages or otherwise partially or completely shielded environments would have lower lesser amounts of damage.

        But, 100% of aircraft in the sky would cease functioning instantly.

        Not only would this result in about 250,000 – 500,000 instant deaths (based on FAA averages for daily flights and how many are in the sky at any time), it would also produce another 10,000 – 50,000 deaths on the ground from planes falling on people and buildings.

        About 95% of aircraft on the ground would be rendered non-functional without significant repair.

        100% of rail would be instantly non-functional and damaged to a point requiring heavy yard-depot level repair. But with NO functional rail equipment, how do you move those damaged engines to the yards?

        Nearly all heavy industry would be off-line.

        90% or more of commercial refrigeration would be off-line (not just without power – the systems are damaged). This means that 50% of our current food-stuffs in the US would spoil within 10 days, but most would be taken by looting long before then.

        Better than 90% of government, law enforcement and emergency communications would be off-line.

        Even if 20 – 25% of the country had much less impact, the 70 – 75% of the country getting close to full impact would be beyond the capacity or rescue or response.

        New York city has enough food to feed the city of New York for about 4 days. We live in an on-demand society. Everything is just in time delivery, especially with food, much of which is perishable.

        Oh, and every single person on life support in a hospital dies in the first hour – that’s another 100,000 deaths. Add to that about 30 – 50% of those with pacemakers. Another million or two.

        But worst of all, there is NO communications. No 911, no news, no internet, no police driving through neighborhoods, no twitter, facebook, google maps instagram or anything else.

        The single worst factor, in an information addicted society, is the utter and total instant communication blackout. Not only do most people not have power and resources, but they have no one to tell them what is going on.

        Seriously, I strongly suggest you do some research. This is not science fiction. it’s science FACT.

      • “Liberal logic”. What an oxymoron.

        The flaws with your argument:

        1. It seems clear that you fail to realize that Russia and China ARE developing missile defense technologies Of course they are. They are not fools and like any reasonable person, they wish to protect themselves from perceived threats. Do you propose we just stand by and wait for them get their defense systems up and running – first? Would it be OK for us to protect ourselves – then?

        2. “If we have nuclear missile defense capabilities, and our peer- level
        adversaries do not, then, in theory, we could strike first, while being
        able to defend against their retaliatory strikes.” Cite even a speck of evidence that illustrates any desire on our part to “strike first”. This is the core fairy tail of the anti war left. Unlike Russia, and possibly China, conquest is NOT in our blood, and there’s nothing that has happened in the last century + that would lead any reasonable person to conclude that the USA is a legitimate threat to the safety and well being of any non threatening nation. On the other hand Russia, and to a lesser degree China have demonstrated a desire for conquest and expansion. Your attempt to portray equivalence, is not only ridiculous, it’s flat out insulting.

        3. Convince the solder that he is safer without armor – unless the other side has it too. Tell the cop that he cannot have a bullet proof vest unless the bad guy has one too. See how absolutely absurd that sounds? It’s the same thing with missile defense.

        4. “Mutually assured destruction works to prevent nuclear war between major nuclear powers.” True – unless we come up with a reliable defense system, then the situation is MADE EVEN SAFER. Hostile actors like Russia will be LESS likely to attack if they fear their attack would be thwarted by our defense, and then they WOULDN’T HAVE a deterrent to stop our RETALIATION. It’s the ultimate in deterrence. Conversely, if THEY come up with a defense and we don’t have one, then the world if a FAR more dangerous place.

        The democrat left made these same ridiculous arguments beginning in the 80’s. I guess they got tired of being laughed at because they finally shut up when it became obvious that their arguments were totally without merit or logic

      • Stevenandros,
        I’m quite certain I did not use the term “Liberal logic” anywhere in my post.

        I wish people would stop speed reading and look at and consider the details of well written and thought out discussions.

        Yes, Russia and China are developing missile defense, and yes, we are improving ours. Both are reasonable and appropriate.

        This was not a debate about having missile defense.

        Missile defense makes absolute sense.

        What I said is there is a HUGE difference in DEPLOYING a system that is designed to be able to stop a few dozen missiles, and DEPLOYING a system designed to be able to stop a full first or retaliatory strike by a major nuclear power.

