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Letters to the Editor
Richard Lehner of the Missile Defense Agency and missile defense advocate Riki Ellison launch attacks on Joseph Cirincione’s “The Incredible Shrinking Missile Threat.”


I disagree with Joseph Cirincione’s assertion (“The Incredible Shrinking Missile Threat,”) May/June 2008) that the ballistic-missile threat has decreased. The fact that North Korea has experienced two flight-test failures involving its long-range missiles certainly doesn’t mean it won’t eventually get it right; it almost certainly will. Cirincione himself states that Iran is five to 10 years away from having the capability to deploy a nuclear weapon aboard a missile.

Perhaps he is suggesting that we stop deployment of our long-range interceptors, do away with our engagement radars and our command-and-control system, and then start them up again overnight after Iran detonates a nuclear weapon or launches a missile with intercontinental range. That would be folly.

He is correct that we spend more on missile defense than we did during the Cold War. He neglects to mention that Cold War programs focused strictly on research and development. Today, we have actually deployed—and are continuing to deploy—a layered missile-defense system to deal with missiles of all ranges during any phase of their flight.

Most missile-defense funding is for defenses against short- to medium-range missiles, not long-range threats. This is a high priority because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Scud-type missiles around the world capable of delivering nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional explosives.

There is also the question of morality: Should the United States’ one option for responding to a nuclear attack be retaliation—killing thousands of people who had nothing to do with the actions of their military or government? If not, then the United States must do what it can to develop more than one dreadful option for its defense.

—Richard Lehner
Director, Public Affairs
Missile Defense Agency
U.S. Department of Defense
Washington, D.C.


If Cirincione’s premise that “the only proven defense against this threat is diplomacy, deterrence, and measured military preparedness” is correct, then the 34 sovereign nations around the world—including the United States—who are now deploying, developing, and endorsing missile defense are wrong.

Cirincione’s logic is based on the assumption that all nations have rational leaders at the helm. Are Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chávez, and Kim Jong Il rational actors? His argument that fewer missiles mean less of a threat is not applicable to today’s security environment, where the greatest threat could come from an unstable dictator with a small arsenal of missiles tipped with weapons of mass destruction.

Is he really that confident that the future leaders of Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, not to mention Hamas and Hezbollah, will respond to diplomacy? If not, we may be forced to lose more lives in preemptive military action when the world is threatened by irrational actors with ballistic missiles.

History tells us that the best defense isn’t diplomacy, mutual assured deterrence, or measured preparedness. The best defense is the best defense. As recent testing successes have demonstrated, today’s technology is finally making that defense possible.

—Riki Ellison
President and Founder
Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance
Alexandria, Va.


Joseph Cirincione replies:

Both Richard Lehner’s and Riki Ellison’s letters exemplify the two main tactics of missile-defense salesmen: Inflate the threat and exaggerate the capabilities. This misrepresentation does great harm to our troops and our nation. The antimissile program, in its current state, strains our relationships with allies, does nothing to deter foes, and devours funds insatiably.

Lehner cites the threat from “hundreds, if not thousands” of short- and medium-range missiles, a statement that equates the arsenals of our allies Ukraine (which has 160 Scuds) and Israel (with about 100 similar missiles) with that of North Korea (which has an estimated 290 Scuds). That is the only way to arrive at his ominous-sounding figure of “thousands” of missiles. Most missiles in the world are, in fact, deployed by America’s friends and allies.

Similarly, Ellison includes hypothetical threats from U.S. allies Afghanistan and Pakistan to inflate his short list of hostile nations. Ellison’s argument deteriorates further when he conjures up threats from Venezuela, Sudan, and Somalia—none of whom has ballistic missiles.

The biggest falsehood is the claim that the administration has deployed a system “to deal with missiles of all ranges.” The long-range interceptors have never been tested in a realistic scenario and will not be tested at all in 2008, despite a $10 billion budget to do so. This is a placebo defense that has performed poorly even in the highly scripted “tests” conducted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

It is difficult to have a rational discussion with people who simply make things up. But they must. Consider the following facts: There are fewer ballistic missiles in the world today than 20 years ago, fewer missile programs, and fewer hostile states with missiles. The threat is shrinking. So, they must generate false facts and spin up the fear factor to sell their grossly inadequate product.

source: Foreign Policy Magazine

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