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June 01, 2009

Earth to Romney: Missile Defense is a Sideshow
Posted by Patrick Barry

Need another reason to write off Romney's speech?  How about his nonsensical fixation on missile defense - a long-time conservative sideshow that remains disconnected not just from operational use, but from the nature of the threats facing the U.S.  Here's Mitt:

Missile defense is a non-nuclear, entirely defensive system designed to protect not just America but the world from a catastrophic attack. Yet the President plans to cut the missile defense budget by 15 percent, cut funding for missile defense sites in Europe by 80 percent, and reduce the number of planned interceptors in Alaska. That is a grave miscalculation, given the provocations from North Korea, Iran’s near-nuclear status, Pakistan’s instability, and the complete failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Rarely in history has any development carried such awful possibilities as a nuclear-armed missile in the hands of evil men. And rarely in history has any program had the promise to do more good or spare more suffering than a system of missile defense.

Really Mitt? For a defense system with such "promise," the program most targeted for cuts - the Airborne Laser (ABL) - sure has a pretty dismal track record.  Last month before the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates had this to say about preserving the ABL:

The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.

And it's not just ABL that has exhibited this lack of potential - according to a study by Russian and American scientists and proliferation experts at the EastWest institute, summarized by the Washington Post, "a planned U.S. missile shield to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack would be ineffective against the kinds of missiles Iran is likely to deploy."

Not only are Romney's claims to missile defense's "promise" dubious, they are a distraction.  Romney works himself into a tiz over the possibility of "a nuclear-armed missile in the hands of evil men," but says squat about the more realistic scenario of fissile material in the hands of a terrorist.  The Obama administration has made deterring this threat a huge priority, with the issue getting top-billing in the President's nonproliferation speech. Just this weekend, at an emergency meeting over North Korea's nuclear test, Secretary Gates expressed deep concern that the real threat from North Korea's nuclear activities lies not in the regime gaining a nuclear arsenal, but in their demonstrated propensity to proliferate.  Once again, Missile defense fails the reality test.

For a candidate in search of foreign policy credibility, Romney displays an astonishing ability to base his positions on the most uncredible platforms. 


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Patrick Barry,

You need to jump into this discussion over at Steve Clemons's blog, The Washington Note.

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Mr. Barry,

While your data is true your conclusions are wrong. Very wrong. Missile defense is complicated and won't be built in a day. The time to start developing the technology is now not at the last minute when it'll be too late. The correct answer to any non-biased American is to attack both nuclear proliferation and (missile) defense concurrently. The stakes are too high to do anything else.

So, missile defense is a sideshow? Then why did Secretary Gates say on Monday (the same day as Romney's speech) that he wouldn't rule out more spending on missile defense if North Korea or other nations increase their threats against the United States? I think the Obama administration knows that Romney is right, and that they made a political blunder.

Gates: More missile defense spending possible

By LARA JAKES, Associated Press Writer – Mon Jun 1, 11:18 pm ET
FORT GREELY, Alaska – Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn't ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he's asked for in next year's budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.
Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.
Gates was visiting the Missile Defense Complex in remote Alaska on Monday. The U.S. plans to store 26 ground-based missile interceptors in silos there. Four others are at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Gates said he thinks that's enough to protect the U.S. right now.
He said he's requested nearly $1 billion in the 2010 fiscal budget to develop and maintain those missile interceptors. But the Pentagon's spending plan halts a planned expansion of the missile defense system at Fort Greely.
Gates called that "not a forever decision."
"And if capabilities in one of these rogue states should develop faster or in a more worrisome way than anybody anticipates right now, then I think the way is opened in the future to add to the number of silos and interceptors up here," he said.
"If anything, I think what the North Koreans have done has won more adherence to the importance of our having at least a unified missile defense capability," Gates said.
He repeated his belief that North Korea's missiles currently do not threaten the United States. North Korea this week moved a long-range missile — the second in three months — that some believe could hit the United States. But it's not clear what Pyongyang intends to do with it.
Gates added: "If there were a launch from a rogue state such as North Korea, I have good confidence that we would be able to deal with it."
The last time the United States tested its interceptors was in December, when one launched from Vandenberg hit a target intended to mimic the speed and trajectory of a North Korean missile. That cost $120 million to $150 million in what officials then called the most comprehensive missile defense test to date.
After decades of development, at a cost exceeding $100 billion, the missile defense system now in place in America — mainly at Greely and Vandenberg — is largely unproven and unpopular in Congress. It began as a way to stop long-range missiles launched in a doomsday scenario during the Cold War years when the United States and the Soviet Union targeted each other with thousands of nuclear missiles.
The military argues that the network is needed to protect the United States and its allies against growing threats from nations such as Iran and North Korea, both of which have tested long-range missiles.
But President Barack Obama expressed skepticism about the capabilities of the system during his campaign, leading to speculation he may reduce the program's scope.

The big threat to our national defense is Retirement. Last year Lockheed Martin reported that half of their workforce would retire in 10 years. Two things are keeping the younger generation from taking over their responsibilities -- the technology is old and the requirement for a security clearance as a prerequisite for getting a job.

For the last several years, money that would have been spent on R&D in defense was directed to the current wars. Defense companies lost their younger workers through cuts. One example is TSAT. The TSAT program attracted younger workers since it was up to the date latest technology. The younger workers don't want to work on the old replacement AEHF satellite that Gates has proposed.

So please tell me how the Baby Boomers will pass on critical defense details to the next generation if there is no new next generation.

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For a candidate in search of foreign policy credibility, Romney displays an astonishing ability to base his positions on the most uncredible platforms

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