        Being able to stop a few dozen missiles/warheads is enough to prevent an irrational actor in NK or Iran from hurting us, but does not significantly degrade the retaliatory capabilities of the other major nuclear powers.

        And of course they are researching and developing, and so are we. We are light years ahead, and will stay that way of we can ever get serious about stopping Chinese technical espionage.

        Your argument #4 would make sense in a world in which we could instantly design, develop and deploy such a capability.

        But that does not exist. In the real world, such a capability would take DECADES to move to fruition (stopping 5,000 missiles!), and as a result, the Russians would be forced to take steps as soon as they saw us developing it, in order to preserve the validity of their deterrent capability.

        Yes, the democrats made such arguments in the 80’s, and parts of their argumetns were correct.
        When are we going to get past the silliness of assuming that because a democrat said something once, the idea itself can never be valid.

        I despise liberal and democrat goals and objectives, but I do not assume they are idiots. 1st rule of war is never underestimate your opponent and if you assume everything the (D)’s say is factually wrong, you weaken yourself.

      • No – you did not use the term “liberal logic” – I did because many of your arguments appear to mimic the ridiculous arguments the liberals made – and have since abandoned (at least publicly) – in the 80s.

        I’m glad to hear that you acknowledge the reality of the Russian and Chinese missile defense programs. Yes – espionage needs to be stopped at all costs, but the barn door was left open a long time ago (thanks Bill!), and the Chinese are closer to being on par with us that you give them credit for.

        Then there’s that SunTzu bit of wisdom that we’d be fools to ignore…

        We must accelerate the pace of our development.

        “You think the Russians and the Chinese see us the same way we see ourselves?”

        That is an antiquated notion that has no merit in the age we live in.

        “Publicly” – obviously not – they constantly bloviate about the supposed threat that we pose. “Internally” – of course they know it’s a steaming crock of excrement. They monitor us as closely as we monitor them (with effortless ease) and they doubtlessly know without any question what the reality of our intentions are. To suggest that they “just don’t understand us” might have been a viable argument up to maybe 1990, but today it is absolutely laughable, and I won’t give the notion a moments credence. Like us, they have a first rate intelligence system, with knowledgeable capable analysts who understand us far better than we understand them. Unlike them, we are a wide open society and have a hard time hiding our intentions and positions about – anything. To suggest – in the age of the internet – that they see us in some way other than how we really and truly are – NOT a true threat! – is a flat out joke!

        Someone once said something to the effect “If the Arabs were to lay down their arms, there would be peace in the Middle East. If the Jews were to lay down their arms, they would be quickly slaughtered to the last man”. A similar argument could be made when comparing the USA & Russia.

        Question: If Barack Obama had achieved the liberal wet dream (at least it used to be) of an absolutely complete and total unilateral disarmament, what do you imagine the response would be from the Russians?

        I’m sure he wanted to, and he could have – early on, but his liberal illusions were painfully shattered when he was “educated” about the harsh realities of our world when he took office, and that’s exactly why it didn’t happen.

        If Russia truly wanted real honest to goodness peace – they could have it tomorrow simply for the asking (and I’m quite certain that they know this). Instead, for internal political purposes, they falsely pretend that we are a
        threat, while simultaneously demonstrating – in multiple places all over the planet – that they ARE a genuine threat (Ask any sentient person in Western Europe).

        There is simply no equivalency in the behavior and intentions of our two nations.

        “In the real world, such a capability would take DECADES to move to fruition (stopping 5,000 missiles!).

        We’ve HAD nearly FOUR decades since the inception of the idea. Imagine where we would be today if the “domestic enemy” had not thwarted our efforts at every turn! In spite of their best efforts, we still have made enormous progress, probably much more than is publicly known. Any suggestions that we abandon the process, or even refrain from escalating our efforts is patently insane.

        My “argument #4” does not presuppose instant capability, but complete and total protection should be the overt ongoing goal. Once again, your objection reeks of the stench the dems used to pedal – arguing that “we can’t do it”, “it’s too expensive”, and “it won’t work 100% of the time so we shouldn’t even try”. Balderdash. No – reasonable – person expects 100% system perfection, instantly. I believe a viable system can and should be deployed, systematically – making improvements as the technology evolves. Kinda exactly like what they’ve been doing, but at a vastly accelerated pace.

        As for the democrats arguments, I’ll be happy to entertain any argument from any reasonable person – regardless of their politics – so long as they approach the debate from a position of good faith. I will assess their position on the merits and judge it accordingly. I call BS when I see it – even (especially) on republicans.

        Sadly, when it comes to missile defense, I have not heard a single word from a democrat that I can agree with. Logic is not one of their strengths, and in fact is usually a foreign concept to them,

        Thank you for the entertaining conversation!



      • The problem is the argument you advance makes no sense and never has.
        If MAD prevents a nuclear war its deterrence does not magically disappear while an effective missile defense is being developed or deployed.
        The argument in essence says that to avoid the remote possibility that America is run by madmen who will wipe out entire civilizations just because it can those civilizations will instead choose certain suicide by launching a first strike they know will result in their own destruction.

        Worse the insipid argument prevents us deploying an effective defense while our adversaries who ARE ruled by dictatorial strongmen who head regimes with a history of murdering millions without the slightest hesitation work tirelessly to breakout with exactly such a system when they are able to, leaving us sitting ducks.

      • Brian,
        I read your response twice, and I cannot for the life of me understand how you inferred those extreme, ridiculous interpretations about madmen from what I wrote.
        Did our entire country just forget how to engage in critical thinking and actual reading for comprehension?
        Your description of mad men is cartoon silliness.
        The simple fact is that MANY wars start through misunderstandings.
        I am not saying that the other side WILL start an insane war. I’m saying that when you destabilize MAD, you create openings for other things to cause problems that MAD might have prevented.
        I cannot tell the future any more than you can. I do know that in spite of MAD, we came damned close to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis – BECAUSE THE SOVIETS INTRODUCED WEAPONS WHICH DESTABLIZED THE BALANCE.
        By basing missiles in Cuba, the Soviets reduced flight times to such a point that they could have overwhelmed our retaliatory capability before we could launch most of it.
        Kennedy was willing to start a war to prevent that. Most people do not understand just how close we came.
        So, now put yourself in Putin’s position. If the US starts to deploy robust missile defense, capable of rendering his first or retaliatory strike ineffective, he has to feel more vulnerable.
        It’s doesn’t mean he goes and starts a war just for that. War’s don’t start in a vacuum.
        But other crap in the world continues to happen. perhaps some other issue – that he himself started, blows up in his face in Europe, and now, suddenly he is in a minor shooting war with us, or with Poland, or with all of Ukraine, and then it expands, and the US gets drawn in with air strikes.
        And then Russian intelligence provides – mistakenly it turns out – some evidence that US Strategic Nuclear forces are standing up for a possible strike.
        And now he has to wonder if he is at risk of loosing his deterrent, if our first strike can destroy enough of his missiles that our missile defense can handle the rest.
        That is simply one fictional scenario.
        But there is a reason the people who plan for nuclear war and study it and understand the risks associated with it value the stability of MAD – because they have to fight these war games all the time, and they study all the stupid and accidental things that human beings do daily that cause conflict.
        Nuclear weapons are not the same as an accidental bombing with a conventional weapon.
        Hell, even accidentally killing a few hundred troops or civilians is a recoverable error (although not for those killed).
        Nuclear war is not something we come back from easily, and therefore it deserves a special place in our strategy, and undermining MAD in any way is not to be undertaken lightly.

      • And to your final paragraph, how can you and others fail to recognize that the same thing which prevents us from deploying missile defense on that scale prevents them as well?

        So, here’s a suggestion, before responding, try READING my entire post, and understanding it.

        You can’t build and deploy that much missile defense in secret. It can’t be done.

        And it takes years.

        So NO, I am not suggesting we sit back weakly with our hands in our laps while madmen who murder millions build the weapons to destroy us.

        Stop assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is some sort of peacenick coward. I was a Marine Officer, and I spent a decade in the Intelligence Community after that, in war zones, for my country. Now I do emergency management. My life is focused on saving lives.
        I have no problem with a strong national defense, and in fact I want one.

        IF and WHEN the Russians and the Chinese make any SIGNIFICANT technological progress on missile defense, we will know it. They cannot deploy thousands of interceptors overnight anymore than we can.

        So long as we maintain the technical edge, and stay ahead of them, the balance is retained, but as usual, slightly in our favor, just as it is now.

        In fact, I would almost suggest we GIVE the Russians and the Chinese the technology for our missile defense and encourage them to build their own. Then, we could all build and deploy interceptors at roughly the same rate until all of us had enough to ensure that no nuclear missile strike could ever be successful.

        and Taadaa, now we have rendered the world safe from accidental global nuclear war.

        It won’t happen. We’re too stubborn to see how much safer that would make us, and too many people on the conservative side still think you need to stick your chest out and puff yourself up to be tough.

        I’ll kick anyone’s tail that I need to, but a smart fighter doesn’t go looking for fights. That doesn’t make you tough, it makes you stupid.

      • You need to take the numbers into account, not just the technology. For example, the SALT II Treaty limited both the US and Russia to about 1700 immediately deliverable warheads. The US missile defense capability in Alaska and California consists of 40 interceptors, about 3200 short of a fully capable defense. If you want to see the impact of a limited defense capability, take a look the Soviet era but still operational Moscow Defense System. They have approximately 78 interceptors, twice the number of GBI interceptors we have, deployed in 1972, and updated in 1995,, but that didn’t cause the USA to cry “destabilization” because we had lot more warheads than they had interceptors.

      • But now we’re faced with a tiny state run by power-mad totalitarians who are using their nuclear weapons to blackmail Western Civilization to prop up an economy that would go bankrupt in short order without our payments. Our acquiescence only encourages them to squeeze their people tighter, keep enhancing their offensive nuclear arsenal and demanding even more tribute.

        But they’re not the real danger to the MAD defensive strategy, because the NORKS understand that our retaliation would turn their country into a glassy slag and they don’t really want to commit suicide.

        It’s the Iranians and stateless Muslim terror groups that we really should worry about, because their 7th century religion convinces them that to die in service to Islam is the greatest honor a Muslim can attain. How many NORKs have we seen joyfully committing suicide to advance Marxism?

        None, because their leaders want to live, but a few hundred million Muslims believe their End Times are very near anyway, so what the hell? We’ll be partying with Muhammed and Allah and the virgins in heaven afterwards. What’s not to like about dying?

      • geokstr –
        you are on the right track, but I think you’ve oversimplified it and missed a few components.

        Correct, the NK leadership has nothing to gain from a pre-emptive strike – HOWEVER, we know for a fact that the NK leadership see their nuclear capability as a deterrent against regime change.

        If the NK leadership felt that US or SK action was imminent with a goal of regime change, they very probably WOULD use their nuclear capability, and then gamble on surviving in their VERY deep and complex bunkers.

        The NK’s are the worlds leaders in the development of complex, hardened underground facilities (UGF’s). They have multiple complexes for leadership and military that probably could allow them to survive a nuclear strike.

        And despite the bravado, it is unlikely the US would ever choose to turn NK “into glass” in response to a strike.

        1) we have to reserve a certain amount of our systems to preserve MAD with the Russians and Chinese.

        2) The overwhelming majority of NK people are innocent of any wrongdoing and nuking a bunch of peasants into oblivion will hardly bring back the people we have lost.

        3) throwing nuclear missiles at NK means sending them close to China and Russia, and risks starting a war with them.

        We would probably use limited nuclear strikes at key NK facilities, with deep penetrating warhead capabilities, probably via cruise missile or aircraft delivery in order to preclude misunderstandings with the Russians, accompanied by a massive conventional strike intended to overwhelm their military.

        Now, even if you don’t think that is what would happen, can you not imagine that it might be what the NK leadership think would happen?

        And if they think that is realistic, then they might think they could survive it.

        One of the biggest failings in US strategic planning has been an inability to “get inside our enemies heads” and think like they do, to try and anticipate THEIR PERSPECTIVE.

        You can never be 100% sure with such efforts, but making the effort can be very informative, as to how other might see a choice as potentially valid, that you see as suicidal.

        Also, with respect to the Islamic states that you describe as a greater threat, their leadership are no more interested in suicide than are the NK leadership. They are believers, but they send poor stupid people to die for the faith, they do not want to do so themselves.

        And the NK’s are the single greatest proliferators of these technologies to those countries.

        So, to the extent the NK’s have them, it all but guarantees that the Islamists will eventually get them.

      • That’s a standard argument from the 80’s. Without rehearsing that debate one could point out that missile defense ensures that retaliatory forces survive the initial attack,and thus preserve MAD, if that’s important to you. BTW there have been years when the US was the sole nuclear state, but it did not attack anyone. So US dominance is not a thing to be feared.

      • Again, you are assuming everyone sees our intentions from our perspective. Of course we know we are not going to attack anyone. Do you really think our friend Vladimir feels that way, or trusts us.
        Americans are singularly terrible at trying to view these types of questions from a non-American perspective.
        Prior to 1945, the US had never dropped an atomic bomb on a city. By your logic, the Japanese should have been able to reliably predict that we would never do so, because it had never happened.
        Nothing ever happened before the 1st time it happened. Are other countries going to trust their survival to the hope that the US will never do something that it has never done?
        From the perspective of non-US countries, especially non western democracies, the US is the ONLY country that has EVER used nuclear/atomic weapons against another country, and we used them against cities, population centers.
        So what does that say for your statistical probabilities?

  4. One of the reasons the THAAD and GBI both have hit to kill rather than nuclear warheads is so that the Russians and Chinese will correctly identify a launch from one of their (THAAD or GBI) sites as not threatening to blow up a city. The author is correct that politics has limited the deployment of the weapons we do have. For example, Congress forced the Obama Administration to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments on several locations in the Northeast for the potential deployment of an additional GBI silo field, but DoD hasn’t selected one of the candidates. MDA’s web site shows the public comment period on candidate sites and the EIA ended in August 2016. Another political issue is a Southern site. The North Koreans have launched their last two satellites to the South, which means they have the ability to launch a warhead to the South where it would approach the US from the South, where we not only don’t have interceptors, but don’t have radars for Early Warning and Terminal Guidance. We do have an old EW radar at Eglin AFB that could be upgraded, and there are plenty of bases in the South that could host a GBI silo farm and X-Band Radar. All it takes is the political will to field the systems, and some money.

    • If the Norks launch a missile headed South, then it’s impact approach will be from the North, unless the Norks have developed an ICBM that can do a U-turn in space.

      Southern continental EW has nothing to do with missile detection of Nork missiles.

      • Suggest you find a globe and trace a line due South from the Korean Peninsula. You’ll see the line runs between Japan and China, east of the Philippines, and bisects Australia, before crossing Antarctica then heading north along the Western edge of South America and approaching targets in the US from the South. An Upgraded Early Warning Radar in Australia would provide tracking data for handoff to another in the Southern US, possibly at Ft Hood TX. An X-Band Radar in Puerto Rico could provide the GBI with terminal guidance, although for my taste, an Ecuador based X-Band would allow for interception well out over the Pacific rather than over Latin America.

      • The southern approach is a risk factor for orbited objects, such as the 2 recent NK satellite launches, that could be a platform for HEMP strike, but it is not a risk factor for ICBM launch, since it is far beyond the range of anything they could develop in the next 5 years, and they don’t need it since they are focusing their program on delivery of HEMP weapons.

      • There is no difference between a space launch capability and an ICBM capability. Throw weight determines maximum payload. The US’s first successful satellite was launched on an Army Redstone rocket. The first Astronaut was launched on an Army Redstone rocket. If the Norks can miniaturize their warhead sufficiently to ride the same booster as KMS-3 and KMS-4, we have a problem.

      • Steve,
        With respect, there is a huge difference between space launch capability and ICBM capability.
        Any ICBM designed warhead must be capable of guided re-entry, which implies much more shielding and specific limited maneuvering capabilities. It requires a far more specific guidance package.
        Orbital delivery flights are able to expend all propellant during boost. ICBM stages must last longer.
        yes, you can use an ICBM for orbital delivery, but I can also use a 747 to deliver a carton of eggs. It will get the job done, but it’s far more than is needed.
        ICBM’s with warheads are a more significant technical challenge than orbital delivery.

  5. Shhhhh. You’re not supposed to admit that those missiles in Alaska and California sole purpose for existence was as campaign props for the 2004 election. Why we’re still pissing away good money on props from an election 12 years ago is completely ridiculous.

  6. Dear sir, Jerry Pournelle took the pumped X-ray laser seriously. Did he recant that in a venue I missed?

  7. The best idea for controlling Kim Jong Un is robust anti-missile defenses in multiple layers that can shoot down incoming missiles in all phases of their flight. We should recognize that this is the only way to control the North Korean threat. We should also point out that the Democrats who stopped progress on anti-missile systems, especially President Obama, put the US at greater risk of a nuclear attack. Once we’re ready, we should start shooting down all North Korean tests as soon as they are over international waters. We need to make it clear to everyone that while North Korea has missiles, they won’t get very far. We also need to deny the North Koreans the telemetry that they need to make their missiles any more accurate than they already are.

    Anti-missile defenses lower the marginal utility of nuclear missiles, particularly for small, impoverished states like North Korea. If we have a good, 3 layer defense, with an 80 % kill probability for each layer, the chance of an individual missile getting through all 3 layers is 20% times 20% times 20%, which is 0.8 percent. This means that North Korea has to build a lot more than one or two missiles to be a credible threat. They need to be able to launch about 18 missiles in a unified attack to have a 64% chance of a hitting us once.

    Once they do launch an attack, we obliterate the regime that ordered the launch with nukes. Leaders like the Kims and the Iranian Ayatollahs are happy to send others on suicide missions, but don’t want to go on one personally. They won’t take the chance.

    We need an additional layer in space for a good anti-missile defense. The best way to get this would be to build Brilliant Pebbles, a space based defense of tiny computerized space vehicles that can intercept ICBM warheads in space. This program was first proposed in the Reagan Administration. It has minimal technical risk. The kill probability for a Brilliant Pebbles layer is estimated at 90%. Brilliant Pebbles might cost $20 billion, according to experts.
    Link for Brilliant Pebbles:

    We need to be able to stop a 20 missile salvo from either North Korea or Iran. If we can, going nuclear won’t be attractive, because it will be too expensive.

    There’s no diplomatic solution for the problem of Korea, Iran and future nuclear proliferators. We need superior military weapons instead.

  8. Angelo,
    I agree with a great deal of what you write. Please consider my comments here as the critical debate of a like-minded conservative, who respectfully disagrees with you in this specific case.

    There are 2 issues here, that I believe you are conflating.

    1) The effectiveness of THAAD versus MDA’s GBI program.

    2) The merits of developing overall missile defense capabilities which are capable of intercepting up to tens or dozens of warheads, but no more.

    On point 1, I suggest some more research on your part is wanting. While THAAD does have it’s limitations, GBI has become a very capable system, though it is still plagued with a reputation of unreliability, based on early low success rates.

    The current generation of GBI sports a better than 80% success ratio on intercepts, even when decoys are implemented.

    And the idea was never that we would fire single interceptors. The idea was to overwhelm actual inbound hostiles with many interceptors, in order to statistically guarantee a successful intercept.

    On point 2, however, I think the answer is obvious. Our missile defense capabilities CANNOT undermine mutually assured destruction as an overarching “balance” between the US and Russia (as well as China).

    If we create missile defense capabilities which significantly threaten Russia (or China)’s ability to carry out a retaliatory nuclear strike against the US, then, to the Russians and Chinese, we have increased the odds of a successful first strike by US nuclear forces.

    When our enemies think it is more likely that we might be tempted to use our weapons, they are in turn, more likely to resort to first use of their own arsenals out of a desire to prevent them from being destroyed in a first strike, or before they become obsolete as a result of our systems.

    Development of Missile defense capabilities which could defeat Russian or Chinese nuclear forces would in fact make the US more at risk of the exact type of war it is designed to protect us from.

    Mutually Assured Destruction is an effective approach for dealing with Russian and Chinese nuclear forces. Missile Defense for those capabilities would have to be developed AND deployed in absolute secrecy.

    A final note: The media and most pundits are getting the North Korean nuclear threat very wrong. Most experts continue to talk about how North Korea could strike several large US cities.

    The North Korean program is – and has been for several years – focused on development of Enhanced Radiation Weapons. This is easily discernible from open source information, and is the concerted opinion of many experts in the field.

    However it is a complicated subject which leads to discussions of apocalyptic effects for the US, and it is not taken seriously.

    The North Koreans know that they can never build enough nuclear warheads to threaten enough US cities, given our missile defense capabilities. No matter how many cities they could hit, we are still here to take them out, and we will rebuild.

    Enhanced Radiation Weapons, on the other hand, are specifically designed to create High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP). A single successful HEMP strike on North America would result in the end of the United States as we know it.

    That is not science fiction. It is fact. It would result in the deaths of between 50% and 90% of our population with 12 months.
    We would, quite simply, never recover.

    Within the nuclear community, this is a well known fact. The North Koreans know it. They know that focusing their development efforts on weapons designed to create HEMP greatly increases their ability to counter-balance our much larger inventory, since even 1 successful detonation would literally destroy us.

    All their tests in the last 5 years have shown all the hallmarks of development of enhanced radiation weapons.

    Their launch and orbit of 2 satellites is consistent with weaponization of a HMEP weapon.

    And a HEMP weapon, because it does not have to re-enter the deep atmosphere and strike a specific target, is much, much easier to develop. It only has to go up and over. It does not really have to come down, and certainly not with specificity.

    I strongly urge you to talk to some experts about the real risks from the NK nuclear program. They are quite terrible to behold.

    But designing missile defense to intercept massive numbers of Russian or Chinese warheads is a non-starter. it would make us less safe.

  9. The biggest obstacle to missile defense is – our domestic enemy (a.k.a. “the democrats”) will be rabidly against it.They believe that our foreign enemies possess a divine right to destroy us at will, and will fight endlessly to protect that right.

  10. Ben Cates (earlier) is correct. Anti-ballistic missile development was stymied by the Cold War dance between the USA and the USSR, first with the ABM Treaty and then when President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, by essentially burying SDI for fear of upsetting the Mutual-Assured-Destruction (MAD) applecart. President Reagan’s threat to continue SDI development in the face of the ABM Treaty came at the right time; the Soviet Union was failing, and the prospect of trying to match the United States with missile defense was one of the straws that broke its back. Then the issue became moot for a couple of decades.

    Nuclear proliferation has pushed it to the fore once again, and maybe this time we will have to reckon with the MAD dilemma. In point of fact, as SDI proponents understood, the best way to defend against ballistic missiles is to intercept them at launch, or in boost phase: they’re moving slowly, and easy to detect—from space, that is. To stop them at boost requires satellite surveillance, and satellite-deployed weapons: anti-missiles with or without warheads, laser or other directed energy, ‘smart pebbles’, or whatnot. And that means constructing a satellite-based system that will always be on constant alert. We can do it, as can the Chinese (and the Russians?), but it’s a big job, and it will take some doing to convince those two that we do not intend a first strike.

    Maybe a cooperative Great Power effort to neutralize third-world and rogue states with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles? A pipe dream, maybe—or maybe not. After all, The Donald likes to make deals!

    /L. E. Joiner (Walking Creek World)

  11. This is exactly what would happen with funding for global warming.

  12. This is exhibit one in the case that our elites are so corrupt and incompetent that there is no hope for America.

  13. The predecessor air defense system consisting of Bomarc, Hawk, Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules missiles which were extensively deployed in a robust system worked quite well to defend against manned bombers in the 1950’s and 1960’s which was at first the main threat of attack facing our country. Unfortunately Congress saw fit to shut down a modest anti-missile system one day after it became active in the name of saving money. Had this system been allow to continue, valuable operational information would have been gained and it would have made the development of ICBM’s by our enemies less lucrative as a tool to threaten our country.

    Deploying a huge anti-missile system capable of protecting America from attack against thousands of hostile missiles is probably not a cost effective or practical solution but deploying a tiny system which could only defend against a few dozen ICBM’s seems to be much less than adequate than our defensive needs require. Is it better than nothing – absolutely! I told this to President elect GHW Bush in person in 1988 and thanked him for his support of the system. A few hundred interceptors of various types would create severe doubt in the minds of a hostile country of the launch of a first strike using ICBM’s and discourage small countries from pursuing this technology with the intention of using it to threaten or blackmail our country.